BMC Evolutionary Biology

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May 25, 2015

18:00
Background: Tribe Orchideae dominates the orchid flora of the temperate Northern Hemisphere but its representatives in East Asia had been subject to less intensive phylogenetic study than those in Eurasia and North America. Although this situation was improved recently by the molecular phylogenetic study of Jin et al., comparatively few species were analyzed from the species-rich and taxonomically controversial East Asian Amitostigma alliance. Here, we present a framework nrITS tree of 235 accessions of Orchideae plus an in-depth analysis of 110 representative accessions, encompassing most widely recognized species within the alliance, to elucidate their relationships. Results: We used parsimony, likelihood and Bayesian approaches to generate trees from data for two nuclear (rITS, low-copy Xdh) and four chloroplast (matK, psbA-trnH, trnL-F, trnS-trnG) markers. Nuclear and plastid data were analyzed separately due to a few hard incongruences that most likely reflect chloroplast capture. Our results suggest key phylogenetic placements for Sirindhornia and Brachycorythis, and confirm previous assertions that the Amitostigma alliance is monophyletic and sister to the Eurasian plus European clades of subtribe Orchidinae. Seven robust clades are evident within the alliance, but none corresponds precisely with any of the traditional genera; the smaller and more morphologically distinct genera Tsaiorchis, Hemipilia, Neottianthe and Hemipiliopsis are monophyletic but each is nested within a polyphyletic plexus of species attributed to either Ponerorchis or the most plesiomorphic genus, Amitostigma. Two early-divergent clades that escaped analysis by Jin et al. undermine their attempt to circumscribe an expanded monophyletic genus Ponerorchis. Conclusions: We provide a new framework on the complex phylogenetic relationships between Amitostigma and other genera traditionally included in its alliance; based on which, we combine the entire Amitostigma alliance into a morphologically and molecularly circumscribed Amitostigma sensu latissimo that also contains seven molecularly circumscribed sections. Our molecular trees imply unusually high levels of morphological homoplasy, but these will need to be quantified via a future group-wide review of the alliance based on living plants if morphology is to be fully integrated into our classification.

May 22, 2015

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Background: Phylogeographic research has advanced in South America, with increasing efforts on taxa from the dry diagonal biomes. However, the diversification of endemic fauna from the semiarid Caatinga biome in northeastern Brazil is still poorly known. Here we targeted saxicolous lizards of the Tropidurus semitaeniatus species group to better understand the evolutionary history of these endemic taxa and the Caatinga. We estimated a time-calibrated phylogeny for the species group based on two mitochondrial and two nuclear genes and jointly estimated the species limits and species tree within the group. We also devoted a denser phylogeographic sampling of the T. semitaeniatus complex to explore migration patterns, and the spatiotemporal diffusion history to verify a possible role of the São Francisco River as a promoter of differentiation in this saxicolous group of lizards. Results: Phylogenetic analysis detected high cryptic genetic diversity, occurrence of unique microendemic lineages associated with older highlands, and a speciation history that took place during the Pliocene-Pleistocene transition. Species delimitation detected five evolutionary entities within the T. semitaeniatus species group, albeit with low support. Thus, additional data are needed for a more accurate definition of species limits and interspecific relationships within this group. Spatiotemporal analyses reconstructed the geographic origin of the T. semitaeniatus species complex to be located north of the present-day course of the São Francisco River, followed by dispersal that expanded its distribution towards the northwest and south. Gene flow estimates showed higher migration rates into the lineages located north of the São Francisco River. Conclusions: The phylogenetic and population structures are intrinsically associated with stable rock surfaces and landscape rearrangements, such as the establishment of drainage basins located to the northern and southern distribution ranges. The T. semitaeniatus complex preserved high genetic diversity during range expansion, possibly as a result of frequent long-distance dispersal events. Our results indicate that both the current course of the São Francisco River and its paleo-courses had an important role in promoting diversification of the Caatinga endemic T. semitaeniatus species group.
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Background: Although males and females need one another in order to reproduce, they often have different reproductive interests, which can lead to conflict between the sexes. The intensity and frequency of male-male competition for fertilization opportunities is thought to be an important contributor to this conflict. The nematode genus Caenorhabditis provides an opportunity to test this hypothesis because the frequency of males varies widely among species with different mating systems. Results: We find evidence that there is strong inter- and intra-sexual conflict within C. remanei, a dioecious species composed of equal frequencies of males and females. In particular, some C. remanei males greatly reduce female lifespan following mating, and their sperm have a strong competitive advantage over the sperm of other males. In contrast, our results suggest that both types of conflict have been greatly reduced within C. elegans, which is an androdioecious species that is composed of self-fertilizing hermaphrodites and rare males. Using experimental evolution in mutant C. elegans populations in which sperm production is blocked in hermaphrodites (effectively converting them to females), we find that the consequences of sexual conflict observed within C. remanei evolve rapidly within C. elegans populations experiencing high levels of male-male competition. Conclusions: Together, these complementary data sets support the hypothesis that the intensity of intersexual conflict varies with the intensity of competition among males, and that male-induced collateral damage to mates can evolve very rapidly within populations.

