Cavefish and the basis for eye loss
Animals have colonized the entire world from rather moderate to the harshest environments, some of these so extreme that only few animals are able to survive. Cave environments present such a challenge and obligate cave animals have adapted to perpetual darkness by evolving a multitude of traits. The most common and most studied cave characteristics are the regression of eyes and the overall reduction in pigmentation. Studying these traits can provide important insights into how evolutionary forces drive convergent and regressive adaptation. The blind Mexican cavefish (Astyanax mexicanus) has emerged as a useful model to study cave evolution owing to the availability of genetic and genomic resources, and the amenability of embryonic development as the different populations remain fertile with each other. In this review, we give an overview of our current knowledge underlying the process of regressive and convergent evolution using eye degeneration in cavefish as an example. This article is part of the themed issue ‘Evo-devo in the genomics era, and the origins of morphological diversity’.