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BMC Evolutionary Biology
The latest research articles published by BMC Evolutionary Biology
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March 10, 2014
Background: Animals use environmental information to make developmental decisions to maximise their fitness. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans measures its environment to decide between arresting development as dauer larvae or continuing to grow and reproduce. Worms are thought to use ascarosides as signals of population density and this signalling is thought to be a species-wide honest signal. We compared recently wild C. elegans lines' dauer larva arrest when presented with the same ascaroside signals and in different food environments. Results: We find that the hitherto canonical dauer larva response does not hold among these lines. Ascaroside molecules can, depending on the food environment, both promote and repress dauer larva formation. Further, these recently wild C. elegans lines also produce ascaroside mixtures that induce a wide diversity of dauer larva formation responses. We further find that the lines differ in the quantity and ratios of ascaroside molecules that they release. Some of the dauer larva formation responses are consistent with dishonest signalling. Conclusions: Together, the results suggest that the idea that dauer larva formation is an honestly-signalled C. elegans-wide effect does not hold. Rather, the results suggest that ascaroside-based signalling is a public broadcast information system, but where the correct interpretation of that information depends on the worms' context, and is a system open to dishonest signalling.
Exploring the role of juvenile hormone and vitellogenin in reproduction and social behavior in bumble bees
Background: The genetic and physiological pathways regulating behavior in solitary species are hypothesized to have been co-opted to regulate social behavior in social species. One classic example is the interaction between vitellogenin (an egg-yolk and storage protein) and juvenile hormone, which are positively correlated in most insect species but have modified interactions in highly eusocial insects. In some of these species (including some termites, ants, and the honey bee), juvenile hormone and vitellogenin levels are negatively correlated and juvenile hormone has shifted its role from a gonadotropin to a regulator of maturation and division of labor in the primarily sterile workers. The function of vitellogenin also seems to have broadened to encompass similar roles. Thus, the functions and molecular interactions of juvenile hormone and vitellogenin are hypothesized to have undergone changes during the evolution of eusociality, but the mechanisms underlying these changes are unknown.Bumble bees offer an excellent model system for testing how the relationship between juvenile hormone and vitellogenin evolved from solitary to social species. Bumble bee colonies are primitively eusocial and comprised of a single reproductive queen and facultatively sterile workers. In Bombus terrestris, juvenile hormone retains its ancestral role as a gonadotropin and is also hypothesized to regulate aggressive behavior. However, the function of vitellogenin and its interactions with juvenile hormone have not yet been characterized. Results: By characterizing vitellogenin RNA expression levels (vg) in B. terrestris we show that vg is not associated with task and only partially associated with worker age, queen presence, and caste (queen vs worker). The correlations of vg with ovarian activation were not consistent across experiments, but both vg and ovarian activation were significantly associated with levels of aggression experienced by workers. Treatment with juvenile hormone did not affect vg levels in queenless groups. Conclusions: We suggest that social interactions affect vg levels more strongly than a worker's reproductive physiological state, and that juvenile hormone and vg are uncoupled in this species. Thus, although juvenile hormone maintains its traditional role as gonadotropin in B. terrestris, vg has already been co-opted into a novel role, consistent with the model that Bombus represents an intermediate stage in the evolution of eusociality.
March 9, 2014
Evolutionary relationships of the Critically Endangered frog Ericabatrachus baleensis Largen, 1991 with notes on incorporating previously unsampled taxa into large-scale phylogenetic analyses
Background: The phylogenetic relationships of many taxa remain poorly known because of a lack of appropriate data and/or analyses. Despite substantial recent advances, amphibian phylogeny remains poorly resolved in many instances. The phylogenetic relationships of the Ethiopian endemic monotypic genus Ericabatrachus has been addressed thus far only with phenotypic data and remains contentious. Results: We obtained fresh samples of the now rare and Critically Endangered Ericabatrachus baleensis and generated DNA sequences for two mitochondrial and four nuclear genes. Analyses of these new data using de novo and constrained-tree phylogenetic reconstructions strongly support a close relationship between Ericabatrachus and Petropedetes, and allow us to reject previously proposed alternative hypotheses of a close relationship with cacosternines or Phrynobatrachus. Conclusions: We discuss the implications of our results for the taxonomy, biogeography and conservation of E. baleensis, and suggest a two-tiered approach to the inclusion and analyses of new data in order to assess the phylogenetic relationships of previously unsampled taxa. Such approaches will be important in the future given the increasing availability of relevant mega-alignments and potential framework phylogenies.
