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BMC Evolutionary Biology
The latest research articles published by BMC Evolutionary Biology
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April 17, 2014
Background: Plasticity, i.e. non-heritable morphological variation, enables organisms to modify the shape of their skeletal tissues in response to varying environmental stimuli. Plastic variation may also allow individuals to survive in the face of new environmental conditions, enabling the evolution of heritable adaptive traits. However, it is uncertain whether such a plastic response of morphology constitutes an evolutionary adaption itself. Here we investigate whether shape differences due to plastic bone remodelling have functionally advantageous biomechanical consequences in mouse mandibles. Shape characteristics of mandibles from two groups of inbred laboratory mice fed either rodent pellets or ground pellets mixed with jelly were assessed using geometric morphometrics and mechanical advantage measurements of jaw adductor musculature. Results: Mandibles raised on diets with differing food consistency showed significant differences in shape, which in turn altered their biomechanical profile. Mice raised on a soft food diet show a reduction in mechanical advantage relative to mice of the same inbred strain raised on a typical hard food diet. Further, the soft food eaters showed lower levels of integration between jaw regions, particularly between the molar and angular region relative to hard food eaters. Conclusions: Bone remodelling in mouse mandibles allows for significant shifts in biomechanical ability. Food consistency significantly influences this process in an adaptive direction, as mice raised on hard food develop jaws better suited to handle hard foods. This remodelling also affects the organisation of the mandible, as mice raised on soft food appear to be released from developmental constraints showing less overall integration than those raised on hard foods, but with a shift of integration towards the most solicited regions of the mandible facing such a food, namely the incisors. Our results illustrate how environmentally driven plasticity can lead to adaptive functional changes that increase biomechanical efficiency of food processing in the face of an increased solicitation. In contrast, decreased demand in terms of food processing seems to release developmental interactions between jaw parts involved in mastication, and may generate new patterns of co-variation, possibly opening new directions to subsequent selection. Overall, our results emphasize that mandible shape and integration evolved as parts of a complex system including mechanical loading food resource utilization and possibly foraging behaviour.
Background: Raphidioptera (snakeflies) is a holometabolous order of the superorder Neuropterida characterized by the narrowly elongate adult prothorax and the long female ovipositor. Mesozoic snakeflies were markedly more diverse than the modern ones are. However, the evolutionary history of Raphidioptera is largely unexplored, as a result of the poorly studied phylogeny among fossil and extant lineages within the order. Results: In this paper, we report a new snakefly family, Juroraphidiidae fam. nov., based on exquisitely preserved fossils, attributed to a new species Juroraphidia longicollum gen. et sp. nov., from the Jiulongshan Formation (Middle Jurassic) in Inner Mongolia, China. The new family is characterized by an unexpected combination of plesiomorphic and apomorphic characters of Raphidioptera. Based on our phylogenetic analysis, Juroraphidiidae fam. nov. together with Raphidiomorpha form a monophyletic clade, which is the sister to Priscaenigmatomorpha. The snakefly affinity of Priscaenigmatomorpha is confirmed and another new family, Chrysoraphidiidae fam. nov., is erected in this suborder. Conclusions: Juroraphidiidae fam. nov. is determined to be a transitional lineage between Priscaenigmatomorpha and Raphidiomorpha. Diversification of higher snakefly taxa had occurred by the Early Jurassic, suggesting that these insects had already had a long but undocumented history by this time.
April 16, 2014
Phylogeographic pattern of Rhizophora (Rhizophoraceae) reveals the importance of both vicariance and long-distance oceanic dispersal to modern mangrove distribution
Background: Mangroves are key components of coastal ecosystems in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. However, the patterns and mechanisms of modern distribution of mangroves are still not well understood. Historical vicariance and dispersal are two hypothetic biogeographic processes in shaping the patterns of present-day species distributions. Here we investigate evolutionary biogeography of mangroves in the Indo-West Pacific (IWP) and western Atlantic-East Pacific (AEP) regions using a large sample of populations of Rhizophora (the most representative mangrove genus) and a combination of chloroplast and nuclear DNA sequences and genome-wide ISSR markers. Results: Our comparative analyses of biogeographic patterns amongst Rhizophora taxa worldwide support the hypothesis that ancient dispersals along the Tethys Seaway and subsequent vicariant events that divided the IWP and AEP lineages resulted in the major disjunctions. We dated the deep split between the Old and New World lineages to early Eocene based on fossil calibration and geological and tectonic changes. Our data also provide evidence for other vicariant processes within the Indo-West Pacific region in separating conspecific lineages of SE Asia and Australia-Pacific at the Oligocene-Miocene boundary. Close genetic affinities exist between extant Fijian and American lineages; East African and Australian lineages; and Australian and Pacific lineages; indicating relatively more recent oceanic long-distance dispersal events. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that neither vicariance nor dispersal alone could explain the observed global occurrences of Rhizophora, but a combination of vicariant events and oceanic long-distance dispersals can account for historical diversification and present-day biogeographic patterns of mangroves.
