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February 26, 2015

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Background: Among living fliers (birds, bats, and insects), birds display relatively high aspect ratios, a dimensionless shape variable that distinguishes long and narrow vs. short and broad wings. Increasing aspect ratio results in a functional tradeoff between low induced drag (efficient cruise) and increased wing inertia (difficult takeoff). Given the wide scope of its functional effects, the pattern of aspect ratio evolution is an important factor that contributes to the substantial ecological and phylogenetic diversity of living birds. However, because the feathers that define the wingtip (and hence wingspan and aspect ratio) often do not fossilize, resolution in the pattern of avian wing shape evolution is obscured by missing information. Here I use a comparative approach to investigate the relationship between skeletal proxies of flight feather attachment and wing shape. Results: An accessory lobe of the internal index process of digit II-1, a bony correlate of distal primary attachment, shows weak but statistically significant relationships to aspect ratio and mass independent of other skeletal morphology. The dorsal phalangeal fossae of digit II-1, which house distal primaries VIII and IX, also show a trend of increased prominence with higher aspect ratio. Quill knobs on the ulna are examined concurrently, but do not show consistent signal with respect to wing shape. Conclusions: Although quill knobs are cited as skeletal correlates of flight performance in birds, their relationship to wing shape is inconsistent among extant taxa, and may reflect diverging selection pressures acting on a conserved architecture. In contrast, correlates of distal primary feather attachment on the major digit show convergent responses to increasing aspect ratio. In light of the diversity of musculoskeletal and integumentary mophology that underlies wing shape in different avian clades, it is unlikely that a single skeletal feature will show consistent predictive power across Neoaves. Confident inference of wing shape in basal ornithurine birds will require multiple lines of evidence, together with an understanding of clade-specific evolutionary trends within the crown.

February 25, 2015

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Background: Aloe vera supports a substantial global trade yet its wild origins, and explanations for its popularity over 500 related Aloe species in one of the world’s largest succulent groups, have remained uncertain. We developed an explicit phylogenetic framework to explore links between the rich traditions of medicinal use and leaf succulence in aloes. Results: The phylogenetic hypothesis clarifies the origins of Aloe vera to the Arabian Peninsula at the northernmost limits of the range for aloes. The genus Aloe originated in southern Africa ~16 million years ago and underwent two major radiations driven by different speciation processes, giving rise to the extraordinary diversity known today. Large, succulent leaves typical of medicinal aloes arose during the most recent diversification ~10 million years ago and are strongly correlated to the phylogeny and to the likelihood of a species being used for medicine. A significant, albeit weak, phylogenetic signal is evident in the medicinal uses of aloes, suggesting that the properties for which they are valued do not occur randomly across the branches of the phylogenetic tree. Conclusions: Phylogenetic investigation of plant use and leaf succulence among aloes has yielded new explanations for the extraordinary market dominance of Aloe vera. The industry preference for Aloe vera appears to be due to its proximity to important historic trade routes, and early introduction to trade and cultivation. Well-developed succulent leaf mesophyll tissue, an adaptive feature that likely contributed to the ecological success of the genus Aloe, is the main predictor for medicinal use among Aloe species, whereas evolutionary loss of succulence tends to be associated with losses of medicinal use. Phylogenetic analyses of plant use offer potential to understand patterns in the value of global plant diversity.
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Background: Many ovules of Late Devonian (Famennian) seed plants have been well studied. However, because few taxa occur with anatomically preserved stems and/or petioles, the vascular system of these earliest spermatophytes is little understood and available data come mostly from Euramerica. There remains great controversy over the anatomical differentiation of Late Devonian and Carboniferous seed plant groups of Buteoxylonales, Calamopityales and Lyginopteridales. Protostele evolution of these early spermatophytes needs more research. Results: A new taxon Yiduxylon trilobum gen. et sp. nov. with seed plant affinities has been discovered in the Upper Devonian (Famennian) Tizikou Formation of Hubei Province, China. It is represented by stems, helically arranged and bifurcate fronds with two orders of pinnae and planate pinnules. Both secondary pinnae and pinnules are borne alternately. Stems contain a small protostele with three primary xylem ribs possessing a single peripheral protoxylem strand. Thick secondary xylem displays multiseriate bordered pitting on the tangential and radial walls of the tracheids, and has biseriate to multiseriate and high rays. A narrow cortex consists of inner cortex without sclerotic nests and sparganum-type outer cortex with peripheral bands of vertically aligned sclerenchyma cells. Two leaf traces successively arise tangentially from each primary xylem rib and they divide once to produce four circular-oval traces in the stem cortex. Four vascular bundles occur in two C-shaped groups at each petiole base with ground tissue and peripheral bands of sclerenchyma cells. Conclusions: Yiduxylon justifies the assignment to a new genus mainly because of the protostele with protoxylem strands only near the periphery of primary xylem ribs, leaf trace origination and petiolar vascular supply structure. It shares many definitive characters with Calamopityales and Lyginopteridales, further underscoring the anatomical similarities among early seed plants. The primary vascular system, pycnoxylic-manoxylic secondary xylem with bordered pits on both tangential and radial walls of a tracheid and leaf trace divergence of Yiduxylon suggest transitional features between the early spermatophytes and ancestral aneurophyte progymnosperms.

