The scale-eating cichlid fish Perissodus microlepis is a textbook example of bilateral asymmetry due to its left or right-bending heads and of negative frequency-dependent selection, which is proposed to maintain this stable polymorphism. The mechanisms that underlie this asymmetry remain elusive. Several studies had initially postulated a simple genetic basis for this trait, but this explanation has been questioned, particularly by reports observing a unimodal distribution of mouth shapes. We hypothesize that this unimodal distribution might be due to a combination of genetic and phenotypically plastic components. Here, we expanded on previous work by investigating a formerly identified candidate SNP associated to mouth laterality, documenting inter-individual variation in feeding preference using stable isotope analyses, and testing their association with mouth asymmetry. Our results suggest that this polymorphism is influenced by both a polygenic basis and inter-individual non-genetic variation, possibly due to feeding experience, individual specialization, and intraspecific competition. We introduce a hypothesis potentially explaining the simultaneous maintenance of left, right, asymmetric and symmetric mouth phenotypes due to the interaction between diverse eco-evolutionary dynamics including niche construction and balancing selection. Future studies will have to further tease apart the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors and their interactions in an integrated fashion.
- candidate SNP
- cichlid fish
- eco-evolutionary dynamics
- frequency-dependent selection
- niche specialization