Background: Partitioning involves estimating independent models of molecular evolution for different subsets of sites in a sequence alignment, and has been shown to improve phylogenetic inference. Current methods for estimating best-fit partitioning schemes, however, are only computationally feasible with datasets of less than 100 loci. This is a problem because datasets with thousands of loci are increasingly common in phylogenetics. Methods: We develop two novel methods for estimating best-fit partitioning schemes on large phylogenomic datasets: strict and relaxed hierarchical clustering. These methods use information from the underlying data to cluster together similar subsets of sites in an alignment, and build on clustering approaches that have been proposed elsewhere. Results: We compare the performance of our methods to each other, and to existing methods for selecting partitioning schemes. We demonstrate that while strict hierarchical clustering has the best computational efficiency on very large datasets, relaxed hierarchical clustering provides scalable efficiency and returns dramatically better partitioning schemes as assessed by common criteria such as AICc and BIC scores. Conclusions: These two methods provide the best current approaches to inferring partitioning schemes for very large datasets. We provide free open-source implementations of the methods in the PartitionFinder software. We hope that the use of these methods will help to improve the inferences made from large phylogenomic datasets.
April 15, 2014
Density drives polyandry and relatedness influences paternal success in the Pacific gooseneck barnacle, Pollicipes elegans
Background: Polyandry is a common mating strategy in animals, increasing female fitness through direct (material) and indirect (genetic) benefits. Most theories about the benefits of polyandry come from studies of terrestrial animals, which have relatively complex mating systems and behaviors; less is known about the potential benefits of polyandry in sessile marine animals, for which potential mates may be scarce and females have less control over pre-copulatory mate choice. Here, we used microsatellite markers to examine multiple paternity in natural aggregations of the Pacific gooseneck barnacle Pollicipes elegans, testing the effect of density on paternity and mate relatedness on male reproductive success. Results: We found that multiple paternity was very common (79% of broods), with up to five fathers contributing to a brood, though power was relatively low to detect more than four fathers. Density had a significant and positive linear effect on the number of fathers siring a brood, though this relationship leveled off at high numbers of fathers, which may reflect a lack of power and/or an upper limit to polyandry in this species. Significant skew in male reproductive contribution in multiply-sired broods was observed and we found a positive and significant relationship between the proportion of offspring sired and the genetic similarity between mates, suggesting that genetic compatibility may influence reproductive success in this species. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to show high levels of multiple paternity in a barnacle, and overall, patterns of paternity in P. elegans appear to be driven primarily by mate availability. Evidence of paternity bias for males with higher relatedness suggests some form of post-copulatory sexual selection is taking place, but more work is needed to determine whether it operates during or post-fertilization. Overall, our results suggest that while polyandry in P. elegans is driven by mate availability, it may also provide a mechanism for females to ensure fertilization by compatible gametes and increase reproductive success in this sessile species.