February 24, 2015

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Background: The obligate mutualism between fungus-growing ants and microbial symbionts offers excellent opportunities to study the specificity and stability of multi-species interactions. In addition to cultivating fungus gardens, these ants have domesticated actinomycete bacteria to defend gardens against the fungal parasite Escovopsis and possibly other pathogens. Panamanian Acromyrmex echinatior leaf-cutting ants primarily associate with actinomycetes of the genus Pseudonocardia. Colonies are inoculated with one of two vertically transmitted phylotypes (Ps1 or Ps2), and maintain the same phylotype over their lifetime. We performed a cross-fostering experiment to test whether co-adaptations between ants and bacterial phylotypes have evolved, and how this affects bacterial growth and ant prophylactic behavior after infection with Escovopsis. Results: We show that Pseudonocardia readily colonized ants irrespective of their colony of origin, but that the Ps2 phylotype, which was previously shown to be better able to maintain its monocultural integrity after workers became foragers than Ps1, reached a higher final cover when grown on its native host than on alternative hosts. The frequencies of major grooming and weeding behaviors co-varied with symbiont/host combinations, showing that ant behavior also was affected when cuticular actinomycete phylotypes were swapped. Conclusion: These results show that the interactions between leaf-cutting ants and Pseudonocardia bear signatures of mutual co-adaptation within a single ant population.
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Background: The phylogeography of the house mouse (Mus musculus L.), an emblematic species for genetic and biomedical studies, is only partly understood, essentially because of a sampling bias towards its most peripheral populations in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Moreover, the present-day phylogeographic hypotheses stem mostly from the study of mitochondrial lineages. In this article, we complement the mtDNA studies with a comprehensive survey of nuclear markers (19 microsatellite loci) typed in 963 individuals from 47 population samples, with an emphasis on the putative Middle-Eastern centre of dispersal of the species. Results: Based on correspondence analysis, distance and allele-sharing trees, we find a good coherence between geographical origin and genetic make-up of the populations. We thus confirm the clear distinction of the three best described peripheral subspecies, M. m. musculus, M. m. domesticus and M. m. castaneus. A large diversity was found in the Iranian populations, which have had an unclear taxonomic status to date. In addition to samples with clear affiliation to M. m. musculus and M. m. domesticus, we find two genetic groups in Central and South East Iran, which are as distinct from each other as they are from the south-east Asian M. m. castaneus. These groups were previously also found to harbor distinct mitochondrial haplotypes. Conclusion: We propose that the Iranian plateau is home to two more taxonomic units displaying complex primary and secondary relationships with their long recognized neighbours. This central region emerges as the area with the highest known diversity of mouse lineages within a restricted geographical area, designating it as the focal place to study the mechanisms of speciation and diversification of this species.
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Background: Segmented body organizations are widely represented in the animal kingdom. Whether the last common bilaterian ancestor was already segmented is intensely debated. Annelids display broad morphological diversity but many species are among the most homonomous metameric animals. The front end (prostomium) and tail piece (pygidium) of annelids are classically described as non-segmental. However, the pygidium structure and development remain poorly studied. Results: Using different methods of microscopy, immunolabelling and a number of molecular markers, we describe the neural and mesodermal structures of the pygidium of Platynereis dumerilii. We establish that the pygidium possesses a complicated nervous system with a nerve ring and a pair of sensory ganglia, a complex intrinsic musculature, a large terminal circular blood sinus and an unusual unpaired torus-shaped coelomic cavity. We also describe some earlier steps of pygidial development and pygidial structure of mature animals after epitokous transformation. Conclusions: We describe a much more complex organization of the pygidium of P. dumerilii than previously suggested. Many of the characteristics are strikingly similar to those found in the trunk segments, opening the debate on whether the pygidium and trunk segments derive from the same ancestral metameric unit. We analyze these scenarios in the context of two classical theories on the origin of segmentation: the cyclomeric/archicoelomate concept and the colonial theory. Both theories provide possible explanations for the partial or complete homology of trunk segments and pygidium.
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Background: Modelling genetic phenomena affecting biological traits is important for the development of agriculture as it allows breeders to predict the potential of breeding for certain traits. One such phenomenon is heterosis or hybrid vigor: crossing individuals from genetically distinct populations often results in improvements in quantitative traits, such as growth rate, biomass production and stress resistance. Heterosis has become a very useful tool in global agriculture, but its genetic basis remains controversial and its effects hard to predict. We have taken a computational approach to studying heterosis, developing a simulation of evolution, independent reassortment of alleles and hybridization of Gene Regulatory Networks (GRNs) in a Boolean framework. These artificial regulatory networks exhibit topological properties that reflect those observed in biology, and fitness is measured as the ability of a network to respond to external inputs in a pre-defined way. Results: Our model reproduced common experimental observations on heterosis using only biologically justified parameters, such as mutation rates. Hybrid vigor was observed and its extent was seen to increase as parental populations diverged, up until a point of sudden collapse of hybrid fitness. Thus, the model also describes a process akin to speciation due to genetic incompatibility of the separated populations. We also reproduce, for the first time in a model, the fact that hybrid vigor cannot easily be fixed by within a breeding line, currently an important limitation of the use of hybrid crops. The simulation allowed us to study the effects of three standard models for the genetic basis of heterosis: dominance, over-dominance, and epistasis. Conclusion: This study describes the most detailed simulation of heterosis using gene regulatory networks to date and reproduces several phenomena associated with heterosis for the first time in a model. The level of detail in our model allows us to suggest possible warning signs of the impending collapse of hybrid vigor in breeding. In addition, the simulation provides a framework that can be extended to study other aspects of heterosis and alternative evolutionary scenarios.

