BMC Evolutionary Biology

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October 24, 2014

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Background: Rhynchocypris oxycephalus is a cold water fish with a wide geographic distribution including the relatively warm temperate regions of southern China. It also occurs in second- and third-step geomorphic areas in China. Previous studies have postulated that high-altitude populations of R. oxycephalus in southern China are Quaternary glacial relics. In this study, we used the mitochondrial gene Cytb and the nuclear gene RAG2 to investigate the species phylogeographical patterns and to test two biogeographic hypotheses: (1) that divergence between lineages supports the three-step model and (2) climatic fluctuations during the Quaternary resulted in the present distribution in southern China. Results: Phylogenetic analysis detected three major matrilines (A, B, and C); with matrilines B and C being further subdivided into two submatrilines. Based on genetic distances and morphological differences, matriline A potentially represents a cryptic subspecies. The geographic division between matrilines B and C coincided with the division of the second and third geomorphic steps in China, suggesting a historical vicariance event. Pliocene climatic fluctuations might have facilitated the southwards dispersal of R. oxycephalus in matriline C, with the subsequent warming resulting in its split into submatrilines C1 and C2, leaving submatriline C2 as a relic in southern China. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that geological events (three steps orogenesis) and climate fluctuations during the Pliocene were important factors in shaping phylogeographical patterns in R. oxycephalus. Notably, no genetic diversity was detected in several populations, all of which possessed unique genotypes. This indicates the uniqueness of local populations and calls for a special conservation plan for the whole species at the population level.
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Background: The margins of a species? range might be located at the margins of a species? niche, and in such cases, can be highly vulnerable to climate changes. They, however, may also undergo significant evolutionary change due to drastic population dynamics; e.g., changes in population size and distribution, which may increase the chance of contact among species. Such species interactions induced by climate changes could then regulate or facilitate further responses to climatic changes. We hypothesized that climate change-induced species contacts and subsequent genetic exchanges due to differences in population dynamics take place at the species boundaries. We sampled two closely related Rubus species, one temperate (Rubus palmatus) and the other subtropical (R. grayanus) near their joint species boundaries in southern Japan. Coalescent analysis, based on molecular data and ecological niche modelling during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), were used to infer past population dynamics. At the contact zones on Yakushima (Yaku Island), where the two species are parapatrically distributed, we tested hybridization along altitudinal gradients. Results: Coalescent analysis suggested that the southernmost populations of R. palmatus predated the LGM (~20,000 ya). Conversely, populations at the current northern limit of R. grayanus diverged relatively recently and likely represent young outposts of a northbound range shift. These population dynamics were partly supported by the ensemble forecasting of six different species distribution models. Both past and ongoing hybridizations were detected near and on Yakushima. Backcrosses and advanced-generation hybrids likely generated the clinal hybrid zones along altitudinal gradients on the island where the two species are currently parapatrically distributed. Conclusions: Climate oscillations during the Quaternary Period and the response of a species in range shifts likely led to repeated contacts with the gene pools of ecologically distinct relatives. Such species interactions, induced by climate changes, may bring new genetic material to the marginal populations where species tend to experience more extreme climatic conditions at the margins of the species distribution.

October 22, 2014

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Background: The current taxonomy of the African giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is primarily based on pelage pattern and geographic distribution, and nine subspecies are currently recognized. Although genetic studies have been conducted, their resolution is low, mainly due to limited sampling. Detailed knowledge about the genetic variation and phylogeography of the South African giraffe (G. c. giraffa) and the Angolan giraffe (G. c. angolensis) is lacking. We investigate genetic variation among giraffe matrilines by increased sampling, with a focus on giraffe key areas in southern Africa. Results: The 1,562 nucleotides long mitochondrial DNA dataset (cytochrome b and partial control region) comprises 138 parsimony informative sites among 161 giraffe individuals from eight populations. We additionally included two okapis as an outgroup. The analyses of the maternally inherited sequences reveal a deep divergence between northern and southern giraffe populations in Africa, and a general pattern of distinct matrilineal clades corresponding to their geographic distribution. Divergence time estimates among giraffe populations place the deepest splits at several hundred thousand years ago. Conclusions: Our increased sampling in southern Africa suggests that the distribution ranges of the Angolan and South African giraffe need to be redefined. Knowledge about the phylogeography and genetic variation of these two maternal lineages is crucial for the development of appropriate management strategies.

