Bony fishes are the most numerous and phenotypically diverse group of vertebrates inhabiting our planet, making them an ideal target for identifying general principles of tissue development and function. However, lack of suitable experimental platforms prevents the exploitation of this rich source of natural phenotypic variation. Here, we use a zebrafish strain lacking definitive hematopoiesis for interspecific analysis of hematopoietic cell development. Without conditioning prior to transplantation, hematopoietic progenitor cells from goldfish stably engraft in adult zebrafish homozygous for the c-myb<sup>(I181N)</sup) mutation. However, in competitive repopulation experiments, zebrafish hematopoietic cells exhibit an advantage over their goldfish counterparts, possibly owing to subtle species-specific functional differences in hematopoietic microenvironments resulting from over 100 million years of independent evolution. Thus, our unique animal model provides an unprecedented opportunity to genetically and functionally disentangle universal and species-specific contributions of the microenvironment to hematopoietic progenitor cell maintenance and development
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