April 11, 2014
Hybridizing Daphnia communities from ten neighbouring lakes: spatio-temporal dynamics, local processes, gene flow and invasiveness
Background: In natural communities of cyclical parthenogens, rapid response to environmental change is enabled by switching between two reproduction modes. While long periods of asexual reproduction allow some clones to outcompete others, and may result in "clonal erosion", sexual reproduction restores genetic variation in such systems. Moreover, sexual reproduction may result in the formation of interspecific hybrids. These hybrids can then reach high abundances, through asexual clonal reproduction. In the present study, we explored genetic variation in water fleas of the genus Daphnia. The focus was on the short-term dynamics within several clonal assemblages from the hybridizing Daphnia longispina complex and the impact of gene flow at small spatial scales. Results: Daphnia individuals belonged either to the parental species D. galeata and D. longispina, or to different hybrid classes, as identified by 15 microsatellite markers. The distribution and genotypic structure of parental species, but not hybrids, corresponded well with the geographical positions of the lakes. Within parental species, the genetic distance among populations of D. galeata was lower than among populations of D. longispina. Moreover, D. galeata dominance was associated with higher phosphorous load. Finally, there was no evidence for clonal erosion. Conclusions: Our results suggest that the contemporary structure of hybridizing Daphnia communities from ten nearby lakes is influenced by colonization events from neighbouring habitats as well as by environmental factors. Unlike the parental species, however, there was little evidence for successful dispersal of hybrids, which seem to be produced locally. Finally, in contrast to temporary Daphnia populations, in which a decrease in clonal diversity was sometimes detectable over a single growing season, the high clonal diversity and lack of clonal erosion observed here might result from repeated hatching of sexually produced offspring. Overall, our study provides insights into spatio-temporal dynamics in a hybridizing Daphnia species complex in a recently established lake system, and relates genetic similarities of populations to a scenario of secondary invasion enhanced by environmental factors.
April 9, 2014
Background: In most species, males compete to gain both matings (via pre-copulatory competition) and fertilizations (via post-copulatory competition) to maximize their reproductive success. However, the quantity of resources devoted to sexual traits is finite, and so males are predicted to balance their investment between pre- and post-copulatory expenditure depending on the expected pay-offs that should vary according to mating tactics. In Artiodactyla species, males can invest in weapons such as horns or antlers to increase their mating gains or in testes mass/sperm dimensions to increase their fertilization efficiency. Moreover, it has been suggested that in these species, males with territory defence mating tactic might preferentially increase their investment in post-copulatory traits to increase their fertilization efficiency whereas males with female defence mating tactic might increase their investment in pre-copulatory sexually selected traits to prevent other males from copulating with females. In this study, we thus test the prediction that male's weapon length (pre-copulatory trait) covaries negatively with relative testes size and/or sperm dimensions (post-copulatory traits) across Artiodactyla using a phylogenetically controlled framework. Results: Surprisingly no association between weapon length and testes mass is found but a negative association between weapon length and sperm length is evidenced. In addition, neither pre- nor post-copulatory traits were found to be affected by male mating tactics. Conclusions: We propose several hypotheses that could explain why male ungulates may not balance their reproductive investment between pre- and post-copulatory traits.
April 8, 2014
A mechanistic stress model of protein evolution accounts for site-specific evolutionary rates and their relationship with packing density and flexibility
Background: Protein sites evolve at different rates due to functional and biophysical constraints. It is usually considered that the main structural determinant of a site’s rate of evolution is its Relative Solvent Accessibility (RSA). However, a recent comparative study has shown that the main structural determinant is the site’s Local Packing Density (LPD). LPD is related with dynamical flexibility, which has also been shown to correlate with sequence variability. Our purpose is to investigate the mechanism that connects a site’s LPD with its rate of evolution. Results: We consider two models: an empirical Flexibility Model and a mechanistic Stress Model. The Flexibility Model postulates a linear increase of site-specific rate of evolution with dynamical flexibility. The Stress Model, introduced here, models mutations as random perturbations of the protein’s potential energy landscape, for which we use simple Elastic Network Models (ENMs). To account for natural selection we assume a single active conformation and use basic statistical physics to derive a linear relationship between site-specific evolutionary rates and the local stress of the mutant’s active conformation.We compare both models on a large and diverse dataset of enzymes. In a protein-by-protein study we found that the Stress Model outperforms the Flexibility Model for most proteins. Pooling all proteins together we show that the Stress Model is strongly supported by the total weight of evidence. Moreover, it accounts for the observed nonlinear dependence of sequence variability on flexibility. Finally, when mutational stress is controlled for, there is very little remaining correlation between sequence variability and dynamical flexibility. Conclusions: We developed a mechanistic Stress Model of evolution according to which the rate of evolution of a site is predicted to depend linearly on the local mutational stress of the active conformation. Such local stress is proportional to LPD, so that this model explains the relationship between LPD and evolutionary rate. Moreover, the model also accounts for the nonlinear dependence between evolutionary rate and dynamical flexibility.