May 20, 2015

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Background: Traditionally, the evolution of terrestrial reproduction in anurans from ancestors that bred in water has been accepted in the literature. Still, the existence of intermediate stages of water dependency, such as species that lay eggs close to water (e.g., in burrows) instead of in bodies of water, supports the hypothesis of an ordered and gradual evolution in the direction of a more terrestrial form of reproduction. However, this conventional view has recently been challenged for some anurans groups. Leptodactylinae frogs are a remarkable example of anurans with an outstanding diversity in terms of reproductive features, with distinct water dependency among lineages. Here, we tested the hypothesis of a gradual and ordered tendency towards terrestriality in Leptodactylinae, including the existence of obligatory intermediate stages, such as semi-terrestrial reproductive strategies. We also addressed the association between reproductive modes and the morphological and ecological features. Results: An ancestral reconstruction analysis indicated that even though shifts from aquatic to terrestrial breeding occurred throughout the history of Leptodactylus and Adenomera, shifts from terrestrial to aquatic reproduction happened at almost the same frequency. Our results also demonstrated that reproductive modes for semi-terrestrial tadpoles were not necessarily an intermediate form between aquatic and terrestrial breeds. Correlations among reproductive modes and other life-history traits suggested that tadpole environment, clutch size, nuptial spines, and egg pigmentation were co-evolving and driven by water dependency. Conclusions: Our results found no evidence of evolutionary tendencies toward terrestriality in Leptodactylinae. We found reversals from terrestrial to aquatic tadpole development and no evidence of obligatory intermediate stages, such as semi-terrestrial reproductive strategies. We also found correlations between reproductive modes and other life-history traits driven by water dependence. Aquatic reproductive modes are associated with higher clutch sizes, lentic waters, and the presence of nuptial spines and egg pigmentation.
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Background: The highly derived morphology and astounding diversity of snakes has long inspired debate regarding the ecological and evolutionary origin of both the snake total-group (Pan-Serpentes) and crown snakes (Serpentes). Although speculation abounds on the ecology, behavior, and provenance of the earliest snakes, a rigorous, clade-wide analysis of snake origins has yet to be attempted, in part due to a dearth of adequate paleontological data on early stem snakes. Here, we present the first comprehensive analytical reconstruction of the ancestor of crown snakes and the ancestor of the snake total-group, as inferred using multiple methods of ancestral state reconstruction. We use a combined-data approach that includes new information from the fossil record on extinct crown snakes, new data on the anatomy of the stem snakes Najash rionegrina, Dinilysia patagonica, and Coniophis precedens, and a deeper understanding of the distribution of phenotypic apomorphies among the major clades of fossil and Recent snakes. Additionally, we infer time-calibrated phylogenies using both new ‘tip-dating’ and traditional node-based approaches, providing new insights on temporal patterns in the early evolutionary history of snakes. Results: Comprehensive ancestral state reconstructions reveal that both the ancestor of crown snakes and the ancestor of total-group snakes were nocturnal, widely foraging, non-constricting stealth hunters. They likely consumed soft-bodied vertebrate and invertebrate prey that was subequal to head size, and occupied terrestrial settings in warm, well-watered, and well-vegetated environments. The snake total-group – approximated by the Coniophis node – is inferred to have originated on land during the middle Early Cretaceous (~128.5 Ma), with the crown-group following about 20 million years later, during the Albian stage. Our inferred divergence dates provide strong evidence for a major radiation of henophidian snake diversity in the wake of the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction, clarifying the pattern and timing of the extant snake radiation. Although the snake crown-group most likely arose on the supercontinent of Gondwana, our results suggest the possibility that the snake total-group originated on Laurasia. Conclusions: Our study provides new insights into when, where, and how snakes originated, and presents the most complete picture of the early evolution of snakes to date. More broadly, we demonstrate the striking influence of including fossils and phenotypic data in combined analyses aimed at both phylogenetic topology inference and ancestral state reconstruction.
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Background: Quaternary climatic changes led to variations in sea level and these variations played a significant role in the generation of marine terrace deposits in the South Atlantic Coastal Plain. The main consequence of the increase in sea level was local extinction or population displacement, such that coastal species would be found around the new coastline. Our main goal was to investigate the effects of sea level changes on the geographical structure and variability of genetic lineages from a Petunia species endemic to the South Atlantic Coastal Plain. We employed a phylogeographic approach based on plastid sequences obtained from individuals collected from the complete geographic distribution of Petunia integrifolia ssp. depauperata and its sister group. We used population genetics tests to evaluate the degree of genetic variation and structure among and within populations, and we used haplotype network analysis and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to estimate divergence times and population growth. Results: We observed three major genetic lineages whose geographical distribution may be related to different transgression/regression events that occurred in this region during the Pleistocene. The divergence time between the monophyletic group P. integrifolia ssp. depauperata and its sister group (P. integrifolia ssp. integrifolia) was compatible with geological estimates of the availability of the coastal plain. Similarly, the origin of each genetic lineage is congruent with geological estimates of habitat availability. Conclusions: Diversification of P. integrifolia ssp. depauperata possibly occurred as a consequence of the marine transgression/regression cycles during the Pleistocene. In periods of high sea level, plants were most likely restricted to a refuge area corresponding to fossil dunes and granitic hills, from which they colonized the coast once the sea level came down. The modern pattern of lineage geographical distribution and population variation was established by a range expansion with serial founder effects conditioned on soil availability.