March 6, 2014
Evolutionary consequences of shifts to bird-pollination in the Australian pea-flowered legumes (Mirbelieae and Bossiaeeae)
Background: Interactions with pollinators are proposed to be one of the major drivers of diversity in angiosperms. Specialised interactions with pollinators can lead to specialised floral traits, which collectively are known as a pollination syndrome. While it is thought that specialisation to a pollinator can lead to either an increase in diversity or in some cases a dead end, it is not well understood how transitions among specialised pollinators contribute to changes in diversity. Here, we use evolutionary trait reconstruction of bee-pollination and bird-pollination syndromes in Australian egg-and-bacon peas (Mirbelieae and Bossiaeeae) to test whether transitions between pollination syndromes is correlated with changes in species diversity. We also test for directionality in transitions that might be caused by selection by pollinators or by an evolutionary ratchet in which reversals to the original pollination syndrome are not possible. Results: Trait reconstructions of Australian egg-and-bacon peas suggest that bee-pollination syndrome is the ancestral form and that there has been replicated evolution of bird-pollination syndromes. Reconstructions indicate potential reversals from bird- to bee-pollination syndromes but this is not consistent with morphology. Species diversity of bird-pollination syndrome clades is lower than that of their bee-pollination syndrome sisters.We estimated the earliest transitions from bee- to bird-pollination syndrome occurred between 30.8 Ma and 10.4 Ma. Geographical structuring of pollination syndromes was found; there were fewer bird-pollination species in the Australian southeast temperate region compared to other regions of Australia. Conclusions: A consistent decrease in diversification rate coincident with switches to bird pollination might be explained if greater dispersal by bird pollinators results in higher levels of connectivity among populations and reduced chances of allopatric speciation.The earliest transitions overlap with the early diversification of Australian honeyeaters – the major lineage of pollinating birds in Australia. Our findings are consistent with the idea that environment and availability of pollinators are important in the evolution of pollination syndromes. Changes in flower traits as a result of transitions to bird-pollination syndrome might also limit reversals to a bee-pollination syndrome.
March 5, 2014
Disjunct distributions of freshwater snails testify to a central role of the Congo system in shaping biogeographical patterns in Africa
Background: The formation of the East African Rift System has decisively influenced the distribution and evolution of tropical Africa's biota by altering climate conditions, by creating basins for large long-lived lakes, and by affecting the catchment and drainage directions of river systems. However, it remains unclear how rifting affected the biogeographical patterns of freshwater biota through time on a continental scale, which is further complicated by the scarcity of molecular data from the largest African river system, the Congo. Results: We study these biogeographical patterns using a fossil-calibrated multi-locus phylogeny of the gastropod family Viviparidae. This group allows reconstructing drainage patterns exceptionally well because it disperses very poorly in the absence of existing freshwater connections. Our phylogeny covers localities from major drainage basins of tropical Africa and reveals highly disjunct sister-group relationships between (a) the endemic viviparids of Lake Malawi and populations from the Middle Congo as well as between (b) the Victoria region and the Okavango/Upper Zambezi area. Conclusions: The current study testifies to repeated disruptions of the distribution of the Viviparidae during the formation of the East African Rift System, and to a central role of the Congo River system for the distribution of the continent's freshwater fauna during the late Cenozoic. By integrating our results with previous findings on palaeohydrographical connections, we provide a spatially and temporarily explicit model of historical freshwater biogeography in tropical Africa. Finally, we review similarities and differences in patterns of vertebrate and invertebrate dispersal. Amongst others we argue that the closest relatives of present day viviparids in Lake Malawi are living in the Middle Congo River, thus shedding new light on the origin of the endemic fauna of this rift lake.
