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Ontogenic retinal changes in three ecologically distinct elopomorph fishes (Elopomorpha:Teleostei) correlate with light environment and behavior

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2015

Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology, 150 W. University Blvd., Melbourne, Florida Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Kellogg Eye Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Cornell University, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, T7-020 VRT, Ithaca, New York
Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology, 150 W. University Blvd., Melbourne, Florida
*Address correspondence to: M.S. Grace, Florida Institute of Technology, Department of Biological Sciences, 150 W. University Blvd., Melbourne, FL 32901. E-mail:


Unlike the mammalian retina, the teleost fish retina undergoes persistent neurogenesis from intrinsic stem cells. In marine teleosts, most cone photoreceptor genesis occurs early in the embryonic and larval stages, and rods are added primarily during and after metamorphosis. This study demonstrates a developmental paradigm in elopomorph fishes in which retinas are rod-dominated in larvae, but undergo periods of later cone genesis. Retinal characteristics were compared at different developmental stages among three ecologically distinct elopomorph fishes—ladyfish (Elops saurus), bonefish (Albula vulpes), and speckled worm eel (Myrophis punctatus). The objectives were to improve our understanding of (1) the developmental strategy in the elopomorph retina, (2) the functional architecture of the retina as it relates to ecology, and (3) how the light environment influences photoreceptor genesis. Photoreceptor morphologies, distributions, and spectral absorption were studied at larval, juvenile, and adult stages. Premetamorphic retinas in all three species are rod-dominated, but the retinas of these species undergo dramatic change over the course of development, resulting in juvenile and adult retinal characteristics that correlate closely with ecology. Adult E. saurus has high rod densities, grouped photoreceptors, a reflective tapetum, and longer-wavelength photopigments, supporting vision in turbid, low-light conditions. Adult A. vulpes has high cone densities, low rod densities, and shorter-wavelength photopigments, supporting diurnal vision in shallow, clear water. M. punctatus loses cones during metamorphosis, develops new cones after settlement, and maintains high rod but low cone densities, supporting primarily nocturnal vision. M. punctatus secondary cone genesis occurs rapidly throughout the retina, suggesting a novel mechanism of vertebrate photoreceptor genesis. Finally, in postsettlement M. punctatus, the continuous presence or absence of visible light modulates rod distribution but does not affect secondary cone genesis, suggesting some degree of developmental plasticity influenced by the light environment.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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