May 19, 2015

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Background: Chromosomal rearrangements have the potential to limit the rate and pattern of gene flow within and between species and thus play a direct role in promoting and maintaining speciation. Wood white butterflies of the genus Leptidea are excellent models to study the role of chromosome rearrangements in speciation because they show karyotype variability not only among but also within species. In this work, we investigated genome architecture of three cryptic Leptidea species (L. juvernica, L. sinapis and L. reali) by standard and molecular cytogenetic techniques in order to reveal causes of the karyotype variability. Results: Chromosome numbers ranged from 2n = 85 to 91 in L. juvernica and 2n = 69 to 73 in L. sinapis (both from Czech populations) to 2n = 51 to 55 in L. reali (Spanish population). We observed significant differences in chromosome numbers and localization of cytogenetic markers (rDNA and H3 histone genes) within the offspring of individual females. Using FISH with the (TTAGG) n telomeric probe we also documented the presence of multiple chromosome fusions and/or fissions and other complex rearrangements. Thus, the intraspecific karyotype variability is likely due to irregular chromosome segregation of multivalent meiotic configurations. The analysis of female meiotic chromosomes by GISH and CGH revealed multiple sex chromosomes: W1W2W3Z1Z2Z3Z4 in L. juvernica, W1W2W3Z1Z2Z3 in L. sinapis and W1W2W3W4Z1Z2Z3Z4 in L. reali. Conclusions: Our results suggest a dynamic karyotype evolution and point to the role of chromosomal rearrangements in the speciation of Leptidea butterflies. Moreover, our study revealed a curious sex determination system with 3–4 W and 3–4 Z chromosomes, which is unique in the Lepidoptera and which could also have played a role in the speciation process of the three Leptidea species.