October 21, 2014

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Background: As attested by the fossil record, Cretaceous environmental changes have significantly impacted the diversification dynamics of several groups of organisms. A major biome turnover that occurred during this period was the rise of angiosperms starting ca. 125 million years ago. Though there is evidence that the latter promoted the diversification of phytophagous insects, the response of other insect groups to Cretaceous environmental changes is still largely unknown. To gain novel insights on this issue, we assess the diversification dynamics of a hyperdiverse family of detritivorous beetles (Tenebrionidae) using molecular dating and diversification analyses. Results: Age estimates reveal an origin after the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction (older than previously thought), followed by the diversification of major lineages during Pangaean and Gondwanan breakups. Dating analyses indicate that arid-adapted species diversified early, while most of the lineages that are adapted to more humid conditions diversified much later. Contrary to other insect groups, we found no support for a positive shift in diversification rates during the Cretaceous; instead there is evidence for an 8.5-fold increase in extinction rates that was not compensated by a joint increase in speciation rates. Conclusions: We hypothesize that this pattern is better explained by the concomitant reduction of arid environments starting in the mid-Cretaceous, which likely negatively impacted the diversification of arid-adapted species that were predominant at that time.

October 18, 2014

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Background: Duplication and subsequent neofunctionalization of the teleostean hatching enzyme gene occurred in the common ancestor of Euteleostei and Otocephala, producing two genes belonging to different phylogenetic clades (clades I and II). In euteleosts, the clade I enzyme inherited the activity of the ancestral enzyme of swelling the egg envelope by cleavage of the N-terminal region of egg envelope proteins. The clade II enzyme gained two specific cleavage sites, N-ZPd and mid-ZPd but lost the ancestral activity. Thus, euteleostean clade II enzymes assumed a new function; solubilization of the egg envelope by the cooperative action with clade I enzyme. However, in Otocephala, the clade II gene was lost during evolution. Consequently, in a late group of Otocephala, only the clade I enzyme is present to swell the egg envelope. We evaluated the egg envelope digestion properties of clade I and II enzymes in Gonorynchiformes, an early diverging group of Otocephala, using milkfish, and compared their digestion with those of other fishes. Finally, we propose a hypothesis the neofunctionalization process. Results: The milkfish clade II enzyme cleaved N-ZPd but not mid-ZPd, and did not cause solubilization of the egg envelope. We conclude that neofunctionalization is incomplete in the otocephalan clade II enzymes. Comparison of clade I and clade II enzyme characteristics implies that the specificity of the clade II enzymes gradually changed during evolution after the duplication event, and that a change in substrate was required for the addition of the mid-ZPd site and loss of activity at the N-terminal region. Conclusions: We infer the process of neofunctionalization of the clade II enzyme after duplication of the gene. The ancestral clade II gene gained N-ZPd cleavage activity in the common ancestral lineage of the Euteleostei and Otocephala. Subsequently, acquisition of cleavage activity at the mid-ZPd site and loss of cleavage activity in the N-terminal region occurred during the evolution of Euteleostei, but not of Otocephala. The clade II enzyme provides an example of the development of a neofunctional gene for which the substrate, the egg envelope protein, has adapted to a gradual change in the specificity of the corresponding enzyme.

