Van Nynatten et al. Electronic Supplementary Materials from To see or not to see: molecular evolution of the rhodopsin visual pigment in neotropical electric fishes

Functional variation in rhodopsin, the dim-light-specialized visual pigment, frequently occurs in species inhabiting light-limited environments. Variation in visual function can arise through two processes: relaxation of selection or adaptive evolution improving photon detection in a given environment. Here, we investigate the molecular evolution of rhodopsin in Gymnotiformes, an order of mostly nocturnal South American fishes that evolved sophisticated electrosensory capabilities. Our initial sequencing revealed a mutation associated with visual disease in humans. As these fishes are thought to have poor vision, this would be consistent with a possible sensory trade-off between the visual system and a novel electrosensory system. To investigate this, we surveyed rhodopsin from 147 gymnotiform species, spanning the order, and analysed patterns of molecular evolution. In contrast with our expectation, we detected strong selective constraint in gymnotiform rhodopsin, with rates of non-synonymous to synonymous substitutions lower in gymnotiforms than in other vertebrate lineages. In addition, we found evidence for positive selection on the branch leading to gymnotiforms and on a branch leading to a clade of deep-channel specialized gymnotiform species. We also found evidence that deleterious effects associated with the human disease-associated substitution are likely masked by epistatic substitutions at nearby sites. Our results suggest that rhodopsin remains an important component of the gymnotiform sensory system alongside electrolocation, and that photosensitivity of rhodopsin is well adapted for vision in dim-light environments.