February 21, 2015

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Background: Thelytoky, the parthenogenetic development of females, has independently evolved in several insect orders yet the study of its mechanisms has so far mostly focussed on haplodiploid Hymenoptera, while alternative mechanisms of thelytoky such as polyploidy are far less understood. In haplodiploid insects, thelytoky can be encoded in their genomes, or induced by maternally inherited bacteria such as Wolbachia or Cardinium. Microbially facilitated thelytoky usually results in complete homozygosity due to gamete duplication and can be reverted into arrhenotoky, the parthenogenetic development of males, through treatment with antibiotics. In contrast, genetically encoded thelytoky cannot be removed and may result in conservation of heterozygosity due to gamete fusion. We have probed the obligate thelytoky of the greenhouse thrips, Heliothrips haemorrhoidalis (Bouché), a significant cosmopolitan pest and a model species of thelytoky in the haplodiploid insect order Thysanoptera. Earlier studies suggested terminal fusion as a mechanism for thelytoky in this species, while another study reported presence of Wolbachia; later it was speculated that Wolbachia plays a role in this thrips’ thelytokous reproduction. Results: By using PCR and sequence analysis, we demonstrated that global population samples of H. haemorrhoidalis were not infected with Wolbachia, Cardinium or any other known bacterial reproductive manipulators. Antibiotic treatment of this thrips did also not result in male production. Some individuals carried two different alleles in two nuclear loci, histone 3 and elongation factor 1 alpha, suggesting heterozygosity. However, the majority of individuals had three different alleles suggesting that they were polyploid. Genetic diversity across both nuclear loci was low in all populations, and absent from mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I, indicating that this species had experienced genetic bottlenecks, perhaps due to its invasion biology or a switch to thelytoky. Conclusions: Geographically broad sampling and experimental manipulation revealed low genetic diversity, absence of Wolbachia but presence of three different alleles of nuclear loci in most analysed individuals of obligately thelytokous H. haemorrhoidalis. This suggests that polyploidy may be involved in the thelytokous reproduction of this thrips species, and polyploidy may be a contributing factor in the reproduction of Thysanoptera and other haplodiploid insect orders.