March 3, 2014
A strong `filter¿ effect of the East China Sea land bridge for East Asia¿s temperate plant species: inferences from molecular phylogeography and ecological niche modelling of Platycrater arguta (Hydrangeaceae)
Background: In East Asia, an increasing number of studies on temperate forest tree species find evidence for migration and gene exchange across the East China Sea (ECS) land bridge up until the last glacial maximum (LGM). However, it is less clear when and how lineages diverged in this region, whether in full isolation or in the face of post-divergence gene flow. Here, we investigate the effects of Quaternary changes in climate and sea level on the evolutionary and demographic history of Platycrater arguta, a rare temperate understorey shrub with disjunct distributions in East China (var. sinensis) and South Japan (var. arguta). Molecular data were obtained from 14 P. arguta populations to infer current patterns of molecular structure and diversity in relation to past (Last Interglacial and Last Glacial Maximum) and present distributions based on ecological niche modelling (ENM). A coalescent-based isolation-with-migration (IM) model was used to estimate lineage divergence times and population demographic parameters. Results: Combining information from nuclear/chloroplast sequence data with nuclear microsatellites, our IM analyses identify the two varieties as genetically distinct units that evolved in strict allopatry since the mid-Pleistocene, c. 0.89 (0.51–1.2) Ma. Together with Bayesian Skyeline Plots, our data further suggest that both lineages experienced post-divergence demographic growth, followed by refugial isolation, divergence, and in the case of var. arguta post-glacial admixture. However, past species distribution modelling indicates that the species’ overall distribution has not greatly changed over the last glacial cycles. Conclusions: Our findings highlight the important influence of ancient sea-level changes on the diversification of East Asia’s temperate flora. Implicitly, they challenge the notion of general temperate forest expansion across the ECS land bridge, demonstrating instead its ‘filter’ effect owing to an unsuitable environment for certain species and their biological (e.g., recruitment) properties.
The role of chromosome variation in the speciation of the red brocket deer complex: the study of reproductive isolation in females
Background: The red brocket deer, Mazama americana, has at least six distinct karyotypes in different regions of South America that suggest the existence of various species that are today all referred to as M. americana. From an evolutionary perspective, the red brockets are a relatively recent clade that has gone through intense diversification. This study sought to prove the existence of post-zygotic reproductive isolation in deer offspring between distinct chromosome lineages. To achieve this, inter-cytotype and intra-cytotype crosses were performed, which resulted in both F1 hybrid (n = 5) and pure offspring (n = 3) in captivity. Results: F1 females were analyzed in terms of their karyotypes, ovarian histology, estrous cycles and in vitro embryo production. Pure females presented parameters that were similar to those previously reported for M. Americana; however, the parameters for hybrid females were different. Two hybrids were determined to be sterile, while the remaining hybrids presented characteristics of subfertility. Conclusions: The results support the existence of well-established reproductive isolation among the most distant karyotype lineages and elucidates the need to define all karyotype variants and their geographical ranges in order to define the number of species of red brocket.
Background: Phenotypic integration among different anatomical parts of the head is a common phenomenon across vertebrates. Interestingly, despite centuries of research into the factors that contribute to the existing variation in brain size among vertebrates, little is known about the role of phenotypic integration in brain size diversification. Here we used geometric morphometrics on the morphologically diverse Tanganyikan cichlids to investigate phenotypic integration across key morphological aspects of the head. Then, while taking the effect of shared ancestry into account, we tested if head shape was associated with brain size while controlling for the potentially confounding effect of feeding strategy. Results: The shapes of the anterior and posterior parts of the head were strongly correlated, indicating that the head represents an integrated morphological unit in Lake Tanganyika cichlids. After controlling for phylogenetic non-independence, we also found evolutionary associations between head shape, brain size and feeding ecology. Conclusions: Geometric morphometrics and phylogenetic comparative analyses revealed that the anterior and posterior parts of the head are integrated, and that head morphology is associated with brain size and feeding ecology in Tanganyikan cichlid fishes. In light of previous results on mammals, our results suggest that the influence of phenotypic integration on brain diversification is a general process.
March 2, 2014
Background: Coevolution between pairs of different kind of entities, such as providers and users of information, involves reciprocal selection pressures between them as a consequence of their ecological interaction. Pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) have been shown to derive fitness benefits (larger clutches) when nesting in proximity to great tits (Parus major), presumably because they this way discover and obtain information about nesting sites. Tits suffer from the resulting association (smaller clutches). An arms race between the tits (information host) and the flycatchers (information parasite) could thus result. Great tits often cover eggs with nesting material before, but not during incubation. We hypothesized that one function of egg-covering could be a counter-adaptation to reduce information parasitism by pied flycatchers. We predicted that tits should bring more new hair to cover their exposed eggs when a pied flycatcher is present near to tit nest than when a neutral (non-competing) species is present. We conducted decoy and playback experiment in Oulu and Turku, Finland. First, we removed and collected all the hair covering the tit eggs. Then, we measured how the perceived presence of flycatcher or waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) affects tits' egg-covering by collecting and weighing the hair brought on the eggs and photographing the nest 24 h after the playback. Results: Tits brought more hair into the nest and covered the eggs more carefully after flycatcher treatment, compared to waxwing treatment. We also found that the tits in Oulu (over 600 km to north from Turku) had more hair on the top of their eggs in general. Conclusions: Together, these results suggest that the counter-adaptation function of egg-covering against information parasites may be an extension of original function to protect eggs from low temperatures.