May 17, 2015

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Background: Hibernation is a survival mechanism in the winter for some animals. Fat preserved instead of glucose produced is the primary fuel during winter hibernation of mammals. Many genes involved in lipid metabolism are regulated by the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα). The role of PPARα in hibernation of mammals remains largely unknown. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we investigated whether PPARα is adapted to hibernation in bats. Results: Evolutionary analyses revealed that the ω value of Pparα of the ancestral lineage of hibernating bats in both Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera was lower than that of non-hibernating bats in Yinpterochiroptera, suggesting that a higher selective pressure acts on Pparα in hibernating bats. PPARα expression was found to be increased at both mRNA and protein levels in distantly related bats (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum and Hipposideros armiger in Yinpterochiroptera and Myotis ricketti in Yangochiroptera) during their torpid episodes. Transcription factors such as FOXL1, NFYA, NFYB, SP1, TBP, and ERG were bioinformatically determined to have a higher binding affinity to the potential regulatory regions of Pparα in hibernating than in non-hibernating mammals. Genome-wide bioinformatic analyses of 64 mammalian species showed that PPARα has more potential target genes and higher binding affinity to these genes in hibernating than in non-hibernating mammals. Conclusions: We conclude that PPARα is adapted to hibernation in bats based on the observations that Pparα has a more stringent functional constraint in the ancestral lineage of hibernating bats and a higher level of expression in hibernating than in non-hibernating bats. We also conclude that PPARα plays a very important role in hibernation as hibernators have more PPARα target genes than non-hibernators, and PPARα in hibernators has a higher binding affinity for its target genes than in non-hibernators.

May 13, 2015

18:00
Background: The detection and avoidance of “long-branch effects” in phylogenetic inference represents a longstanding challenge for molecular phylogenetic investigations. A consequence of parallelism and convergence, long-branch effects arise in phylogenetic inference when there is unequal molecular divergence among lineages, and they can positively mislead inference based on parsimony especially, but also inference based on maximum likelihood and Bayesian approaches. Long-branch effects have been exhaustively examined by simulation studies that have compared the performance of different inference methods in specific model trees and branch length spaces. Results: In this paper, by generalizing the phylogenetic signal and noise analysis to quartets with uneven subtending branches, we quantify the utility of molecular characters for resolution of quartet phylogenies via parsimony. Our quantification incorporates contributions toward the correct tree from either signal or homoplasy (i.e. “the right result for either the right reason or the wrong reason”). We also characterize a highly conservative lower bound of utility that incorporates contributions to the correct tree only when they correspond to true, unobscured parsimony-informative sites (i.e. “the right result for the right reason”). We apply the generalized signal and noise analysis to classic quartet phylogenies in which long-branch effects can arise due to unequal rates of evolution or an asymmetrical topology. Application of the analysis leads to identification of branch length conditions in which inference will be inconsistent and reveals insights regarding how to improve sampling of molecular loci and taxa in order to correctly resolve phylogenies in which long-branch effects are hypothesized to exist. Conclusions: The generalized signal and noise analysis provides analytical prediction of utility of characters evolving at diverse rates of evolution to resolve quartet phylogenies with unequal branch lengths. The analysis can be applied to identifying characters evolving at appropriate rates to resolve phylogenies in which long-branch effects are hypothesized to occur.
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Background: The evolutionary highly conserved neurohypophyseal hormones oxytocin and arginine vasopressin play key roles in regulating social cognition and behaviours. The effects of these two peptides are meditated by their specific receptors, which are encoded by the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) and arginine vasopressin receptor 1a genes (AVPR1A), respectively. In several species, polymorphisms in these genes have been linked to various behavioural traits. Little, however, is known about whether positive selection acts on sequence variants in genes influencing variation in human behaviours. Results: We identified, in both neuroreceptor genes, signatures of balancing selection in the cis-regulative acting sequences such as transcription factor binding and enhancer sequences, as well as in a transcriptional repressor sequence motif. Additionally, in the intron 3 of the OXTR gene, the SNP rs59190448 appears to be under positive directional selection. For rs59190448, only one phenotypical association is known so far, but it is in high LD’ (>0.8) with loci of known association; i.e., variants associated with key pro-social behaviours and mental disorders in humans. Conclusions: Only for one SNP on the OXTR gene (rs59190448) was a sign of positive directional selection detected with all three methods of selection detection. For rs59190448, however, only one phenotypical association is known, but rs59190448 is in high LD’ (>0.8), with variants associated with important pro-social behaviours and mental disorders in humans. We also detected various signatures of balancing selection on both neuroreceptor genes.

