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Variation in the evolutionary integration of melanism with behavioral and physiological traits in Xiphophorus variatus


Vertebrate pigmentation is emerging as a powerful system for studying the evolution of adaptive traits and the maintenance of genetic and phenotypic variation in natural populations. Though melanism has been linked to physiological and behavioral traits in a variety of taxa, the generality of these associations for many taxa such as fishes remains unclear. Here I tested whether variation in melanism in a livebearing fish was correlated with a variety of traits often tested in other taxa: locomotor stress coping style during confinement, boldness in a novel environment, and metabolic rate. There were significant negative associations between an individual’s amount of melanistic pigmentation and both activity in confinement and boldness in a novel environment. In contrast with evidence from many prior studies, there was no relationship between melanism and metabolic rate. Overall, the data provide some support for documented relationships between melanism and behavioral traits, but did not support the generally reported relationship between melanism and metabolic rate. Links between melanism and behavioral coping strategies related to environmental stressors may have important implications for the evolution and maintenance of behavioral and morphological variation in natural populations. Nonetheless, these results also suggest variation among taxa in the extent to which pleiotropy has evolved between melanism and diverse organismal traits.

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I would like to thank the federal government of Mexico for permission to collect fish. Z.W.C. was supported as a postdoctoral scholar by Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT) Mexico—Clave 0127310 grant in basic science to William Scott Monks.

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Correspondence to Zachary W. Culumber.

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Supplementary Fig. 1.

Pigmentation traits are easily identified and distinguished in life and photographed specimens of X. variatus. In the upper photograph numbers indicate pigmentation patterns not quantified as melanistic spotting for the present study: (1) tailspot pattern, (2) false brood spot, and (3) vertical bars. The lower photograph illustrates a fish with a crescent tailspot (4) and melanistic spotting is easily observable. (PDF 231 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2.

There was no relationship between melanism and routine metabolic rate in adult X. variatus (N = 56; 19 females, 37 males; β = -0.069, t = -0.582, P = 0.583). (PDF 90 kb)

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Culumber, Z.W. Variation in the evolutionary integration of melanism with behavioral and physiological traits in Xiphophorus variatus . Evol Ecol 30, 9–20 (2016).

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  • Poeciliidae
  • Life history evolution
  • Ecological selection
  • Correlated traits
  • Phenotypic integration