February 14, 2015

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Background: The A Disintegrin-like and Metalloproteinase domain with Thrombospondin-1 motifs (ADAMTS) enzymes comprise 19 mammalian zinc-dependent metalloproteinases (metzincins) with homologues in a wide range of invertebrates. ADAMTS enzymes have a broad range of functions in development and diseases due to their extracellular matrix remodelling activity. Here, we report a detailed characterisation of their evolutionary conservation across vertebrates. Results: Using bioinformatics complemented with de novo sequencing, gene sequences for ADAMTS enzymes were obtained from a variety of organisms. Detailed evolutionary analyses revealed a high level of conservation across vertebrates with evidence of ADAMTS gene expansion during two rounds of whole genome duplication (WGD) in vertebrates, while tandem duplication events and gene loss were also apparent. However, the additional round of teleost-specific WGD did not have a significant effect on ADAMTS gene family members suggesting their conserved roles have remained constant in teleost fish. Quantitative reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction analysis revealed dynamic expression of adamts genes throughout zebrafish embryonic development reflecting the key conserved roles they play in vertebrate embryogenesis. Notably, several adamts mRNAs were maternally expressed with a dramatic increase in mRNA levels coinciding with zygotic expression and organogenesis. Broad adamts mRNA expression was also demonstrated in several adult organs indicating potential roles in adult homeostasis. Conclusions: Our data highlight the evolution of the ADAMTS gene family through duplication processes across metazoans supplemented by a burst of amplification through vertebrate WGD events. It also strongly posits the zebrafish as a potential model species to further elucidate the function of ADAMTS enzymes during vertebrate development.
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Background: The bacterial genus Mycobacterium is of great interest in the medical and biotechnological fields. Despite a flood of genome sequencing and functional genomics data, significant gaps in knowledge between genome and phenome seriously hinder efforts toward the treatment of mycobacterial diseases and practical biotechnological applications. In this study, we propose the use of systematic, comparative functional pan-genomic analysis to build connections between genomic dynamics and phenotypic evolution in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) metabolism in the genus Mycobacterium. Results: Phylogenetic, phenotypic, and genomic information for 27 completely genome-sequenced mycobacteria was systematically integrated to reconstruct a mycobacterial phenotype network (MPN) with a pan-genomic concept at a network level. In the MPN, mycobacterial phenotypes show typical scale-free relationships. PAH degradation is an isolated phenotype with the lowest connection degree, consistent with phylogenetic and environmental isolation of PAH degraders. A series of functional pan-genomic analyses provide conserved and unique types of genomic evidence for strong epistatic and pleiotropic impacts on evolutionary trajectories of the PAH-degrading phenotype. Under strong natural selection, the detailed gene gain/loss patterns from horizontal gene transfer (HGT)/deletion events hypothesize a plausible evolutionary path, an epistasis-based birth and pleiotropy-dependent death, for PAH metabolism in the genus Mycobacterium. This study generated a practical mycobacterial compendium of phenotypic and genomic changes, focusing on the PAH-degrading phenotype, with a pan-genomic perspective of the evolutionary events and the environmental challenges. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that when selection acts on PAH metabolism, only a small fraction of possible trajectories is likely to be observed, owing mainly to a combination of the ambiguous phenotypic effects of PAHs and the corresponding pleiotropy- and epistasis-dependent evolutionary adaptation. Evolutionary constraints on the selection of trajectories, like those seen in PAH-degrading phenotypes, are likely to apply to the evolution of other phenotypes in the genus Mycobacterium.