Discord between morphological and phylogenetic species boundaries: incomplete lineage sorting and recombination results in fuzzy species boundaries in an asexual fungal pathogen
Background: Traditional morphological and biological species concepts are difficult to apply to closely related, asexual taxa because of the lack of an active sexual phase and paucity of morphological characters. Phylogenetic species concepts such as genealogical concordance phylogenetic species recognition (GCPSR) have been extensively used; however, methods that incorporate gene tree uncertainty into species recognition may more accurately and objectively delineate species. Using a worldwide sample of Alternaria alternata sensu lato, causal agent of citrus brown spot, the evolutionary histories of four nuclear loci including an endo-polygalacturonase gene, two anonymous loci, and one microsatellite flanking region were estimated using the coalescent. Species boundaries were estimated using several approaches including those that incorporate uncertainty in gene genealogies when lineage sorting and non-reciprocal monophyly of gene trees is common. Results: Coalescent analyses revealed three phylogenetic lineages strongly influenced by incomplete lineage sorting and recombination. Divergence of the citrus 2 lineage from the citrus 1 and citrus 3 lineages was supported at most loci. A consensus of species tree estimation methods supported two species of Alternaria causing citrus brown spot worldwide. Based on substitution rates at the endo-polygalacturonase locus, divergence of the citrus 2 and the 1 and 3 lineages was estimated to have occurred at least 5, 400 years before present, predating the human-mediated movement of citrus and associated pathogens out of SE Asia. Conclusions: The number of Alternaria species identified as causing brown spot of citrus worldwide using morphological criteria has been overestimated. Little support was found for most of these morphospecies using quantitative species recognition approaches. Correct species delimitation of plant-pathogenic fungi is critical for understanding the evolution of pathogenicity, introductions of pathogens to new areas, and for regulating the movement of pathogens to enforce quarantines. This research shows that multilocus phylogenetic methods that allow for recombination and incomplete lineage sorting can be useful for the quantitative delimitation of asexual species that are morphologically indistinguishable. Two phylogenetic species of Alternaria were identified as causing citrus brown spot worldwide. Further research is needed to determine how these species were introduced worldwide, how they differ phenotypically and how these species are maintained.
New ¿missing link¿ genus of the colonial volvocine green algae gives insights into the evolution of oogamy
Background: The evolution of oogamy from isogamy, an important biological event, can be summarized as follows: morphologically similar gametes (isogametes) differentiated into small “male” and large “female” motile gametes during anisogamy, from which immotile female gametes (eggs) evolved. The volvocine green algae represent a model lineage to study this type of sex evolution and show two types of gametic unions: conjugation between isogametes outside the parental colonies (external fertilization during isogamy) and fertilization between small motile gametes (sperm) and large gametes (eggs) inside the female colony (internal fertilization during anisogamy and oogamy). Although recent cultural studies on volvocine algae revealed morphological diversity and molecular genetic data of sexual reproduction, an intermediate type of union between these two gametic unions has not been identified. Results: We identified a novel colonial volvocine genus, Colemanosphaera, which produces bundles of spindle-shaped male gametes through successive divisions of colonial cells. Obligately anisogamous conjugation between male and female motile gametes occurred outside the female colony (external fertilization during anisogamy). This new genus contains 16- or 32-celled spheroidal colonies similar to those of the volvocine genera Yamagishiella and Eudorina. However, Colemanosphaera can be clearly distinguished from these two genera based on its sister phylogenetic position to the enigmatic flattened colonial volvocine Platydorina and external fertilization during anisogamy. Two species of Colemanosphaera were found in a Japanese lake; these species are also distributed in European freshwaters based on a published sequence of an Austrian strain and the original description of Pandorina charkowiensis from Ukraine. Conclusions: Based on phylogeny and morphological data, this novel genus exhibits a missing link between Platydorina and the typical spheroidal colonial volvocine members such as Pandorina or Yamagishiella. Considering the external obligate anisogamy, oogamy evolution may have been preceded by the transition from external to internal fertilization during anisogamy within the volvocine green algae.