October 15, 2014

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Background: Gene flow is traditionally considered a limitation to speciation because selection is required to counter the homogenising effect of allele exchange. Here we report on two sympatric short-horned grasshoppers species in the South Island of New Zealand; one (Sigaus australis) widespread and the other (Sigaus childi) a narrow endemic. Results: Of the 79 putatively neutral markers (mtDNA, microsatellite loci, ITS sequences and RAD-seq SNPs) all but one marker we examined showed extensive allele sharing, and similar or identical allele frequencies in the two species where they co-occur. We found no genetic evidence of deviation from random mating in the region of sympatry. However, analysis of morphological and geometric traits revealed no evidence of morphological introgression. Conclusions: Based on phenotype the two species are clearly distinct, but their genotypes thus far reveal no divergence. The best explanation for this is that some loci associated with the distinguishing morphological characters are under strong selection, but exchange of neutral loci is occurring freely between the two species. Although it is easier to define species as requiring a barrier between them, a dynamic model that accommodates gene flow is a biologically more reasonable explanation for these grasshoppers.

October 14, 2014

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Background: Annual Nothobranchius fishes are distributed in East and Southern Africa and inhabit ephemeral pools filled during the monsoon season. Nothobranchius show extreme life-history adaptations: embryos survive by entering diapause and they are the vertebrates with the fastest maturation and the shortest lifespan. The distribution of Nothobranchius overlaps with the East Africa Rift System. The geological and paleoclimatic history of this region is known in detail: in particular, aridification of East Africa and expansion of grassland habitats started 8 Mya and three humid periods between 3 and 1 Mya are superimposed on the longer-term aridification. These climatic oscillations are thought to have shaped evolution of savannah African mammals. We reconstructed the phylogeny of Nothobranchius and dated the different stages of diversification in relation to these paleoclimatic events. Results: We sequenced one mitochondrial locus and five nuclear loci in 63 specimens and obtained a robust phylogeny. Nothobranchius can be divided in four geographically separated clades whose boundaries largely correspond to the East Africa Rift system. Statistical analysis of dispersal and vicariance identifies a Nilo-Sudan origin with southwards dispersion and confirmed that these four clades are the result of vicariance events In the absence of fossil Nothobranchius, molecular clock was calibrated using more distant outgroups (secondary calibration). This method estimates the age of the Nothobranchius genus to be 8.3 (6.0 – 10.7) My and the separation of the four clades 4.8 (2.7-7.0) Mya. Diversification within the clades was estimated to have started ~3 Mya and most species pairs were estimated to have an age of 0.5-1 My. Conclusions: The mechanism of Nothobranchius diversification was allopatric and driven by geographic isolation. We propose a scenario where diversification of Nothobranchius started in rough coincidence with aridification of East Africa, establishment of grassland habitats and the appearance of the typical African bovid fauna of the savannah. Although confidence intervals for the estimated ages of the four Nothobranchius clades are quite large, this scenario is compatible with the biology of extant Nothobranchius that are critically dependent on savannah habitats. Therefore, Nothobranchius diversification might have been shaped by the same paleoclimatic events that shaped African ungulate evolution.

October 11, 2014

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Background: Five basic taste modalities, sour, sweet, bitter, salt and umami, can be distinguished by humans and are fundamental for physical and ecological adaptations in mammals. Molecular genetic studies of the receptor genes for these tastes have been conducted in terrestrial mammals; however, little is known about the evolution and adaptation of these genes in marine mammals. Results: Here, all five basic taste modalities, sour, sweet, bitter, salt and umami, were investigated in cetaceans. The sequence characteristics and evolutionary analyses of taste receptor genes suggested that nearly all cetaceans may have lost all taste modalities except for that of salt. Conclusions: This is the first study to comprehensively examine the five basic taste modalities in cetaceans with extensive taxa sampling. Our results suggest that cetaceans have lost four of the basic taste modalities including sour, sweet, umami, and most of the ability to sense bitter tastes. The integrity of the candidate salt taste receptor genes in all the cetaceans examined may be because of their function in Na+ reabsorption, which is key to osmoregulation and aquatic adaptation.

