Identifying the genetic factors that underlie complex traits is central to understanding the mechanistic underpinnings of evolution. In nature, adaptation to severe environmental change, such as encountered following colonization of caves, has dramatically altered genomes of species over varied time spans. Genomic sequencing approaches have identified mutations associated with troglomorphic trait evolution, but the functional impacts of these mutations remain poorly understood. The Mexican Tetra,
Astyanax mexicanus, is abundant in the surface waters of northeastern Mexico, and also inhabits at least 30 different caves in the region. Cave-dwelling A. mexicanusmorphs are well adapted to subterranean life and many populations appear to have evolved troglomorphic traits independently, while the surface-dwelling populations can be used as a proxy for the ancestral form. Here we present a high-resolution, chromosome-level surface fish genome, enabling the first genome-wide comparison between surface fish and cavefish populations. Using this resource, we performed quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping analyses for pigmentation and eye size and found new candidate genes for eye loss such as dusp26. We used CRISPR gene editing in A. mexicanusto confirm the essential role of a gene within an eye size QTL, rx3, in eye formation. We also generated the first genome-wide evaluation of deletion variability that includes an analysis of the impact on protein-coding genes across cavefish populations to gain insight into this potential source of cave adaptation. The new surface fish genome reference now provides a more complete resource for comparative, functional, developmental and genetic studies of drastic trait differences within a species.