February 28, 2014
Background: Modern flamingos (Phoenicopteridae) occupy a highly specialized ecology unique among birds and represent a potentially powerful model system for informing the mechanisms by which a lineage of birds adapts and radiates. However, despite a rich fossil record and well-studied feeding morphology, molecular investigations of the evolutionary progression among modern flamingos have been limited. Here, using three mitochondrial (mtDNA) markers, we present the first DNA sequence-based study of population genetic variation in the widely distributed Chilean Flamingo and, using two mtDNA and 10 nuclear (nDNA) markers, recover the species tree and divergence time estimates for the six extant species of flamingos. Phylogenetic analyses include likelihood and Bayesian frameworks and account for potential gene tree discordance. Analyses of divergence times are fossil calibrated at the divergence of Mirandornithes (flamingos + grebes) and the divergence of crown grebes. Results: mtDNA sequences confirmed the presence of a single metapopulation represented by two minimally varying mtDNA barcodes in Chilean flamingos. Likelihood and Bayesian methods recovered identical phylogenies with flamingos falling into shallow-keeled (comprising the Greater, American and Chilean Flamingos) and deep-keeled (comprising the Lesser, Andean and James's Flamingos) sub-clades. The initial divergence among flamingos occurred at or shortly after the Mio-Pliocene boundary (6-3 Ma) followed by quick consecutive divergences throughout the Plio-Pleistocene. There is significant incongruence between the ages recovered by the mtDNA and nDNA datasets, likely due to mutational saturation occurring in the mtDNA loci. Conclusion: The finding of a single metapopulation in the widespread Chilean Flamingo confirms similar findings in other widespread flamingo species. The robust species phylogeny is congruent with previous classifications of flamingos based on feeding morphology. Modern phoenicopterids likely originated in the New World with each sub-clade dispersing across the Atlantic at least once. Our divergence time estimates place flamingos among the youngest families of birds, counter to the classical notion of flamingos as among the oldest based on biogeography and the fossil record. Finally, we designate 'Phoeniconaias' as a junior synonym of 'Phoenicoparrus' and redefine the latter genus as containing all flamingos more closely related to Phoenicoparrus andinus than Phoenicopterus roseus.
February 23, 2014
Background: The GTPase eEF1A is the eukaryotic factor responsible for the essential, universal function of aminoacyl-tRNA delivery to the ribosome. Surprisingly, eEF1A is not universally present in eukaryotes, being replaced by the paralog EFL independently in multiple lineages. The driving force behind this unusually frequent replacement is poorly understood. Results: Through sequence searching of genomic and EST databases, we find a striking association of eEF1A replacement by EFL and loss of eEF1A’s guanine exchange factor, eEF1Bα, suggesting that EFL is able to spontaneously recharge with GTP. Sequence conservation and homology modeling analyses indicate several sequence regions that may be responsible for EFL’s lack of requirement for eEF1Bα. Conclusions: We propose that the unusual pattern of eEF1A, eEF1Bα and EFL presence and absence can be explained by a ratchet-like process: if either eEF1A or eEF1Bα diverges beyond functionality in the presence of EFL, the system is unable to return to the ancestral, eEF1A:eEFBα-driven state.
