BMC Evolutionary Biology

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September 15, 2014

18:00
Background: Calisto is the largest butterfly genus in the West Indies but its systematics, historical biogeography and the causes of its diversification have not been previously rigorously evaluated. Several studies attempting to explain the wide-ranging diversity of Calisto gave different weights to vicariance, dispersal and adaptive radiation. We utilized molecular phylogenetic approaches and secondary calibrations points to estimate lineage ages. In addition, we used the dispersal-extinction-cladogenesis model and Caribbean paleogeographical information to reconstruct ancestral geographical distributions. We also evaluated different models of diversification to estimate the dynamics of lineage radiation within Calisto. By understanding the evolution of Calisto butterflies, we attempt to identify the main processes acting on insular insect diversity and the causes of its origin and its maintenance. Results: The crown age of Calisto was estimated to the early Oligocene (31???5?Ma), and a single shift in diversification rate following a diversity-dependent speciation process was the best explanation for the present-day diversity found within the genus. A major increase in diversification rate was recovered at 14?Ma, following geological arrangements that favoured the availability of empty niches. Inferred ancestral distributional ranges suggested that the origin of extant Calisto is in agreement with a vicariant model and the origin of the Cuban lineage was likely the result of vicariance caused by the Cuba-Hispaniola split. A long-distance dispersal was the best explanation for the colonization of Jamaica and the Bahamas. Conclusions: The ancestral geographical distribution of Calisto is in line with the paleogeographical model of Caribbean colonization, which favours island-to-island vicariance. Because the sister lineage of Calisto remains ambiguous, its arrival to the West Indies remains to be explained, although, given its age and historical biogeography, the hypothesized GAARlandia land bridge might have been a plausible introduction route from continental America. Intra-island radiation caused by ecological innovation and the abiotic creation of niche spaces was found to be the main force shaping Calisto diversity and island endemism in Hispaniola and Cuba.

September 12, 2014

18:00
Background: Stripes and other high contrast patterns found on animals have been hypothesised to cause ?motion dazzle?, a type of defensive coloration that operates when in motion, causing predators to misjudge the speed and direction of object movement. Several recent studies have found some support for this idea, but little is currently understood about the mechanisms underlying this effect. Using humans as model `predators? in a touch screen experiment we investigated further the effectiveness of striped targets in preventing capture, and considered how stripes compare to other types of patterning in order to understand what aspects of target patterning are important in making a target difficult to capture. Results: We find that striped targets are among the most difficult to capture, but that other patterning types are also highly effective at preventing capture in this task. Several target types, including background sampled targets and targets with a `spot? on were significantly easier to capture than striped targets. We also show differences in capture attempt rates between different target types, but we find no differences in learning rates between target types. Conclusions: We conclude that striped targets are effective in preventing capture, but are not uniquely difficult to catch, with luminance matched grey targets also showing a similar capture rate. We show that key factors in making capture easier are a lack of average background luminance matching and having trackable `features? on the target body. We also find that striped patterns are attempted relatively quickly, despite being difficult to catch. We discuss these findings in relation to the motion dazzle hypothesis and how capture rates may be affected more generally by pattern type.
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Background: Human bitter taste receptors are encoded by a gene family consisting of 25 functional TAS2R loci. In addition, humans carry 11 TAS2R pseudogenes, some of which display evidence for substantial diversification among species, showing lineage-specific loss of function. Since bitter taste is thought to help prevent the intake of toxic substances, diversity at TAS2R genes could reflect the action of natural selection on the ability to recognize some bitter compounds rather than others. Whether species-specific variation in TAS2R pseudogenes is solely the result of genetic drift or whether it may have been influenced by selection due to different feeding behaviors has been an open question. Results: In this study, we analyzed patterns of variation at human TAS2R pseudogenes in both African and non-African populations, and compared them to those observable in nonhuman primates and archaic human species. Our results showed a similar worldwide distribution of allelic variation for most of the pseudogenes, with the exception of the TAS2R6P and TAS2R18P loci, both of which presented an unexpected higher frequency of derived alleles outside Africa. At the TAS2R6P locus, two SNPs were found in strong linkage disequilibrium (r2?>?0.9) with variants in the functional TAS2R5 gene, which showed signatures of selection. The human TAS2R18P carried a species-specific stop-codon upstream of four polymorphic insertions in the reading frame. SNPs at this locus showed significant positive values in a number of neutrality statistics, and age estimates indicated that they arose after the homo-chimp divergence. Conclusions: The similar distribution of variation of many human bitter receptor pseudogenes among human populations suggests that they arose from the ancestral forms by a unidirectional loss of function. However we explain the higher frequency of TAS2R6P derived alleles outside Africa as the effect of the balancing selection acting on the closely linked TAS2R5 gene. In contrast, TAS2R18P displayed a more complex history, suggesting an acquired function followed by a recent pseudogenization that predated the divergence of human modern and archaic species, which we hypothesize was associated with adaptions to dietary changes.