April 4, 2014
A new specimen of Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, China and the phylogeny of Cretaceous basal eucryptodiran turtles
Background: Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis is an emblematic turtle from the Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Liaoning, China, a geological rock unit that is famous for yielding perfectly preserved skeletons of fossil vertebrates, including that of feathered dinosaurs. Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis was one of the first vertebrates described from this fauna, also known as the Jehol Biota. The holotype was lost during World War II and only one additional specimen has been described since. Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis is a critical taxon for unraveling the phylogenetic relationships of Cretaceous pancryptodires from Asia, a group that is considered to be of key importance for the origin of crown-group hidden-neck turtles (Cryptodira). Results: A new specimen of Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis is described here from the Jiufotang Formation of Qilinshan, Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, China. This is the third specimen described and expands the range of this taxon from the Yixian Formation of the Fuxin-Yixian Basin in Liaoning to the Jiufotang Formation of the Chifeng-Yuanbaoshan Basin. A possible temporal extension of the range is less certain. The new finding adds to our understanding of the morphology of this taxon and invites a thorough revision of the phylogeny of Macrobaenidae, Sinemydidae, and closely allied forms. Conclusions: Our comprehensive phylogenetic analyses of Cretaceous Asian pancryptodires yielded two main competing hypotheses: in the first these taxa form a paraphyletic grade, whereas in the second they form a monophyletic clade. The inclusion of problematic tree changing taxa, such as Panpleurodires (stem + crown side-neck turtles) has a major influence on the phylogenetic relationships of Sinemydidae and closely allied forms. Manchurochelys manchoukuoensis nests within Sinemydidae together with Sinemys spp. and Dracochelys bicuspis in the majority of our analyses.
April 3, 2014
Background: Polytypism in aposematic species is unlikely according to theory, but commonly seen in nature. Ranitomeya imitator is a poison frog species exhibiting polytypic mimicry of three congeneric model species (R. fantastica, R. summersi, and two morphs of R. variabilis) across four allopatric populations (a "mimetic radiation"). In order to investigate chemical defenses in this system, a key prediction of Müllerian mimicry, we analyzed the alkaloids of both models and mimics from four allopatric populations. Results: In this study we demonstrate distinct differences in alkaloid profiles between co-mimetic species within allopatric populations. We further demonstrate that R. imitator has a greater number of distinct alkaloid types than the model species and more total alkaloids in all but one population. Conclusions: Given that R. imitator is the more abundant species in these populations, R. imitator is likely driving the majority of predator-learned avoidance in these complexes. The success of Ranitomeya imitator as a putative advergent mimic may be a direct result of differences in alkaloid sequestration. Furthermore, we propose that automimicry within co-mimetic species is an important avenue of research.
An evolutionarily biased distribution of miRNA sites toward regulatory genes with high promoter-driven intrinsic transcriptional noise
Background: miRNAs are a major class of regulators of gene expression in metazoans. By targeting cognate mRNAs, miRNAs are involved in regulating most, if not all, biological processes in different cell and tissue types. To better understand how this regulatory potential is allocated among different target gene sets, we carried out a detailed and systematic analysis of miRNA target sites distribution in the mouse genome. Results: We used predicted conserved and non-conserved sites for 779 miRNAs in 3[prime] UTR of 18440 genes downloaded from TargetScan website. Our analysis reveals that 3[prime] UTRs of genes encoding regulatory proteins harbor significantly greater number of miRNA sites than those of non-regulatory, housekeeping and structural, genes. Analysis of miRNA sites for orthologous 3[prime]UTR's in 10 other species indicates that the regulatory genes were maintaining or accruing miRNA sites while non-regulatory genes gradually shed them in the course of evolution. Furthermore, we observed that 3[prime] UTR of genes with higher gene expression variability driven by their promoter sequence content are targeted by many more distinct miRNAs compared to genes with low transcriptional noise. Conclusions: Based on our results we envision a model, which we dubbed "selective inclusion", whereby non-regulatory genes with low transcription noise and stable expression profile lost their sites, while regulatory genes which endure higher transcription noise retained and gained new sites. This adaptation is consistent with the requirements that regulatory genes need to be tightly controlled in order to have precise and optimum protein level to properly function.