February 22, 2014
Diversification of the Alpine Chipmunk, Tamias alpinus, an alpine endemic of the Sierra Nevada, California
Background: The glaciation cycles that occurred throughout the Pleistocene in western North America caused frequent shifts in species’ ranges with important implications for models of species divergence. For example, long periods of allopatry during species’ range contractions allowed for the accumulation of differences between separated populations promoting lineage divergence. In contrast, range expansions during interglacial periods may have had homogenizing effects via increased gene flow following secondary contact. These range dynamics are particularly pronounced in the Sierra Nevada, California, given the complex topography and climatic history of the area, thus providing a natural laboratory to examine evolutionary processes that have led to the diversity patterns observed today. Results: Here we examined the role of late Pleistocene climate fluctuations on the divergence of the Sierra Nevada endemic Alpine Chipmunk (Tamias alpinus) from its sister taxon, western populations of the Least Chipmunk (T. minimus) from the Great Basin. We used one mitochondrial gene (cytochrome b) and 14 microsatellite loci to examine the evolutionary relationship between these species. Mitochondrial sequence data revealed that T. alpinus and T. minimus populations share mitochondrial haplotypes with no overall geneaological separation, and that diversity at this locus is better explained by geography than by species’ boundaries. In contrast, the microsatellite analysis showed that populations of the same species are more similar to each other than they are to members of the other species. Similarly, a morphological analysis of voucher specimens confirmed known differences in morphological characters between species providing no evidence of recent hybridization. Coalescent analysis of the divergence history indicated a late Pleistocene splitting time (~450 ka) and subsequent, though limited, gene flow between the two lineages. Conclusions: Our results suggest that the two species are distinct and there is no contemporary introgression along their geographic boundary. The divergence of T. alpinus during this time period provides additional evidence that Pleistocene glacial cycles played an important role in diversification of species in Sierra Nevada and North America in general.
Background: Phytomyxids (plasmodiophorids and phagomyxids) are cosmopolitan, obligate biotrophic protist parasites of plants, diatoms, oomycetes and brown algae. Plasmodiophorids are best known as pathogens or vectors for viruses of arable crops (e.g. clubroot in brassicas, powdery potato scab, and rhizomania in sugar beet). Some phytomyxid parasites are of considerable economic and ecologic importance globally, and their hosts include important species in marine and terrestrial environments. However most phytomyxid diversity remains uncharacterised and knowledge of their relationships with host taxa is very fragmentary. Results: Our molecular and morphological analyses of phytomyxid isolates-including for the first time oomycete and sea-grass parasites-demonstrate two cross-kingdom host shifts between closely related parasite species: between angiosperms and oomycetes, and from diatoms/brown algae to angiosperms. Switching between such phylogenetically distant hosts is generally unknown in host-dependent eukaryote parasites. We reveal novel plasmodiophorid lineages in soils, suggesting a much higher diversity than previously known, and also present the most comprehensive phytomyxid phylogeny to date. Conclusion: Such large-scale host shifts between closely related obligate biotrophic eukaryote parasites is to our knowledge unique to phytomyxids. Phytomyxids may readily adapt to a wide diversity of new hosts because they have retained the ability to covertly infect alternative hosts. A high cryptic diversity and ubiquitous distribution in agricultural and natural habitats implies that in a changing environment phytomyxids could threaten the productivity of key species in marine and terrestrial environments alike via host shift speciation.
February 19, 2014
Background: Spider silks are spectacular examples of phenotypic diversity arising from adaptive molecular evolution. An individual spider can produce an array of specialized silks, with the majority of constituent silk proteins encoded by members of the spidroin gene family. Spidroins are dominated by tandem repeats flanked by short, non-repetitive N- and C-terminal coding regions. The remarkable mechanical properties of spider silks have been largely attributed to the repeat sequences. However, the molecular evolutionary processes acting on spidroin terminal and repetitive regions remain unclear due to a paucity of complete gene sequences and sampling of genetic variation among individuals. To better understand spider silk evolution, we characterize a complete aciniform spidroin gene from an Argiope orb-weaving spider and survey aciniform gene fragments from congeneric individuals. Results: We present the complete aciniform spidroin (AcSp1) gene from the silver garden spider Argiope argentata (Aar_AcSp1), and document multiple AcSp1 loci in individual genomes of A. argentata and the congeneric A. trifasciata and A. aurantia. We find that Aar_AcSp1 repeats have >98% pairwise nucleotide identity. By comparing AcSp1 repeat amino acid sequences between Argiope species and with other genera, we identify regions of conservation over vast amounts of evolutionary time. Through a PCR survey of individual A. argentata, A. trifasciata, and A. aurantia genomes, we ascertain that AcSp1 repeats show limited variation between species whereas terminal regions are more divergent. We also find that average dN/dS across codons in the N-terminal, repetitive, and C-terminal encoding regions indicate purifying selection that is strongest in the N-terminal region. Conclusions: Using the complete A. argentata AcSp1 gene and spidroin genetic variation between individuals, this study clarifies some of the molecular evolutionary processes underlying the spectacular mechanical attributes of aciniform silk. It is likely that intragenic concerted evolution and functional constraints on A. argentata AcSp1 repeats result in extreme repeat homogeneity. The maintenance of multiple AcSp1 encoding loci in Argiope genomes supports the hypothesis that Argiope spiders require rapid and efficient protein production to support their prolific use of aciniform silk for prey-wrapping and web-decorating. In addition, multiple gene copies may represent the early stages of spidroin diversification.
