Convergent mosaic brain evolution is associated with the evolution of novel electrosensory systems in teleost fishes

  1. Erika L Schumacher
  2. Bruce A Carlson  Is a corresponding author
  1. Washington University in St. Louis, United States


Brain region size generally scales allometrically with brain size, but mosaic shifts in brain region size independent of brain size have been found in several lineages and may be related to the evolution of behavioral novelty. African weakly electric fishes (Mormyroidea) evolved a mosaically enlarged cerebellum and hindbrain, yet the relationship to their behaviorally novel electrosensory system remains unclear. We addressed this by studying South American weakly electric fishes (Gymnotiformes) and weakly electric catfishes (Synodontis spp.), which evolved varying aspects of electrosensory systems, independent of mormyroids. If the mormyroid mosaic increases are related to evolving an electrosensory system, we should find similar mosaic shifts in gymnotiforms and Synodontis. Using micro-computed tomography scans, we quantified brain region scaling for multiple electrogenic, electroreceptive, and non-electrosensing species. We found mosaic increases in cerebellum in all three electrogenic lineages relative to non-electric lineages and mosaic increases in torus semicircularis and hindbrain associated with the evolution of electrogenesis and electroreceptor type. These results show that evolving novel electrosensory systems is repeatedly and independently associated with changes in the sizes of individual major brain regions independent of brain size, suggesting that selection can impact structural brain composition to favor specific regions involved in novel behaviors.

Data availability

Brain measurement data is located in Supplementary File 1. Brain mass data is located in Supplementary File 2. All analysis code and phylogenetic trees are available in Dryad. The raw micro-computed tomography scans are too large to post (multiple TBs), but are available upon request. To request raw otophysan and/or osteoglossiform scans, contact the corresponding author. We ask that those who want access to the scan data send us an external hard drive, which we will upload all the data to and then return.

The following data sets were generated
The following previously published data sets were used

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Erika L Schumacher

    Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-2492-1117
  2. Bruce A Carlson

    Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-2151-0443


National Science Foundation (IOS-1755071)

  • Bruce A Carlson

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Animal experimentation: The methods in this study are consistent with euthanasia guidelines by the American Veterinary Medical Association and have been approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee at Washington University in St. Louis (Protocol ID 19-0974).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Catherine Emily Carr, University of Maryland, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: September 23, 2021
  2. Preprint posted: October 1, 2021 (view preprint)
  3. Accepted: June 16, 2022
  4. Accepted Manuscript published: June 17, 2022 (version 1)
  5. Version of Record published: July 27, 2022 (version 2)


© 2022, Schumacher & Carlson

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


  • 876
    Page views
  • 245
  • 0

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

  1. Erika L Schumacher
  2. Bruce A Carlson
Convergent mosaic brain evolution is associated with the evolution of novel electrosensory systems in teleost fishes
eLife 11:e74159.

Further reading

    1. Ecology
    2. Evolutionary Biology
    Laure Olazcuaga, Raymonde Baltenweck ... Julien Foucaud
    Short Report

    Most phytophagous insect species exhibit a limited diet breadth and specialize on a few or a single host plant. In contrast, some species display a remarkably large diet breadth, with host plants spanning several families and many species. It is unclear, however, whether this phylogenetic generalism is supported by a generic metabolic use of common host chemical compounds (‘metabolic generalism’) or alternatively by distinct uses of diet-specific compounds (‘multi-host metabolic specialism’)? Here, we simultaneously investigated the metabolomes of fruit diets and of individuals of a generalist phytophagous species, Drosophila suzukii, that developed on them. The direct comparison of metabolomes of diets and consumers enabled us to disentangle the metabolic fate of common and rarer dietary compounds. We showed that the consumption of biochemically dissimilar diets resulted in a canalized, generic response from generalist individuals, consistent with the metabolic generalism hypothesis. We also showed that many diet-specific metabolites, such as those related to the particular color, odor, or taste of diets, were not metabolized, and rather accumulated in consumer individuals, even when probably detrimental to fitness. As a result, while individuals were mostly similar across diets, the detection of their particular diet was straightforward. Our study thus supports the view that dietary generalism may emerge from a passive, opportunistic use of various resources, contrary to more widespread views of an active role of adaptation in this process. Such a passive stance towards dietary chemicals, probably costly in the short term, might favor the later evolution of new diet specializations.

    1. Evolutionary Biology
    2. Genetics and Genomics
    Benjamin Guinet, David Lepetit ... Julien Varaldi
    Research Article

    The accidental endogenization of viral elements within eukaryotic genomes can occasionally provide significant evolutionary benefits, giving rise to their long-term retention, that is, to viral domestication. For instance, in some endoparasitoid wasps (whose immature stages develop inside their hosts), the membrane-fusion property of double-stranded DNA viruses have been repeatedly domesticated following ancestral endogenizations. The endogenized genes provide female wasps with a delivery tool to inject virulence factors that are essential to the developmental success of their offspring. Because all known cases of viral domestication involve endoparasitic wasps, we hypothesized that this lifestyle, relying on a close interaction between individuals, may have promoted the endogenization and domestication of viruses. By analyzing the composition of 124 Hymenoptera genomes, spread over the diversity of this clade and including free-living, ecto, and endoparasitoid species, we tested this hypothesis. Our analysis first revealed that double-stranded DNA viruses, in comparison with other viral genomic structures (ssDNA, dsRNA, ssRNA), are more often endogenized and domesticated (that is, retained by selection) than expected from their estimated abundance in insect viral communities. Second, our analysis indicates that the rate at which dsDNA viruses are endogenized is higher in endoparasitoids than in ectoparasitoids or free-living hymenopterans, which also translates into more frequent events of domestication. Hence, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that the endoparasitoid lifestyle has facilitated the endogenization of dsDNA viruses, in turn, increasing the opportunities of domestications that now play a central role in the biology of many endoparasitoid lineages.