Craniofacial asymmetry is a convergent trait widely distributed across animals that colonize the extreme cave environment. Although craniofacial asymmetry can be discerned easily, other complex phenotypes (such as sensory organ position and numerical variation) are challenging to score and compare. Certain bones of the craniofacial complex demonstrate substantial asymmetry, and co-localize to regions harboring dramatically expanded numbers of mechanosensory neuromasts. To determine if a relationship exists between this expansion and bone fragmentation in cavefish, we developed a quantitative measure of positional symmetry across the left-right axis. We found that three different cave-dwelling populations were significantly more asymmetric compared to surface-dwelling fish. Moreover, cave populations did not differ in the degree of neuromast asymmetry. This work establishes a method for quantifying symmetry of a complex phenotype, and demonstrates that facial bone fragmentation mirrors the asymmetric distribution of neuromasts in different cavefish populations. Further developmental studies will provide a clearer picture of the developmental and cellular changes that accompany this extreme phenotype, and help illuminate the genetic basis for facial asymmetry in vertebrates.
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