February 18, 2014
Background: The neuropeptide Kiss and its receptor KissR are key-actors in the brain control of reproduction in mammals, where they are responsible for the stimulation of the activity of GnRH neurones. Investigation in other vertebrates revealed up to 3 Kiss and 4 KissR paralogs, originating from the two rounds of whole genome duplication in early vertebrates. In contrast, the absence of Kiss and KissR has been suggested in birds, as no homologs of these genes could be found in current genomic databases. This study aims at addressing the question of the existence, from an evolutionary perspective, of the Kisspeptin system in birds. It provides the first large-scale investigation of the Kisspeptin system in the sauropsid lineage, including ophidian, chelonian, crocodilian, and avian lineages. Results: Sauropsid Kiss and KissR genes were predicted from multiple genome and transcriptome databases by TBLASTN. Phylogenetic and syntenic analyses were performed to classify predicted sauropsid Kiss and KissR genes and to re-construct the evolutionary scenarios of both gene families across the sauropsid radiation.Genome search, phylogenetic and synteny analyses, demonstrated the presence of two Kiss genes (Kiss1 and Kiss2 types) and of two KissR genes (KissR1 and KissR4 types) in the sauropsid lineage. These four genes, also present in the mammalian lineage, would have been inherited from their common amniote ancestor. In contrast, synteny analyses supported that the other Kiss and KissR paralogs are missing in sauropsids as in mammals, indicating their absence in the amniote lineage. Among sauropsids, in the avian lineage, we demonstrated the existence of a Kiss2-like gene in three bird genomes. The divergence of these avian Kiss2-like sequences from those of other vertebrates, as well as their absence in the genomes of some other birds, revealed the processes of Kiss2 gene degeneration and loss in the avian lineage. Conclusion: These findings contribute to trace back the evolutionary history of the Kisspeptin system in amniotes and sauropsids, and provide the first molecular evidence of the existence and fate of a Kiss gene in birds.
February 17, 2014
A phylogeny for the pomatiopsidae (Gastropoda: Rissooidea): a resource for taxonomic, parasitological and biodiversity studies
Background: The Pomatiopsidae are reported from northern India into southern China and Southeast Asia, with two sub-families, the Pomatiopsinae (which include freshwater, amphibious, terrestrial and marine species) and the freshwater Triculinae. Both include species acting as intermediate host for species of the blood-fluke Schistosoma which cause a public health problem in East Asia. Also, with around 120 species, triculine biodiversity exceeds that of any other endemic freshwater molluscan fauna. Nevertheless, the origins of the Pomatiopsidae, the factors driving such a diverse radiation and aspects of their co-evolution with Schistosoma are not fully understood. Many taxonomic questions remain; there are problems identifying medically relevant species. The predicted range is mostly unsurveyed and the true biodiversity of the family is underestimated. Consequently, the aim of the study was to collect DNA-sequence data for as many pomatiopsid taxa as possible, as a first step in providing a resource for identification of epidemiologically significant species (by non-malacologists), for use in resolving taxonomic confusion and for testing phylogeographical hypotheses. Results: The evolutionary radiation of the Triculinae was shown to have been rapid and mostly post late Miocene. Molecular dating indicated that the radiation of these snails was driven first by the uplift of the Himalaya and onset of a monsoon system, and then by late-Pliocene global warming. The status of Erhaia as Anmicolidae is supported. The genera Tricula and Neotricula are shown to be non-monophyletic and the tribe Jullieniini may be polyphyletic (based on convergent characters). Triculinae from northern Vietnam could be derived from Gammatricula of Fujian/Yunnan, China. Conclusions: The molecular dates and phylogenetic estimates in this study are consistent with an Australasian origin for the Pomatiopsidae and an East to West radiation via Oligocene Borneo-Philippines island hopping to Japan and then China (Triculinae arising mid-Miocene in Southeast China), and less so with a triculine origin in Tibet. The lack of monophyly in the medically important genera and indications of taxonomic inaccuracies, call for further work to identify epidemiologically significant taxa (e.g., Halewisia may be potential hosts for Schistosoma mekongi) and highlight the need for surveys to determine the true biodiversity of the Triculinae.