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Background: Variation in the number of repeated traits, or serial homologs, has contributed greatly to animal body plan diversity. Eyespot color patterns of nymphalid butterflies, like arthropod and vertebrate limbs, are an example of serial homologs. These eyespot color patterns originated in a small number of wing sectors on the ventral hindwing surface and later appeared in novel wing sectors, novel wings, and novel wing surfaces. However, the details of how eyespots were co-opted to these novel wing locations are currently unknown. Results: We used a large data matrix of eyespot/presence absence data, previously assembled from photographs of contemporary species, to perform a phylogenetic investigation of eyespot origins in nine independent nymphalid lineages. To determine how the eyespot gene regulatory network acquired novel positional information, we used phylogenetic correlation analyses to test for non-independence in the origination of eyespots. We found consistent patterns of eyespot gene network redeployment in the nine lineages, where eyespots first redeployed from the ventral hindwing to the ventral forewing, then to new sectors within the ventral wing surface, and finally to the dorsal wing surface. Eyespots that appeared in novel wing sectors modified the positional information of their serial homolog ancestors in one of two ways: by changing the wing or surface identity while retaining sector identity, or by changing the sector identity while retaining wing and surface identity. Conclusions: Eyespot redeployment to novel sectors, wings, and surfaces happened multiple times in different nymphalid subfamilies following a similar pattern. This indicates that parallel mutations altering expression of the eyespot gene regulatory network led to its co-option to novel wing locations over time.
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Background: Body size variation within clades of mammals is widespread, but the developmental and life-history mechanisms by which this variation is achieved are poorly understood, especially in extinct forms. An illustrative case study is that of the dwarfed morphotypes of Candiacervus from the Pleistocene of Crete versus the giant deer Megaloceros giganteus, both in a clade together with Dama dama among extant species. Histological analyses of long bones and teeth in a phylogenetic context have been shown to provide reliable estimates of growth and life history patterns in extant and extinct mammals. Results: Similarity of bone tissue types across the eight species examined indicates a comparable mode of growth in deer, with long bones mainly possessing primary plexiform fibrolamellar bone. Low absolute growth rates characterize dwarf Candiacervus sp. II and C. ropalophorus compared to Megaloceros giganteus displaying high rates, whereas Dama dama is characterized by intermediate to low growth rates. The lowest recorded rates are those of the Miocene small stem cervid Procervulus praelucidus. Skeletal maturity estimates indicate late attainment in sampled Candiacervus and Procervulus praelucidus. Tooth cementum analysis of first molars of two senile Megaloceros giganteus specimens revealed ages of 16 and 19 years whereas two old dwarf Candiacervus specimens gave ages of 12 and 18 years. Conclusions: There is a rich histological record of growth across deer species recorded in long bones and teeth, which can be used to understand ontogenetic patterns within species and phylogenetic ones across species. Growth rates sensu Sander & Tückmantel plotted against the anteroposterior bone diameter as a proxy for body mass indicate three groups: one with high growth rates including Megaloceros, Cervus, Alces, and Dama; an intermediate group with Capreolus and Muntiacus; and a group showing low growth rates, including dwarf Candiacervus and Procervulus. Dwarf Candiacervus, in an allometric context, show an extended lifespan compared to other deer of similar body size such as Mazama which has a maximum longevity of 12 years in the wild. Comparison with other clades of mammals reveals that changes in size and life history in evolution have occurred in parallel, with various modes of skeletal tissue modification.