May 12, 2015

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Background: Haplodiploidy, where females develop from diploid, fertilized eggs and males from haploid, unfertilized eggs, is abundant in some insect lineages. Some species in these lineages reproduce by thelytoky that is caused by infection with endosymbionts: infected females lay haploid eggs that undergo diploidization and develop into females, while males are very rare or absent. It is generally assumed that in thelytokous wasps, endosymbionts merely diploidize the unfertilized eggs, which would then trigger female development. Results: We found that females in the parasitoid wasp Asobara japonica infected with thelytoky-inducing Wolbachia produce 0.7–1.2 % male offspring. Seven to 39 % of these males are diploid, indicating that diploidization and female development can be uncoupled in A. japonica. Wolbachia titer in adults was correlated with their ploidy and sex: diploids carried much higher Wolbachia titers than haploids, and diploid females carried more Wolbachia than diploid males. Data from introgression lines indicated that the development of diploid individuals into males instead of females is not caused by malfunction-mutations in the host genome but that diploid males are most likely produced when the endosymbiont fails to activate the female sex determination pathway. Our data therefore support a two-step mechanism by which endosymbionts induce thelytoky in A. japonica: diploidization of the unfertilized egg is followed by feminization, whereby each step correlates with a threshold of endosymbiont titer during wasp development. Conclusions: Our new model of endosymbiont-induced thelytoky overthrows the view that certain sex determination mechanisms constrain the evolution of endosymbiont-induced thelytoky in hymenopteran insects. Endosymbionts can cause parthenogenesis through feminization, even in groups in which endosymbiont-diploidized eggs would develop into males following the hosts’ sex determination mechanism. In addition, our model broadens our understanding of the mechanisms by which endosymbionts induce thelytoky to enhance their transmission to the next generation. Importantly, it also provides a novel window to study the yet-poorly known haplodiploid sex determination mechanisms in haplodiploid insects.
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Background: When overlapping sets of genes encode multiple traits, those traits may not be able to evolve independently, resulting in constraints on adaptation. We examined the evolution of genetically integrated traits in digital organisms—self-replicating computer programs that mutate, compete, adapt, and evolve in a virtual world. We assessed whether overlap in the encoding of two traits – here, the ability to perform different logic functions – constrained adaptation. We also examined whether strong opposing selection could separate otherwise entangled traits, allowing them to be independently optimized. Results: Correlated responses were often asymmetric. That is, selection to increase one function produced a correlated response in the other function, while selection to increase the second function caused a complete loss of the ability to perform the first function. Nevertheless, most pairs of genetically integrated traits could be successfully disentangled when opposing selection was applied to break them apart. In an interesting exception to this pattern, the logic function AND evolved counter to its optimum in some populations owing to selection on the EQU function. Moreover, the EQU function showed the strongest response to selection only after it was disentangled from AND, such that the ability to perform AND was lost. Subsequent analyses indicated that selection against AND had altered the local adaptive landscape such that populations could cross what would otherwise have been an adaptive valley and thereby reach a higher fitness peak. Conclusions: Correlated responses to selection can sometimes constrain adaptation. However, in our study, even strongly overlapping genes were usually insufficient to impose long-lasting constraints, given the input of new mutations that fueled selective responses. We also showed that detailed information about the adaptive landscape was useful for predicting the outcome of selection on correlated traits. Finally, our results illustrate the richness of evolutionary dynamics in digital systems and highlight their utility for studying processes thought to be important in biological systems, but which are difficult to investigate in those systems.

