Pupfishes in the Death Valley region of California and Nevada comprise a monophyletic group of populations that became isolated in remote streams and springs over the past 20,000 years. These aquatic habitats show considerable ecological diversity, and allopatric populations have evolved differences in morphology and behavior. Here we investigated whether the divergence of pupfish populations in Death Valley might be associated with changes in arginine vasotocin (AVT). We used immunocytochemistry to compare the expression of AVT in the brain of Amargosa pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis) from two Death Valley populations: (1) the Amargosa River—a highly variable desert stream containing the Cyprinodon nevadensis amargosae subspecies, and (2) Big Spring—a comparatively stable springhead and outflow inhabited by Cyprinodon nevadensis mionectes. These particular populations have been isolated from each other for only 400–4000 years. In both populations AVT-immunoreactive somata localized to parvocellular and magnocellular neurons in the preoptic area, with AVT-immunoreactive fibers extending ventrolaterally to innervate the pituitary. We found that both parvocellular and magnocellular AVT-immunoreactive neurons were significantly larger in males and females from the Amargosa River population than in same sex pupfish from Big Spring. Our findings suggest that the divergent ecological conditions of these two habitats have brought about changes in AVT pathways in the brain.



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