Exploring visual plasticity: dietary carotenoids can change color vision in guppies (Poecilia reticulata)

Benjamin A. Sandkam, Kerry A. Deere-Machemer, Ashley M. Johnson, Gregory F. Grether, F. Helen Rodd, Rebecca C. Fuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Differences in color vision can play a key role in an organism’s ability to perceive and interact with the environment across a broad range of taxa. Recently, species have been shown to vary in color vision across populations as a result of differences in regulatory sequence and/or plasticity of opsin gene expression. For decades, biologists have been intrigued by among-population variation in color-based mate preferences of female Trinidadian guppies. We proposed that some of this variation results from variation in color vision caused by plasticity in opsin expression. Specifically, we asked about the role of dietary carotenoid availability, because carotenoids (1) are the precursors for vitamin A, which is essential for the creation of photopigments and (2) have been linked to variation in female mate choice. We raised guppies on different carotenoid-level diets and measured opsin expression. Guppies raised on high-carotenoid diets expressed higher levels of long wavelength sensitive opsin (LWS) opsins than those raised on lower levels of carotenoids. These results suggest that dietary effects on opsin expression represent a previously unaccounted for mechanism by which ecological differences across populations could lead to mate choice differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-534
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • LWS
  • Mate choice
  • Opsins
  • Population divergence
  • Visual ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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