October 10, 2014

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Background: Glaciations were recurrent throughout the Quaternary and potentially shaped species genetic structure worldwide by affecting population dynamics. Here, we implemented a multi-model inference approach to recover the distribution dynamics and demographic history of a Neotropical savanna tree, Tabebuia aurea (Bignoniaceae). Exploring different algorithms and paleoclimatic simulations, we used ecological niche modelling to generate alternative hypotheses of potential demographic changes through the last glacial cycle and estimated genetic parameters using coalescent modelling. Results: Comparing predictions from demographic hypotheses with genetic parameters of modern populations, our findings revealed a likely scenario of population decline, with spatial displacement towards Northeast Brazil from the last glacial maximum to the mid-Holocene. Subsequently, populations expanded in response to the return of the climatically suitable conditions in Central-West Brazil. Nevertheless, a wide historical refugium across Central Brazil likely maintained large populations connected throughout time. The expected genetic signatures from such predicted distribution dynamics are also corroborated by spatial genetic structure observed in modern populations. Conclusion: By exploring uncertainties inherent in multiple working hypotheses, we have shown that multi-model inference is a fruitful and efficient approach to recover the nature, timing and geographical context of the Tabebuia aurea population dynamic in response to the Quaternary climate changes.
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Background: Although the genetic heritage of aboriginal Siberians is mostly of eastern Asian ancestry, a substantial western Eurasian component is observed in the majority of northern Asian populations. Traces of at least two migrations into southern Siberia, one from eastern Europe and the other from western Asia/the Caucasus have been detected previously in mitochondrial gene pools of modern Siberians. Results: We report here 166 new complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences that allow us to expand and re-analyze the available data sets of western Eurasian lineages found in northern Asian populations, define the phylogenetic status of Siberian-specific subclades and search for links between mtDNA haplotypes/subclades and events of human migrations. From a survey of 158 western Eurasian mtDNA genomes found in Siberia we estimate that nearly 40% of them most likely have western Asian and another 29% European ancestry. It is striking that 65 of northern Asian mitogenomes, i.e. ~41%, fall into 19 branches and subclades which can be considered as Siberian-specific being found so far only in Siberian populations. From the coalescence analysis it is evident that the sequence divergence of Siberian-specific subclades was relatively small, corresponding to only 0.6-9.5 kya (using the complete mtDNA rate) and 1–6 kya (coding region rate). Conclusions: The phylogeographic analysis implies that the western Eurasian founders, giving rise to Siberian specific subclades, may trace their ancestry only to the early and mid-Holocene, though some of genetic lineages may trace their ancestry back to the end of Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). We have not found the modern northern Asians to have western Eurasian genetic components of sufficient antiquity to indicate traces of pre-LGM expansions.

October 9, 2014

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Background: Understanding the evolutionary history of morphologically cryptic species complexes is difficult, and made even more challenging when geographic distributions have been modified by human-mediated dispersal. This situation is common in the Mediterranean Basin where, aside from the environmental heterogeneity of the region, protracted human presence has obscured the biogeographic processes that shaped current diversity. Loxosceles rufescens (Araneae, Sicariidae) is an ideal example: native to the Mediterranean, the species has dispersed worldwide via cohabitation with humans. A previous study revealed considerable molecular diversity, suggesting cryptic species, but relationships among lineages did not correspond to geographic location. Results: Delimitation analyses on cytochrome c oxidase subunit I identified 11 different evolutionary lineages, presenting two contrasting phylogeographic patterns: (1) lineages with well-structured populations in Morocco and Iberia, and (2) lineages lacking geographic structure across the Mediterranean Basin. Dating analyses placed main diversification events in the Pleistocene, and multiple Pleistocene refugia, identified using ecological niche modeling (ENM), are compatible with allopatric differentiation of lineages. Human-mediated transportation appears to have complicated the current biogeography of this medically important and synanthropic spider. Conclusions: We integrated ecological niche models with phylogeographic analyses to elucidate the evolutionary history of L. rufescens in the Mediterranean Basin, with emphasis on the origins of mtDNA diversity. We found support for the hypothesis that northern Africa was the center of origin for L. rufescens, and that current genetic diversity originated in allopatry, likely promoted by successive glaciations during the Pleistocene. We corroborated the scenario of multiple refugia within the Mediterranean, principally in northern Africa, combining results from eight atmosphere?ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) with two different refugium-delimitation methodologies. ENM results were useful for providing general views of putative refugia, with fine-scale details depending on the level of stringency applied for agreement among models.