April 1, 2014
As part of BioMed Central’s open science mission, we are pleased to announce that two of our journals have integrated with the open data repository Dryad. Authors submitting their research to either BMC Ecology or BMC Evolutionary Biology will now have the opportunity to deposit their data directly into the Dryad archive and will receive a permanent, citable link to their dataset. Although this does not affect any of our current data deposition policies at these journals, we hope to encourage a more widespread adoption of open data sharing in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology by facilitating this process for our authors. We also take this opportunity to discuss some of the wider issues that may concern researchers when making their data openly available. Although we offer a number of positive examples from different fields of biology, we also recognise that reticence to data sharing still exists, and that change must be driven from within research communities in order to create future science that is fit for purpose in the digital age.This editorial was published jointly in both BMC Ecology and BMC Evolutionary Biology.
Revealing the maternal demographic history of Panthera leo using ancient DNA and a spatially explicit genealogical analysis
Background: Understanding the demographic history of a population is critical to conservation and to our broader understanding of evolutionary processes. For many tropical large mammals, however, this aim is confounded by the absence of fossil material and by the misleading signal obtained from genetic data of recently fragmented and isolated populations. This is particularly true for the lion which as a consequence of millennia of human persecution, has large gaps in its natural distribution and several recently extinct populations. Results: We sequenced mitochondrial DNA from museum-preserved individuals, including the extinct Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo) and Iranian lion (P. l. persica), as well as lions from West and Central Africa. We added these to a broader sample of lion sequences, resulting in a data set spanning the historical range of lions. Our Bayesian phylogeographical analyses provide evidence for highly supported, reciprocally monophyletic lion clades. Using a molecular clock, we estimated that recent lion lineages began to diverge in the Late Pleistocene. Expanding equatorial rainforest probably separated lions in South and East Africa from other populations. West African lions then expanded into Central Africa during periods of rainforest contraction. Lastly, we found evidence of two separate incursions into Asia from North Africa, first into India and later into the Middle East. Conclusions: We have identified deep, well-supported splits within the mitochondrial phylogeny of African lions, arguing for recognition of some regional populations as worthy of independent conservation. More morphological and nuclear DNA data are now needed to test these subdivisions.
Alike but different: the evolution of the Tubifex tubifex species complex (Annelida, Clitellata) through polyploidization
Background: Tubifex tubifex is a widespread annelid characterized by considerable variability in its taxonomic characteristics and by a mixed reproductive strategy, with both parthenogenesis and biparental reproduction. In a molecular phylogenetic analysis, we detected substantial genetic variability among sympatric Tubifex spp. from the Lambro River (Milano, Italy), which we suggested comprise several cryptic species. To gain insights into the evolutionary events that generated this differentiation, we performed a cytogenetic analysis in parallel with a molecular assay. Approximately 80 cocoons of T. tubifex and T. blanchardi were collected and dissected. For each cocoon, we sequenced a fragment of the 16S rRNA from half of the sibling embryos and karyotyped the other half. To generate a robust phylogeny enabling the reconstruction of the evolutionary processes shaping the diversity of these sympatric lineages, we complemented our original 16S rRNA gene sequences with additional COI sequences. Results: The chromosome number distribution was consistent with the presence of at least six sympatric euploid chromosome complements (one diploid, one triploid, three tetraploids and one hexaploid), as confirmed by a FISH assay performed with an homologous 18S rDNA probe. All the worms with 2n = 50 chromosomes belonged to an already identified sibling species of T. tubifex, T. blanchardi. The six euploid sets were coherently arranged in the phylogeny, with each lineage grouping specimens with the same chromosome complement. Conclusions: These results are compatible with the hypothesis that multiple polyploidization events, possibly enhanced by parthenogenesis, may have driven the evolution of the T. tubifex species complex.
Background: Bushbabies (Galagidae) are among the most morphologically cryptic of all primates and their diversity and relationships are some of the most longstanding problems in primatology. Our knowledge of galagid evolutionary history has been limited by a lack of appropriate molecular data and a paucity of fossils. Most phylogenetic studies have produced conflicting results for many clades, and even the relationships among genera remain uncertain. To clarify galagid evolutionary history, we assembled the largest molecular dataset for galagos to date by sequencing 27 independent loci. We inferred phylogenetic relationships using concatenated maximum-likelihood and Bayesian analyses, and also coalescent-based species tree methods to account for gene tree heterogeneity due to incomplete lineage sorting. Results: The genus Euoticus was identified as sister taxon to the rest of the galagids and the genus Galagoides was not recovered as monophyletic, suggesting that a new generic name for the Zanzibar complex is required. Despite the amount of genetic data collected in this study, the monophyly of the family Lorisidae remained poorly supported, probably due to the short internode between the Lorisidae/Galagidae split and the origin of the African and Asian lorisid clades. One major result was the relatively old origin for the most recent common ancestor of all living galagids soon after the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. Conclusions: Using a multilocus approach, our results suggest an early origin for the crown Galagidae, soon after the Eocene-Oligocene boundary, making Euoticus one of the oldest lineages within extant Primates. This result also implies that one - or possibly more - stem radiations diverged in the Late Eocene and persisted for several million years alongside members of the crown group.