September 9, 2014

18:00
Background: Extant sloths present an evolutionary conundrum in that the two living genera are superficially similar (small-bodied, folivorous, arboreal) but diverged from one another approximately 30 million years ago and are phylogenetically separated by a radiation of medium to massive, mainly ground-dwelling, taxa. Indeed, the species in the two living genera are among the smallest, and perhaps most unusual, of the 50+ known sloth species, and must have independently and convergently evolved small size and arboreality. In order to accurately reconstruct sloth evolution, it is critical to incorporate their extinct diversity in analyses. Here, we used a dataset of 57 species of living and fossil sloths to examine changes in body mass mean and variance through their evolution, employing a general time-variable model that allows for analysis of evolutionary trends in continuous characters within clades lacking fully-resolved phylogenies, such as sloths. Results: Our analyses supported eight models, all of which partition sloths into multiple subgroups, suggesting distinct modes of body size evolution among the major sloth lineages. Model-averaged parameter values supported trended walks in most clades, with estimated rates of body mass change ranging as high as 126 kg/million years for the giant ground sloth clades Megatheriidae and Nothrotheriidae. Inclusion of living sloth species in the analyses weakened reconstructed rates for their respective groups, with estimated rates for Megalonychidae (large to giant ground sloths and the extant two-toed sloth) were four times higher when the extant genus Choloepus was excluded. Conclusions: Analyses based on extant taxa alone have the potential to oversimplify or misidentify macroevolutionary patterns. This study demonstrates the impact that integration of data from the fossil record can have on reconstructions of character evolution and establishes that body size evolution in sloths was complex, but dominated by trended walks towards the enormous sizes exhibited in some recently extinct forms.

September 5, 2014

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Background: New Caledonia harbours a highly diverse and endemic flora, and 13 (out of the 19 worldwide) species of Araucaria are endemic to this territory. Their phylogenetic relationships remain largely unresolved. Using nuclear microsatellites and chloroplast DNA sequencing, we focused on five closely related Araucaria species to investigate among-species relationships and the distribution of within-species genetic diversity across New Caledonia. Results: The species could be clearly distinguished here, except A. montana and A. laubenfelsii that were not differentiated and, at most, form a genetic cline. Given their apparent morphological and ecological similarity, we suggested that these two species may be considered as a single evolutionary unit. We observed cases of nuclear admixture and incongruence between nuclear and chloroplast data, probably explained by introgression and shared ancestral polymorphism. Ancient hybridization was evidenced between A. biramulata and A. laubenfelsii in Mt Do, and is strongly suspected between A. biramulata and A. rulei in Mt Tonta. In both cases, extensive asymmetrical backcrossing eliminated the influence of one parent in the nuclear DNA composition. Shared ancestral polymorphism was also observed for cpDNA, suggesting that species diverged recently, have large effective sizes and/or that cpDNA experienced slow rates of molecular evolution. Within-species genetic structure was pronounced, probably because of low gene flow and significant inbreeding, and appeared clearly influenced by geography. This may be due to survival in distinct refugia during Quaternary climatic oscillations. Conclusions: The study species probably diverged recently and/or are characterized by a slow rate of cpDNA sequence evolution, and introgression is strongly suspected. Within-species genetic structure is tightly linked with geography. We underline the conservation implications of our results, and highlight several perspectives.