October 8, 2014

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Background: Phylogenetic studies have provided detailed knowledge on the evolutionary mechanisms of genes and species in Bacteria and Archaea. However, the evolution of cellular functions, represented by metabolic pathways and biological processes, has not been systematically characterized. Many clades in the prokaryotic tree of life have now been covered by sequenced genomes in GenBank. This enables a large-scale functional phylogenomics study of many computationally inferred cellular functions across all sequenced prokaryotes. Results: A total of 14,727 GenBank prokaryotic genomes were re-annotated using a new protein family database, UniFam, to obtain consistent functional annotations for accurate comparison. The functional profile of a genome was represented by the biological process Gene Ontology (GO) terms in its annotation. The GO term enrichment analysis differentiated the functional profiles between selected archaeal taxa. 706 prokaryotic metabolic pathways were inferred from these genomes using Pathway Tools and MetaCyc. The consistency between the distribution of metabolic pathways in the genomes and the phylogenetic tree of the genomes was measured using parsimony scores and retention indices. The ancestral functional profiles at the internal nodes of the phylogenetic tree were reconstructed to track the gains and losses of metabolic pathways in evolutionary history. Conclusions: Our functional phylogenomics analysis shows divergent functional profiles of taxa and clades. Such function-phylogeny correlation stems from a set of clade-specific cellular functions with low parsimony scores. On the other hand, many cellular functions are sparsely dispersed across many clades with high parsimony scores. These different types of cellular functions have distinct evolutionary patterns reconstructed from the prokaryotic tree.

October 3, 2014

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Background: The recent expansion of whole-genome sequence data available from diverse animal lineages provides an opportunity to investigate the evolutionary origins of specific classes of human disease genes. Previous studies have observed that human disease genes are of particularly ancient origin. While this suggests that many animal species have the potential to serve as feasible models for research on genes responsible for human disease, it is unclear whether this pattern has meaningful implications and whether it prevails for every class of human disease. Results: We used a comparative genomics approach encompassing a broad phylogenetic range of animals with sequenced genomes to determine the evolutionary patterns exhibited by human genes associated with different classes of disease. Our results support previous claims that most human disease genes are of ancient origin but, more importantly, we also demonstrate that several specific disease classes have a significantly large proportion of genes that emerged relatively recently within the metazoans and/or vertebrates. An independent assessment of the synonymous to non-synonymous substitution rates of human disease genes found in mammals reveals that disease classes that arose more recently also display unexpected rates of purifying selection between their mammalian and human counterparts. Conclusions: Our results reveal the heterogeneity underlying the evolutionary origins of (and selective pressures on) different classes of human disease genes. For example, some disease gene classes appear to be of uncommonly recent (i.e., vertebrate-specific) origin and, as a whole, have been evolving at a faster rate within mammals than the majority of disease classes having more ancient origins. The novel patterns that we have identified may provide new insight into cases where studies using traditional animal models were unable to produce results that translated to humans. Conversely, we note that the larger set of disease classes do have ancient origins, suggesting that many non-traditional animal models have the potential to be useful for studying many human disease genes. Taken together, these findings emphasize why model organism selection should be done on a disease-by-disease basis, with evolutionary profiles in mind.
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Background: Brain signaling requires energy. The cost of maintaining and supporting energetically demanding neurons is the key constraint on brain size. The dramatic increase in brain size among mammals and birds cannot be understood without solving this conundrum: larger brains, with more neurons, consume more energy. Results: Here we examined the intrinsic relationships between metabolism, body-brain size ratios and neuronal densities of both endothermic and ectothermic animals. We formulated a general model to elucidate the key factors that correlate with brain enlargement, and the origin of allometric body-brain size scaling. This framework identified temperature as a critical factor in brain enlargement via temperature-regulated changes in metabolism. Our framework predicts that ectothermic animals living in tropical climates should have brain sizes that are several times larger than those of ectothermic animals living in cold climates. This prediction was confirmed by data from experiments in fish brains. Our framework also suggests that a rapid increase in the number of less energy-demanding glial cells may be another important factor contributing to the ten-fold increase in the brain sizes of endotherms compared with ectotherms. Conclusions: This study thus provides a quantitative theory that predicts the brain sizes of all the major types of animals and quantifies the contributions of temperature-dependent metabolism, body size and neuronal density.