March 31, 2014
Background: Cytochrome P450 CYP2C19 metabolises a wide range of pharmacologically active substances and a relatively small number of naturally occurring environmental toxins. Poor activity alleles of CYP2C19 are very frequent worldwide, particularly in Asia, raising the possibility that reduced metabolism could be advantageous in some circumstances. The evolutionary selective forces acting on this gene have not previously been investigated.We analyzed CYP2C19 genetic markers from 127 Gambians and on 120 chromosomes from Yoruba, Europeans and Asians (Japanese + Han Chinese) in the Hapmap database. Haplotype breakdown was explored using bifurcation plots and relative extended haplotype homozygosity (REHH). Allele frequency differentiation across populations was estimated using the fixation index (FST) and haplotype diversity with coalescent models. Results: Bifurcation plots suggested conservation of alleles conferring slow metabolism (CYP2C19*2 and *3). REHH was high around CYP2C19*2 in Yoruba (REHH 8.3, at 133.3 kb from the core) and to a lesser extent in Europeans (3.5, at 37.7 kb) and Asians (2.8, at -29.7 kb). FST at the CYP2C19 locus was low overall (0.098). CYP2C19*3 was an FST outlier in Asians (0.293), CYP2C19 haplotype diversity < = 0.037, p
Background: Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has been suggested as the mechanism by which various plant parasitic nematode species have obtained genes important in parasitism. In particular, cellulase genes have been acquired by plant parasitic nematodes that allow them to digest plant cell walls. Unlike the typical glycoside hydrolase (GH) family 5 cellulase genes which are found in several nematode species from the order Tylenchida, members of the GH45 cellulase have only been identified in a cluster including the families Parasitaphelenchidae (with the pinewood nematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus) and Aphelenchoididae, and their origins remain unknown. Results: In order to investigate the distribution and evolution of GH45 cellulase genes in nematodes and fungi we performed a wide ranging screen for novel putative GH45 sequences. This revealed that the sequences are widespread mainly in Ascomycetous fungi and have so far been found in a single major nematode lineage. Close relationships between the sequences from nematodes and fungi were found through our phylogenetic analyses. An intron position is shared by sequences from Bursaphelenchus nematodes and several Ascomycetous fungal species. Conclusions: The close phylogenetic relationships and conserved gene structure between the sequences from nematodes and fungi strongly supports the hypothesis that nematode GH45 cellulase genes were acquired via HGT from fungi. The rapid duplication and turnover of these genes within Bursaphelenchus genomes demonstrate that useful sequences acquired via HGT can become established in the genomes of recipient organisms and may open novel niches for these organisms to exploit.
March 30, 2014
Molecular pedigree reconstruction and estimation of evolutionary parameters in a wild Atlantic salmon river system with incomplete sampling: a power analysis
Background: Pedigree reconstruction using genetic analysis provides a useful means to estimate fundamental population biology parameters relating to population demography, trait heritability and individual fitness when combined with other sources of data. However, there remain limitations to pedigree reconstruction in wild populations, particularly in systems where parent-offspring relationships cannot be directly observed, there is incomplete sampling of individuals, or molecular parentage inference relies on low quality DNA from archived material. While much can still be inferred from incomplete or sparse pedigrees, it is crucial to evaluate the quality and power of available genetic information a priori to testing specific biological hypotheses. Here, we used microsatellite markers to reconstruct a multi-generation pedigree of wild Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) using archived scale samples collected with a total trapping system within a river over a 10 year period. Using a simulation-based approach, we determined the optimal microsatellite marker number for accurate parentage assignment, and evaluated the power of the resulting partial pedigree to investigate important evolutionary and quantitative genetic characteristics of salmon in the system. Results: We show that at least 20 microsatellites (ave. 12 alleles/locus) are required to maximise parentage assignment and to improve the power to estimate reproductive success and heritability in this study system. We also show that 1.5 fold differences can be detected between groups simulated to have differing reproductive success, and that it is possible to detect moderate heritability values for continuous traits (h2 ~ 0.40) with more than 80% power when using 28 moderately to highly polymorphic markers. Conclusion: The methodologies and work flow described provide a robust approach for evaluating archived samples for pedigree-based research, even where only a proportion of the total population is sampled. The results demonstrate the feasibility of pedigree-based studies to address challenging ecological and evolutionary questions in free-living populations, where genealogies can be traced only using molecular tools, and that significant increases in pedigree assignment power can be achieved by using higher numbers of markers.
