Polyphenisms and polymorphisms: Genetic variation in plasticity and color variation within and among bluefin killifish populations

Rebecca C. Fuller, Katie E. McGhee, Benjamin Sandkam, Matthew Schrader, Joseph Travis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The presence of stable color polymorphisms within populations begs the question of how genetic variation is maintained. Consistent variation among populations in coloration, especially when correlated with environmental variation, raises questions about whether environmental conditions affect either the fulcrum of those balanced polymorphisms, the plastic expression of coloration, or both. Color patterns in male bluefin killifish provoke both types of questions. Red and yellow morphs are common in all populations. Blue males are more common in tannin-stained swamps relative to clear springs. Here, we combined crosses with a manipulation of light to explore how genetic variation and phenotypic plasticity shape these patterns. We found that the variation in coloration is attributable mainly to two axes of variation: (1) a red-yellow axis with yellow being dominant to red, and (2) a blue axis that can override red-yellow and is controlled by genetics, phenotypic plasticity, and genetic variation for phenotypic plasticity. The variation among populations in plasticity suggests it is adaptive in some populations but not others. The variation among sires in plasticity within the swamp population suggests balancing selection may be acting not only on the red-yellow polymorphism but also on plasticity for blue coloration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1590-1606
Number of pages17
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • balancing selection
  • genetic assimilation
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • polymorphism
  • pterin
  • sensory drive

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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