October 1, 2014

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Background: Mountain landscapes are topographically complex, creating discontinuous `islands? of alpine and sub-alpine habitat with a dynamic history. Changing climatic conditions drive their expansion and contraction, leaving signatures on the genetic structure of their flora and fauna. Australia?s high country covers a small, highly fragmented area. Although the area is thought to have experienced periods of relative continuity during Pleistocene glacial periods, small-scale studies suggest deep lineage divergence across low-elevation gaps. Using both DNA sequence data and microsatellite markers, we tested the hypothesis that genetic partitioning reflects observable geographic structuring across Australia?s mainland high country, in the widespread alpine grasshopper Kosciuscola tristis (Sj?sted). Results: We found broadly congruent patterns of regional structure between the DNA sequence and microsatellite datasets, corresponding to strong divergence among isolated mountain regions. Small and isolated mountains in the south of the range were particularly distinct, with well-supported divergence corresponding to climate cycles during the late Pliocene and Pleistocene. We found mixed support, however, for divergence among other mountain regions. Interestingly, within areas of largely contiguous alpine and sub-alpine habitat around Mt Kosciuszko, microsatellite data suggested significant population structure, accompanied by a strong signature of isolation-by-distance. Conclusions: Consistent patterns of strong lineage divergence among different molecular datasets indicate genetic breaks between populations inhabiting geographically distinct mountain regions. Three primary phylogeographic groups were evident in the highly fragmented Victorian high country, while within-region structure detected with microsatellites may reflect more recent population isolation. Despite the small area of Australia?s alpine and sub-alpine habitats, their low topographic relief and lack of extensive glaciation, divergence among populations was on the same scale as that detected in much more extensive Northern hemisphere mountain systems. The processes driving divergence in the Australian mountains might therefore differ from their Northern hemisphere counterparts.
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Background: Vetulicolians are one of the most problematic and controversial Cambrian fossil groups, having been considered as arthropods, chordates, kinorhynchs, or their own phylum. Mounting evidence suggests that vetulicolians are deuterostomes, but affinities to crown-group phyla are unresolved. Results: A new vetulicolian from the Emu Bay Shale Konservat-Lagerstätte, South Australia, Nesonektris aldridgei gen. et sp. nov., preserves an axial, rod-like structure in the posterior body region that resembles a notochord in its morphology and taphonomy, with notable similarity to early decay stages of the notochord of extant cephalochordates and vertebrates. Some of its features are also consistent with other structures, such as a gut or a coelomic cavity. Conclusions: Phylogenetic analyses resolve a monophyletic Vetulicolia as sister-group to tunicates (Urochordata) within crown Chordata, and this holds even if they are scored as unknown for all notochord characters. The hypothesis that the free-swimming vetulicolians are the nearest relatives of tunicates suggests that a perpetual free-living life cycle was primitive for tunicates. Characters of the common ancestor of Vetulicolia + Tunicata include distinct anterior and posterior body regions – the former being non-fusiform and used for filter feeding and the latter originally segmented – plus a terminal mouth, absence of pharyngeal bars, the notochord restricted to the posterior body region, and the gut extending to the end of the tail.