February 13, 2015

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Background: Sperm competition imposes a strong selective pressure on males, leading to the evolution of various physiological, morphological and behavioral traits. Sperm competition can be prevented by blocking or impeding the access to female genitalia by means of a mating plug. We investigated the factors responsible for plug production and function in the promiscuous female-cannibalistic spider Micaria sociabilis (Gnaphosidae). Results: We performed mating trials using females with and without a plug that consists of an amorphous mass. The mating trials demonstrated that the probability of male plugging increased non-linearly with the duration of copulation. Copulation duration and plug production seem to be controlled by the female. We found that females terminated matings later if males were fast at genital coupling. Whereas incomplete plugs had disappeared on the day following copulation, complete plugs persisted (40%). In matings with females with complete plugs, only a small proportion of males (7%) were able to remove the plug, indicating the high effectiveness of plugging. Moreover, males ceased attempts to copulate with plugged females with higher probability. 3D X-ray microscopy of the female and male genitalia showed that the plug material can extend far into the female genital tract and that the plug material is produced by a massive gland inside the palpal organ of the modified male pedipalps. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that the mating plug in M. sociabilis constitutes an effective male strategy to avoid sperm competition that seems to be under female control.

February 10, 2015

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Contributing reviewersThe editors of BMC Evolutionary Biology would like to thank all our reviewers who have contributed to the journal in Volume 14 (2014).
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Background: Two non-homologous, isofunctional enzymes catalyze the penultimate step of chlorophyll a synthesis in oxygenic photosynthetic organisms such as cyanobacteria, eukaryotic algae and land plants: the light-independent (LIPOR) and light-dependent (POR) protochlorophyllide oxidoreductases. Whereas the distribution of these enzymes in cyanobacteria and land plants is well understood, the presence, loss, duplication, and replacement of these genes have not been surveyed in the polyphyletic and remarkably diverse eukaryotic algal lineages. Results: A phylogenetic reconstruction of the history of the POR enzyme (encoded by the por gene in nuclei) in eukaryotic algae reveals replacement and supplementation of ancestral por genes in several taxa with horizontally transferred por genes from other eukaryotic algae. For example, stramenopiles and haptophytes share por gene duplicates of prasinophytic origin, although their plastid ancestry predicts a rhodophytic por signal. Phylogenetically, stramenopile pors appear ancestral to those found in haptophytes, suggesting transfer from stramenopiles to haptophytes by either horizontal or endosymbiotic gene transfer. In dinoflagellates whose plastids have been replaced by those of a haptophyte or diatom, the ancestral por genes seem to have been lost whereas those of the new symbiotic partner are present. Furthermore, many chlorarachniophytes and peridinin-containing dinoflagellates possess por gene duplicates.In contrast to the retention, gain, and frequent duplication of algal por genes, the LIPOR gene complement (chloroplast-encoded chlL, chlN, and chlB genes) is often absent. LIPOR genes have been lost from haptophytes and potentially from the euglenid and chlorarachniophyte lineages. Within the chlorophytes, rhodophytes, cryptophytes, heterokonts, and chromerids, some taxa possess both POR and LIPOR genes while others lack LIPOR. The gradual process of LIPOR gene loss is evidenced in taxa possessing pseudogenes or partial LIPOR gene compliments. No horizontal transfer of LIPOR genes was detected. Conclusions: We document a pattern of por gene acquisition and expansion as well as loss of LIPOR genes from many algal taxa, paralleling the presence of multiple por genes and lack of LIPOR genes in the angiosperms. These studies present an opportunity to compare the regulation and function of por gene families that have been acquired and expanded in patterns unique to each of various algal taxa.
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Background: Long-term monitoring of the biological impacts of the radioactive pollution caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011 is required to understand what has occurred in organisms living in the polluted areas. Here, we investigated spatial and temporal changes of the abnormality rate (AR) in both field-caught adult populations and laboratory-reared offspring populations of the pale grass blue butterfly, Zizeeria maha, which has generation time of approximately one month. We monitored 7 localities (Fukushima, Motomiya, Hirono, Iwaki, Takahagi, Mito, and Tsukuba) every spring and fall over 3 years (2011–2013). Results: The adult ARs of these localities quickly increased and peaked in the fall of 2011, which was not observed in non-contaminated localities. In the offspring generation, the total ARs, which include deaths at the larval, prepupal, and pupal stages and