February 16, 2014
Population structure of guppies in north-eastern Venezuela, the area of putative incipient speciation
Background: Geographic barriers to gene flow and divergence among populations in sexual traits are two important causes of genetic isolation which may lead to speciation. Genetic isolation may be facilitated if these two mechanisms act synergistically. The guppy from the Cumana region (within the Cariaco drainage) of eastern Venezuela has been previously described as a case of incipient speciation driven by sexual selection, significantly differentiated in sexual colouration and body shape from the common guppy, Poecilia reticulata. The latter occurs widely in northern Venezuela, including the south-eastern side of Cordillera de la Costa, where it inhabits streams belonging to the San Juan drainage. Here, we present molecular and morphological analyses of differentiation among guppy populations in the Cariaco and San Juan drainages. Our analyses are based on a 953 bp long mtDNA fragment, a set of 15 microsatellites (519 fish from 20 populations), and four phenotypic traits. Results: Both microsatellite and mtDNA data showed that guppies inhabiting the two drainages are characterised by a significant genetic differentiation, but a higher proportion of the genetic variance was distributed among populations within regions. Most guppies in the Cariaco drainage had mtDNA from a distinct lineage, but we also found evidence for widespread introgression of mtDNA from the San Juan drainage into the Cariaco drainage. Phenotypically, populations in the two regions differed significantly only in the number of black crescents. Phenotypic clustering did not support existence of two distinct groupings, but indicated a degree of distinctiveness of Central Cumana (CC) population. owever, CC population showed little differentiation at the neutral markers from the proximate populations within the Cariaco drainage. Conclusions: Our findings are consistent with only partial genetic isolation between the two geographic regions and indicate that the geographic barrier of Cordillera de la Costa has not played an important role in strengthening the incomplete pre-zygotic reproductive barrier between Cumana and common guppy. Significant phenotypic differentiation between genetically similar (in terms of neutral variation) populations suggests that mate choice can maintain divergence at sexually selected traits despite gene flow. However, neither genetic nor phenotypic clustering supported delineation of two species within the region.
From algae to angiosperms¿inferring the phylogeny of green plants (Viridiplantae) from 360 plastid genomes
Background: Next-generation sequencing has provided a wealth of plastid genome sequence data from an increasingly diverse set of green plants (Viridiplantae). Although these data have helped resolve the phylogeny of numerous clades (e.g., green algae, angiosperms, and gymnosperms), their utility for inferring relationships across all green plants is uncertain. Viridiplantae originated 700-1500 million years ago and may comprise as many as 500,000 species. This clade represents a major source of photosynthetic carbon and contains an immense diversity of life forms, including some of the smallest and largest eukaryotes. Here we explore the limits and challenges of inferring a comprehensive green plant phylogeny from available complete or nearly complete plastid genome sequence data. Results: We assembled protein-coding sequence data for 78 genes from 360 diverse green plant taxa with complete or nearly complete plastid genome sequences available from GenBank. Phylogenetic analyses of the plastid data recovered well-supported backbone relationships and strong support for relationships that were not observed in previous analyses of major subclades within Viridiplantae. However, there also is evidence of systematic error in some analyses. In several instances we obtained strongly supported but conflicting topologies from analyses of nucleotides versus amino acid characters, and the considerable variation in GC content among lineages and within single genomes affected the phylogenetic placement of several taxa. Conclusions: Analyses of the plastid sequence data recovered a strongly supported framework of relationships for green plants. This framework includes: i) the placement of Zygnematophyceace as sister to land plants (Embryophyta), ii) a clade of extant gymnosperms (Acrogymnospermae) with cycads + Ginkgo sister to remaining extant gymnosperms and with gnetophytes (Gnetophyta) sister to non-Pinaceae conifers (Gnecup trees), and iii) within the monilophyte clade (Monilophyta), Equisetales + Psilotales are sister to Marattiales + leptosporangiate ferns. Our analyses also highlight the challenges of using plastid genome sequences in deep-level phylogenomic analyses, and we provide suggestions for future analyses that will likely incorporate plastid genome sequence data for thousands of species. We particularly emphasize the importance of exploring the effects of different partitioning and character coding strategies.
The Barcode of Life
The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks
BMC Evolutionary Biology
Molecular Biology and Evolution