March 28, 2014
An empirical evaluation of two-stage species tree inference strategies using a multilocus dataset from North American pines
Background: As it becomes increasingly possible to obtain DNA sequences of orthologous genes from diverse setsof taxa, species trees are frequently being inferred from multilocus data. However, the behavior ofmany methods for performing this inference has remained largely unexplored. Some methods have been proven to be consistent given certain evolutionary models, whereas others rely on criteria that, although appropriate for many parameter values, have peculiar zones of the parameter space in whichthey fail to converge on the correct estimate as data sets increase in size. Results: Here, using North American pines, we empirically evaluate the behavior of 24 strategies for speciestree inference using three alternative outgroups (72 strategies total). The data consist of 120individuals sampled in eight ingroup species from subsection Strobus and three outgroup speciesfrom subsection Gerardianae, spanning ~47 kilobases of sequence at 121 loci. Each "strategy"for inferring species trees consists of three features: a species tree construction method, a gene treeinference method, and a choice of outgroup. We use multivariate analysis techniques such as principalcomponents analysis and hierarchical clustering to identify tree characteristics that are robustlyobserved across strategies, as well as to identify groups of strategies that produce trees with similarfeatures. We find that strategies that construct species trees using only topological information clustertogether and that strategies that use additional non-topological information (e.g., branch lengths) alsocluster together. Strategies that utilize more than one individual within a species to infer gene treestend to produce estimates of species trees that contain clades present in trees estimated by otherstrategies. Strategies that use the minimize-deep-coalescences criterion to construct species trees tendto produce species tree estimates that contain clades that are not present in trees estimated by theConcatenation, RTC, SMRT, STAR, and STEAC methods, and that in general are more balanced thanthose inferred by these other strategies. Conclusions: When constructing a species tree from a multilocus set of sequences, our observations provide a basisfor interpreting differences in species tree estimates obtained via different approaches that have atwo-stage structure in common, one step for gene tree estimation and a second step for species treeestimation. The methods explored here employ a number of distinct features of the data, and ouranalysis suggests that recovery of the same results from multiple methods that tend to differ in theirpatterns of inference can be a valuable tool for obtaining reliable estimates.
March 27, 2014
Barriers to gene exchange in hybridizing field crickets: the role of male courtship effort and cuticular hydrocarbons
Background: Pre-zygotic barriers often involve some form of sexual selection, usually interpreted as female choice, as females are typically the choosier sex. However, males typically show some mate preferences, which are increasingly reported. Here we document previously uncharacterized male courtship behavior (effort and song) and cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles in the hybridizing crickets Gryllus firmus and G. pennsylvanicus. These two species exhibit multiple barriers to gene exchange that act throughout their life history, including a behavioral barrier that results in increased time to mate in heterospecific pairs. Results: We demonstrated that male mate choice (as courtship effort allocation) plays a more important role in the prezygotic behavioral barrier than previously recognized. In gryllids females ultimately decide whether or not to mate, yet we found males were selective by regulating courtship effort intensity toward the preferred (conspecific) females. Females were also selective by mating with more intensely courting males, which happened to be conspecifics. We report no differences in courtship song between the two species and suggest that the mechanism that allows males to act differentially towards conspecific and heterospecific females is the cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) composition. CHC profiles differed between males and females of both species, and there were clear differences in CHC composition between female G. firmus and G. pennsylvanicus but not between the males of each species. Conclusion: Although many barriers to gene exchange are known in this system, the mechanism behind the mate recognition leading to reduced heterospecific mating remains unknown. The CHC profiles might be the phenotypic cue that allow males to identify conspecifics and thus to adjust their courtship intensity accordingly, leading to differential mating between species.
The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks
BMC Evolutionary Biology