May 6, 2015

18:00
Background: Feathers and hair consist of cornified epidermal keratinocytes in which proteins are crosslinked via disulfide bonds between cysteine residues of structural proteins to establish mechanical resilience. Cysteine-rich keratin-associated proteins (KRTAPs) are important components of hair whereas the molecular components of feathers have remained incompletely known. Recently, we have identified a chicken gene, named epidermal differentiation cysteine-rich protein (EDCRP), that encodes a protein with a cysteine content of 36%. Here we have investigated the putative role of EDCRP in the molecular architecture and evolution of feathers. Results: Comparative genomics showed that the presence of an EDCRP gene and the high cysteine content of the encoded proteins are conserved among birds. Avian EDCRPs contain a species-specific number of sequence repeats with the consensus sequence CCDPCQ(K/Q)(S/P)V, thus resembling mammalian cysteine-rich KRTAPs which also contain sequence repeats of similar sequence. However, differences in gene loci and exon-intron structures suggest that EDCRP and KRTAPs have not evolved from a common gene ancestor but represent the products of convergent sequence evolution. mRNA in situ hybridization demonstrated that chicken EDCRP is expressed in the subperiderm layer of the embryonic epidermis and in the barbule cells of growing feathers. This expression pattern supports the hypothesis that feathers are evolutionarily derived from the subperiderm. Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that convergent sequence evolution of avian EDCRP and mammalian KRTAPs has contributed to independent evolution of feathers and hair, respectively.
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Background: Consumer-resource interactions constitute one of the most common types of interspecific antagonistic interaction. In natural communities, complex species interactions are likely to affect the outcomes of reciprocal co-evolution between consumers and their resource species. Individuals face multiple enemies simultaneously, and consequently they need to adapt to several different types of enemy pressures. In this study, we assessed how protist predation affects the susceptibility of bacterial populations to infection by viral parasites, and whether there is an associated cost of defence on the competitive ability of the bacteria. As a study system we used Serratia marcescens and its lytic bacteriophage, along with two bacteriovorous protists with distinct feeding modes: Tetrahymena thermophila (particle feeder) and Acanthamoeba castellanii (surface feeder). The results were further confirmed with another study system with Pseudomonas and Tetrahymena thermophila. Results: We found that selection by protist predators lowered the susceptibility to infections by lytic phages in Serratia and Pseudomonas. In Serratia, concurrent selection by phages and protists led to lowered susceptibility to phage infections and this effect was independent from whether the bacteria shared a co-evolutionary history with the phage population or not. Bacteria that had evolved with phages were overall more susceptible to phage infection (compared to bacteria with history with multiple enemies) but they were less vulnerable to the phages they had co-evolved with than ancestral phages. Selection by bacterial enemies was costly in general and was seen as a lowered fitness in absence of phages, measured as a biomass yield. Conclusions: Our results show the significance of multiple species interactions on pairwise consumer-resource interaction, and suggest potential overlap in defending against predatory and parasitic enemies in microbial consumer-resource communities. Ultimately, our results could have larger scale effects on eco-evolutionary community dynamics.
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Background: Our aim is to understand the evolution of species-rich plant groups that shifted from tropical into cold/temperate biomes. It is well known that climate affects evolutionary processes, such as how fast species diversify, species range shifts, and species distributions. Many plant lineages may have gone extinct in the Northern Hemisphere due to Late Eocene climate cooling, while some tropical lineages may have adapted to temperate conditions and radiated; the hyper-diverse and geographically widespread genus Hypericum is one of these. Results: To investigate the effect of macroecological niche shifts on evolutionary success we combine historical biogeography with analyses of diversification dynamics and climatic niche shifts in a phylogenetic framework. Hypericum evolved cold tolerance c. 30 million years ago, and successfully colonized all ice-free continents, where today ~500 species exist. The other members of Hypericaceae stayed in their tropical habitats and evolved into ~120 species. We identified a 15–20 million year lag between the initial change in temperature preference in Hypericum and subsequent diversification rate shifts in the Miocene. Conclusions: Contrary to the dramatic niche shift early in the evolution of Hypericum most extant species occur in temperate climates including high elevations in the tropics. These cold/temperate niches are a distinctive characteristic of Hypericum. We conclude that the initial release from an evolutionary constraint (from tropical to temperate climates) is an important novelty in Hypericum. However, the initial shift in the adaptive landscape into colder climates appears to be a precondition, and may not be directly related to increased diversification rates. Instead, subsequent events of mountain formation and further climate cooling may better explain distribution patterns and species-richness in Hypericum. These findings exemplify important macroevolutionary patterns of plant diversification during large-scale global climate change.