September 30, 2014

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Background: The green algae represent one of the most successful groups of photosynthetic eukaryotes, but compared to their land plant relatives, surprisingly little is known about their evolutionary history. This is in great part due to the difficulty of recognizing species diversity behind morphologically similar organisms. The Trebouxiophyceae is a species-rich class of the Chlorophyta that includes symbionts (e.g. lichenized algae) as well as free-living green algae. Members of this group display remarkable ecological variation, occurring in aquatic, terrestrial and aeroterrestrial environments. Because a reliable backbone phylogeny is essential to understand the evolutionary history of the Trebouxiophyceae, we sought to identify the relationships among the major trebouxiophycean lineages that have been previously recognized in nuclear-encoded 18S rRNA phylogenies. To this end, we used a chloroplast phylogenomic approach. Results: We determined the sequences of 29 chlorophyte chloroplast genomes and assembled amino acid and nucleotide data sets derived from 79 chloroplast genes of 61 chlorophytes, including 35 trebouxiophyceans. The amino acid- and nucleotide-based phylogenies inferred using maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods and various models of sequence evolution revealed essentially the same relationships for the trebouxiophyceans. Two major groups were identified: a strongly supported clade of 29 taxa (core trebouxiophyceans) that is sister to the Chlorophyceae + Ulvophyceae and a clade comprising the Chlorellales and Pedinophyceae that represents a basal divergence relative to the former group. The core trebouxiophyceans form a grade of strongly supported clades that include a novel lineage represented by the desert crust alga Pleurastrosarcina brevispinosa. The assemblage composed of the Oocystis and Geminella clades is the deepest divergence of the core trebouxiophyceans. Like most of the chlorellaleans, early-diverging core trebouxiophyceans are predominantly planktonic species, whereas core trebouxiophyceans occupying more derived lineages are mostly terrestrial or aeroterrestrial algae. Conclusions: Our phylogenomic study provides a solid foundation for addressing fundamental questions related to the biology and ecology of the Trebouxiophyceae. The inferred trees reveal that this class is not monophyletic; they offer new insights not only into the internal structure of the class but also into the lifestyle of its founding members and subsequent adaptations to changing environments.
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Background: Archaeology reports millenary cultural contacts between Peruvian Coast-Andes and the Amazon Yunga, a rainforest transitional region between Andes and Lower Amazonia. To clarify the relationships between cultural and biological evolution of these populations, in particular between Amazon Yungas and Andeans, we used DNA-sequence data, a model-based Bayesian approach and several statistical validations to infer a set of demographic parameters. Results: We found that the genetic diversity of the Shimaa (an Amazon Yunga population) is a subset of that of Quechuas from Central-Andes. Using the Isolation-with-Migration population genetics model, we inferred that the Shimaa ancestors were a small subgroup that split less than 5300 years ago (after the development of complex societies) from an ancestral Andean population. After the split, the most plausible scenario compatible with our results is that the ancestors of Shimaas moved toward the Peruvian Amazon Yunga and incorporated the culture and language of some of their neighbors, but not a substantial amount of their genes. We validated our results using Approximate Bayesian Computations, posterior predictive tests and the analysis of pseudo-observed datasets. Conclusions: We presented a case study in which model-based Bayesian approaches, combined with necessary statistical validations, shed light into the prehistoric demographic relationship between Andeans and a population from the Amazon Yunga. Our results offer a testable model for the peopling of this large transitional environmental region between the Andes and the Lower Amazonia. However, studies on larger samples and involving more populations of these regions are necessary to confirm if the predominant Andean biological origin of the Shimaas is the rule, and not the exception.

