Multifactorial processes underlie parallel opsin loss in neotropical bats

Image by L.M. Dávalos


The loss of previously adaptive traits is typically linked to relaxation in selection, yet the molecular steps leading to such repeated losses are rarely known. Molecular studies of loss have tended to focus on gene sequences alone, but overlooking other aspects of protein expression might underestimate phenotypic diversity. Insights based almost solely on opsin gene evolution, for instance, have made mammalian color vision a textbook example of phenotypic loss. We address this gap by investigating retention and loss of opsin genes, transcripts, and proteins across ecologically diverse noctilionoid bats. We find multiple, independent losses of short-wave-sensitive opsins. Mismatches between putatively functional DNA sequences, mRNA transcripts, and proteins implicate transcriptional and post-transcriptional processes in the ongoing loss of S-opsins in some noctilionoid bats. Our results provide a snapshot of evolution in progress during phenotypic trait loss, and suggest vertebrate visual phenotypes cannot always be predicted from genotypes alone. *Co-corresponding authors

eLife 7, e37412. *Co-corresponding authors
Liliana M. Dávalos
Liliana M. Dávalos
Professor of Conservation Biology

I’m interested in how biology and the environment shape biodiversity in time and space.