May 4, 2015

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Background: Effective policies, management, and scientific research programs depend on the correct identification of invasive species as being either native or introduced. However, many species continue to be misidentified. Oculina patagonica, first recorded in the Mediterranean Sea in 1966, is believed to have been introduced in anthropogenic times and expanding in a west to east direction. However, its present identification and status as a recently introduced species remain to be explored. In this study, we used multi-locus genetic data to test whether O. patagonica in the Mediterranean has been recently introduced from the western North Atlantic. Results: We found no genetic or historical demographic evidence to support a recent introduction of O. patagonica from the western North Atlantic or an expansion across the Mediterranean. Instead, Mediterranean and Atlantic populations are genetically distinct and appear to have begun diverging about 5 Mya. We also found evidence of a fossil record of Oculina spp. existing in the eastern North Atlantic millions of years before the present. Conclusions: Our results suggest that Mediterranean populations of O. patagonica have long been isolated from the western Atlantic, either in undetectable numbers or overlooked and undersampled sites and habitats, and have only recently been expanding to invasive levels as a result of environmental changes. Accurate identification of species’ invasive statuses will enable more effective research programs aimed at better understanding the mechanisms promoting the invasive nature of species, which can then lead to the implementation of efficient management plans.

May 3, 2015

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Background: Vertebrate Emx genes, retained as multiple copies, are expressed in a nested pattern in the early embryonic forebrain and required for its regionalization. This pattern seems to have originated in a vertebrate common ancestor; however, a previous analysis, reporting two lamprey Emx genes, claimed independent Emx gene duplications in both cyclostome (extant jawless fish) and gnathostome (jawed vertebrate) lineages after their divergence. This scenario is neither parsimonious nor consistent with the hypothesis that genome expansion occurred before the cyclostome-gnathostome split, which is supported by recent genome-wide analyses. Results: We isolated and sequenced cDNA of two hagfish Emx genes and performed intensive molecular phylogenetic analyses, including the hagfish and/or lamprey Emx genes. The lamprey genes tended to attract each other in inferred phylogenetic trees, an effect that tended to be relaxed on inclusion of the hagfish genes. The results of these analyses suggest that cyclostome EmxB is orthologous to gnathostome Emx2, which was also supported by conserved synteny. Homopolymeric amino acid (HPAA) tracts represent a remarkable feature of the lamprey Emx sequences, and a comparative genome-wide scan revealed that lamprey proteins exhibit a unique pattern of HPAA tract accumulation. Conclusions: Our analysis, including hagfish Emx genes, suggests that gene duplications gave rise to Emx1, -2 and -3 before the cyclostome-gnathostome split. We propose that independent HPAA tract accumulations in multiple ancient duplicates, as identified in lamprey Emx gene products, may have led to erroneous identification of gene duplication in the lamprey lineage. Overall, our reanalysis favors the scenario that the nested Emx expression pattern in mouse and lamprey shares a common origin.