morphological abnormalities at the adult stage, peaked either in the fall of 2011 or in the spring of 2012, with much higher levels than those of the parent field populations, suggesting that high incidence of deaths and abnormalities might have occurred in the field populations. Importantly, the elevated ARs of the field and offspring populations settled back to a normal level by the fall of 2012 and by the spring of 2013, respectively. Similar results were obtained not only in the spatiotemporal dynamics of the number of individuals caught per minute but also in the temporal dynamics of the correlation coefficient between the adult abnormality rate and the ground radiation dose or the distance from the Power Plant. Conclusions: These results demonstrated an occurrence and an accumulation of adverse physiological and genetic effects in early generations, followed by their decrease and leveling off at a normal level, providing the most comprehensive record of biological dynamics after a nuclear accident available today. This study also indicates the importance of considering generation time and adaptive evolution in evaluating the biological impacts of artificial pollution in wild organisms.
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Background: Dinoflagellates are eukaryotes with unusual cell biology and appear to rely on translational rather than transcriptional control of gene expression. The eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) plays an important role in regulating gene expression because eIF4E binding to the mRNA cap is a control point for translation. eIF4E is part of an extended, eukaryote-specific family with different members having specific functions, based on studies of model organisms. Dinoflagellate eIF4E diversity could provide a mechanism for dinoflagellates to regulate gene expression in a post-transcriptional manner. Accordingly, eIF4E family members from eleven core dinoflagellate transcriptomes were surveyed to determine the diversity and phylogeny of the eIF4E family in dinoflagellates and related lineages including apicomplexans, ciliates and heterokonts. Results: The survey uncovered eight to fifteen (on average eleven) different eIF4E family members in each core dinoflagellate species. The eIF4E family members from heterokonts and dinoflagellates segregated into three clades, suggesting at least three eIF4E cognates were present in their common ancestor. However, these three clades are distinct from the three previously described eIF4E classes, reflecting diverse approaches to a central eukaryotic function. Heterokonts contain four clades, ciliates two and apicomplexans only a single recognizable eIF4E clade. In the core dinoflagellates, the three clades were further divided into nine sub-clades based on the phylogenetic analysis and species representation. Six of the sub-clades included at least one member from all eleven core dinoflagellate species, suggesting duplication in their shared ancestor. Conservation within sub-clades varied, suggesting different selection pressures. Conclusions: Phylogenetic analysis of eIF4E in core dinoflagellates revealed complex layering of duplication and conservation when compared to other eukaryotes. Our results suggest that the diverse eIF4E family in core dinoflagellates may provide a toolkit to enable selective translation as a strategy for controlling gene expression in these enigmatic eukaryotes.
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Background: Model selection is a vital part of most phylogenetic analyses, and accounting for the heterogeneity in evolutionary patterns across sites is particularly important. Mixture models and partitioning are commonly used to account for this variation, and partitioning is the most popular approach. Most current partitioning methods require some a priori partitioning scheme to be defined, typically guided by known structural features of the sequences, such as gene boundaries or codon positions. Recent evidence suggests that these a priori boundaries often fail to adequately account for variation in rates and patterns of evolution among sites. Furthermore, new phylogenomic datasets such as those assembled from ultra-conserved elements lack obvious structural features on which to define a priori partitioning schemes. The upshot is that, for many phylogenetic datasets, partitioned models of molecular evolution may be inadequate, thus limiting the accuracy of downstream phylogenetic analyses. Results: We present a new algorithm that automatically selects a partitioning scheme via the iterative division of the alignment into subsets of similar sites based on their rates of evolution. We compare this method to existing approaches using a wide range of empirical datasets, and show that it consistently leads to large increases in the fit of partitioned models of molecular evolution when measured using AICc and BIC scores. In doing so, we demonstrate that some related approaches to solving this problem may have been associated with a small but important bias. Conclusions: Our method provides an alternative to traditional approaches to partitioning, such as dividing alignments by gene and codon position. Because our method is data-driven, it can be used to estimate partitioned models for all types of alignments, including those that are not amenable to traditional approaches to partitioning.

