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Title: Transcriptomic evidence for visual adaptation during the aquatic to terrestrial metamorphosis in leopard frogs
Abstract Background

Differences in morphology, ecology, and behavior through ontogeny can result in opposing selective pressures at different life stages. Most animals, however, transition through two or more distinct phenotypic phases, which is hypothesized to allow each life stage to adapt more freely to its ecological niche. How this applies to sensory systems, and in particular how sensory systems adapt across life stages at the molecular level, is not well understood. Here, we used whole-eye transcriptomes to investigate differences in gene expression between tadpole and juvenile southern leopard frogs (Lithobates sphenocephalus), which rely on vision in aquatic and terrestrial light environments, respectively. Because visual physiology changes with light levels, we also tested the effect of light and dark exposure.


We found 42% of genes were differentially expressed in the eyes of tadpoles versus juveniles and 5% for light/dark exposure. Analyses targeting a curated subset of visual genes revealed significant differential expression of genes that control aspects of visual function and development, including spectral sensitivity and lens composition. Finally, microspectrophotometry of photoreceptors confirmed shifts in spectral sensitivity predicted by the expression results, consistent with adaptation to distinct light environments.


Overall, we identified extensive expression-level differences in the eyes of tadpoles and juveniles more » related to observed morphological and physiological changes through metamorphosis and corresponding adaptive shifts to improve vision in the distinct aquatic and terrestrial light environments these frogs inhabit during their life cycle. More broadly, these results suggest that decoupling of gene expression can mediate the opposing selection pressures experienced by organisms with complex life cycles that inhabit different environmental conditions throughout ontogeny.

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BMC Biology
Springer Science + Business Media
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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