May 1, 2015

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Background: Simpson envisaged a conceptual model of adaptive radiation in which lineages diversify into “adaptive zones” within a macroevolutionary adaptive landscape. However, only a handful of studies have empirically investigated this adaptive landscape and its consequences for our interpretation of the underlying mechanisms of phenotypic evolution. In fish radiations the evolution of locomotor phenotypes may represent an important dimension of ecomorphological diversification given the implications of locomotion for feeding and habitat use. Neotropical geophagine cichlids represent a newly identified adaptive radiation and provide a useful system for studying patterns of locomotor diversification and the implications of selective constraints on phenotypic divergence in general. Results: We use multivariate ordination, models of phenotypic evolution and posterior predictive approaches to investigate the macroevolutionary adaptive landscape and test for evidence of early divergence of locomotor phenotypes in Geophagini. The evolution of locomotor phenotypes was characterized by selection towards at least two distinct adaptive peaks and the early divergence of modern morphological disparity. One adaptive peak included the benthic and epibenthic invertivores and was characterized by fishes with deep, laterally compressed bodies that optimize precise, slow-swimming manoeuvres. The second adaptive peak resulted from a shift in adaptive optima in the species-rich ram-feeding/rheophilic Crenicichla-Teleocichla clade and was characterized by species with streamlined bodies that optimize fast starts and rapid manoeuvres. Evolutionary models and posterior predictive approaches favoured an early shift to a new adaptive peak over decreasing rates of evolution as the underlying process driving the early divergence of locomotor phenotypes. Conclusions: The influence of multiple adaptive peaks on the divergence of locomotor phenotypes in Geophagini is compatible with the expectations of an ecologically driven adaptive radiation. This study confirms that the diversification of locomotor phenotypes represents an important dimension of phenotypic evolution in the geophagine adaptive radiation. It also suggests that the commonly observed early burst of phenotypic evolution during adaptive radiations may be better explained by the concentration of shifts to new adaptive peaks deep in the phylogeny rather than overall decreasing rates of evolution.

April 30, 2015

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Background: Today computational molecular evolution is a vibrant research field that benefits from the availability of large and complex new generation sequencing data – ranging from full genomes and proteomes to microbiomes, metabolomes and epigenomes. The grounds for this progress were established long before the discovery of the DNA structure. Specifically, Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection not only remains relevant today, but also provides a solid basis for computational research with a variety of applications. But a long-term progress in biology was ensured by the mathematical sciences, as exemplified by Sir R. Fisher in early 20th century. Now this is true more than ever: The data size and its complexity require biologists to work in close collaboration with experts in computational sciences, modeling and statistics. Results: Natural selection drives function conservation and adaptation to emerging pathogens or new environments; selection plays key role in immune and resistance systems. Here I focus on computational methods for evaluating selection in molecular sequences, and argue that they have a high potential for applications. Pharma and biotech industries can successfully use this potential, and should take the initiative to enhance their research and development with state of the art bioinformatics approaches. Conclusions: This review provides a quick guide to the current computational approaches that apply the evolutionary principles of natural selection to real life problems – from drug target validation, vaccine design and protein engineering to applications in agriculture, ecology and conservation.
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Background: The biological concept of species stresses the importance of understanding what mechanisms maintain species reproductively isolated from each other. Often such mechanisms are divided into premating and postmating, with the latest being the result of either prezygotic or postzygotic isolation barriers. Drosophila willistoni quechua and Drosophila willistoni willistoni are two subspecies that experience reproductive isolation. When a D. w. quechua female is crossed with a D. w. willistoni male, the hybrid males (F1QW) are unable to father progeny; however, the reciprocal cross produces fertile hybrids. Thus, the mechanism of isolation is unidirectional hybrid male sterility. However, the sterile F1QW males contain large amounts of motile sperm. Here we explore whether pre-copulatory or post-copulatory pre-zygotic mechanisms serve as major deterrents in the ability of F1QW males to father progeny. Results: Comparisons of parental and hybrid males copulation durations showed no significant reduction in copulation duration of F1QW males. Interrupted copulations of the parental species confirmed that sperm transfer occurs before the minimum copulation duration registered for F1QW males. However, we found that when females mate with F1QW males, sperm is not present inside the female storage organs and that the lack of sperm in storage is due to failure to transfer sperm rather than spillage or active sperm dumping by females. Conclusions: Sterility of F1QW hybrid males is primarily driven by their inability to transfer sperm during copulation.