February 4, 2015

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Background: It is conventionally accepted that the lepidopteran fossil record is significantly incomplete when compared to the fossil records of other, very diverse, extant insect orders. Such an assumption, however, has been based on cumulative diversity data rather than using alternative statistical approaches from actual specimen counts. Results: We reviewed documented specimens of the lepidopteran fossil record, currently consisting of 4,593 known specimens that are comprised of 4,262 body fossils and 331 trace fossils. The temporal distribution of the lepidopteran fossil record shows significant bias towards the late Paleocene to middle Eocene time interval. Lepidopteran fossils also record major shifts in preservational style and number of represented localities at the Mesozoic stage and Cenozoic epoch level of temporal resolution. Only 985 of the total known fossil specimens (21.4%) were assigned to 23 of the 40 extant lepidopteran superfamilies. Absolute numbers and proportions of preservation types for identified fossils varied significantly across superfamilies. The secular increase of lepidopteran family-level diversity through geologic time significantly deviates from the general pattern of other hyperdiverse, ordinal-level lineages. Conclusion: Our statistical analyses of the lepidopteran fossil record show extreme biases in preservation type, age, and taxonomic composition. We highlight the scarcity of identified lepidopteran fossils and provide a correspondence between the latest lepidopteran divergence-time estimates and relevant fossil occurrences at the superfamily level. These findings provide caution in interpreting the lepidopteran fossil record through the modeling of evolutionary diversification and in determination of divergence time estimates.
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Background: Little is known about the patterns and correlates of mammal diversity gradients in Asia. In this study, we examine patterns of species distributions and phylogenetic diversity in Asia and investigate if the observed diversity patterns are associated with differences in diversification rates between the tropical and non-tropical regions. We used species distribution maps and phylogenetic trees to generate species and phylogenetic diversity measures for 1? ? 1? cells across mainland Asia. We constructed lineage-through-time plots and estimated diversification shift-times to examine the temporal patterns of diversifications across orders. Finally, we tested if the observed gradients in Asia could be associated with geographical differences in diversification rates across the tropical and non-tropical biomes. We estimated speciation, extinction and dispersal rates across these two regions for mammals, both globally and for Asian mammals. Results: Our results demonstrate strong latitudinal and longitudinal gradients of species and phylogenetic diversity with Southeast Asia and the Himalayas showing highest diversity. Importantly, our results demonstrate that differences in diversification (speciation, extinction and dispersal) rates between the tropical and the non-tropical biomes influence the observed diversity gradients globally and in Asia. For the first time, we demonstrate that Asian tropics act as both cradles and museums of mammalian diversity. Conclusions: Temporal and spatial variation in diversification rates across different lineages of mammals is an important correlate of species diversity gradients observed in Asia.