September 29, 2014

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Background: Myxozoa are a diverse group of metazoan parasites with a very simple organization, which has for decades eluded their evolutionary origin. Their most prominent and characteristic feature is the polar capsule: a complex intracellular structure of the myxozoan spore, which plays a role in host infection. Striking morphological similarities have been found between myxozoan polar capsules and nematocysts, the stinging structures of cnidarians (corals, sea anemones and jellyfish) leading to the suggestion that Myxozoa and Cnidaria share a more recent common ancestry. This hypothesis has recently been supported by phylogenomic evidence and by the identification of a nematocyst specific minicollagen gene in the myxozoan Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae. Here we searched genomes and transcriptomes of several myxozoan taxa for the presence of additional cnidarian specific genes and characterized these genes within a phylogenetic context. Results: Illumina assemblies of transcriptome or genome data of three myxozoan species (Enteromyxum leei, Kudoa iwatai, and Sphaeromyxa zaharoni) and of the enigmatic cnidarian parasite Polypodium hydriforme (Polypodiozoa) were mined using tBlastn searches with nematocyst-specific proteins as queries. Several orthologs of nematogalectins and minicollagens were identified. Our phylogenetic analyses indicate that myxozoans possess three distinct minicollagens. We found that the cnidarian repertoire of nematogalectins is more complex than previously thought and we identified additional members of the nematogalectin family. Cnidarians were found to possess four nematogalectin / nematogalectin-related genes, while in myxozoans only three genes could be identified. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that myxozoans possess a diverse array of genes that are taxonomically restricted to Cnidaria. Characterization of these genes provide compelling evidence that polar capsules and nematocysts are homologous structures and that myxozoans are highly degenerate cnidarians. The diversity of minicollagens was higher than previously thought, with the presence of three minicollagen genes in myxozoans. Our phylogenetic results suggest that the different myxozoan sequences are the results of ancient divergences within Cnidaria and not of recent specializations of the polar capsule. For both minicollagen and nematogalectin, our results show that myxozoans possess less gene copies than their cnidarian counter parts, suggesting that the polar capsule gene repertoire was simplified with their reduced body plan.

September 27, 2014

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Background: Nicrophorus vespilloides eggs are deposited into the soil in close proximity to the decomposing vertebrate carcasses that these insects use as an obligate resource to rear their offspring. Eggs in this environment potentially face significant risks from the bacteria that proliferate in the grave-soil environment following nutrient influx from the decomposing carcass. Our aims in this paper are twofold: first, to examine the fitness effects of grave-soil bacteria to eggs, and second, to quantify egg immunocompetence as a defence against these bacteria. Results: Our results provide strong evidence that grave-soil microbes significantly reduce the survival of Nicrophorus eggs. Females provided with microbe rich carcasses to rear broods laid fewer eggs that were less likely to hatch than females given uncontaminated carcasses. Furthermore, we show that egg hatch success is significantly reduced by bacterial exposure. Using a split-brood design, which controlled for intrinsic differences in eggs produced by different females, we found that eggs washed free of surface-associated bacteria show increased survival compared to unwashed eggs. By contrast, eggs exposed to the entomopathogen Serratia marcescens show decreased survival compared to unexposed eggs. We next tested the immune competence of eggs under challenge from bacterial infection, and found that eggs lacked endogenous production of antimicrobial peptides, despite well-developed responses in larvae. Finally, we found that despite lacking immunity, N. vespilloides eggs produce an extraembryonic serosa, indicating that the serosa has lost its immune inducing capacity in this species. Conclusions: The dependency on ephemeral resources might strongly select for fast developing animals. Our results suggest that Nicrophorus carrion beetles, and other species developing on ephemeral resources, face a fundamental trade-off between egg immunity and development time.