September 4, 2014

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Background: The evolutionary history of the Old World monkey tribe Papionini comprising the genera Macaca, Mandrillus, Cercocebus, Lophocebus, Theropithecus, Rungwecebus and Papio is still matter of debate. Although the African Papionini (subtribe Papionina) are generally considered to be the sister lineage to the Asian Papionini (subtribe Macacina), previous studies based on morphological data, nuclear or mitochondrial sequences have shown contradictory phylogenetic relationships among and within both subtribes. To further elucidate the phylogenetic relationships among papionins and to estimate divergence ages we generated mitochondrial genome data and combined them with previously published sequences. Results: Our mitochondrial gene tree comprises 33 papionins representing all genera of the tribe except Rungwecebus. In contrast to most previous studies, the obtained phylogeny suggests a division of the Papionini into three main mitochondrial clades with similar ages: 1) Papio, Theropithecus, Lophocebus; 2) Mandrillus, Cercocebus; and 3) Macaca; the Mandrillus?+?Cercocebus clade appears to be more closely related to Macaca than to the other African Papionini. Further, we find paraphyletic relationships within the Mandrillus?+?Cercocebus clade as well as in Papio. Relationships among Theropithecus, Lophocebus and Papio remain unresolved. Divergence ages reveal initial splits within the three mitochondrial clades around the Miocene/Pliocene boundary and differentiation of Macaca species groups occurred on a similar time scale as those between genera of the subtribe Papionina. Conclusion: Due to the largely well-resolved mitochondrial phylogeny, our study provides new insights into the evolutionary history of the Papionini. Results show some contradictory relationships in comparison to previous analyses, notably the paraphyly within the Cercocebus?+?Mandrillus clade and three instead of only two major mitochondrial clades. Divergence ages among species groups of macaques are similar to those among African Papionini genera, suggesting that diversification of the mitochondrial genome is of a similar magnitude in both subtribes. However, since our mitochondrial tree represents just a single gene tree that most likely does not reflect the true species tree, extensive nuclear sequence data is required to illuminate the true species phylogeny of papionins and to trace possible ancient hybridization events among lineages.

September 2, 2014

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Background: Studies of insect-plant interactions have provided critical insights into the ecology and evolution of adaptive processes within and among species. Cactophilic Drosophila species have received much attention because larval development occurs in the necrotic tissues of cacti, and both larvae and adults feed on these tissues. Such Drosophila-cactus interactions include effects of the host plant on the physiology and behavior of the flies, especially so their nutritional status, mating condition and reproduction. The aim of this work was to compare the transcriptional responses of two species, Drosophila antonietae and Drosophila meridionalis, and identify genes potentially related to responses to odors released by their host cactus, Cereus hildmannianus. The two fly species are sympatric in most of their populations and use this same host cactus in nature. Results: We obtained 47 unique sequences (USs) for D. antonietae in a suppression subtractive hybridization screen, 30 of these USs had matches with genes predicted for other Drosophila species. For D. meridionalis we obtained 81 USs, 46 of which were orthologous with genes from other Drosophila species. Functional information (Gene Ontology) revealed that these differentially expressed genes are related to metabolic processes, detoxification mechanisms, signaling, response to stimuli, and reproduction. The expression of 13 genes from D. meridionalis and 12 from D. antonietae were further analyzed by quantitative real time-PCR, showing that four genes were significantly overexpressed in D. antonietae and six in D. meridionalis. Conclusions: Our results revealed the differential expression of genes related to responses to odor stimuli by a cactus, in two associated fly species. Although the majority of activated genes were similar between the two species, we also observed that certain metabolic pathways were specifically activated, especially those related to signaling pathways and detoxification mechanisms. The activation of these genes may reflect different metabolic pathways used by these flies in their interaction with this host cactus. Our findings provide insight into how the use of C. hildmannianus may have arisen independently in the two fly species, through genetic differentiation in metabolic pathways to effectively explore this cactus as a host.

August 29, 2014

06:00
Background: Lysozyme g is an antibacterial enzyme that was first found in the eggs of some birds, but recently has been found in additional species, including non-vertebrates. Some previously characterized lysozyme g sequences are suggested to have altered secretion potential and enzymatic activity, however the distribution of these altered sequences is unknown. Duplicated copies of the lysozyme g gene exist in some species; however, the origins of the duplicates and their roles in altered function are unclear. Results: We identified 234 lysozyme g sequences from 118 vertebrate species, including 181 sequences that are full or near full length representing all vertebrate classes except cartilaginous fish. Phylogenetic analysis shows that most lysozyme g gene duplicates are recent or lineage specific events, however three amplification events are more ancient, those in an early amniote, an early mammal, and an early teleost. The older gene duplications are associated with changes in function, including changes in secretion potential and muramidase antibacterial enzymatic activity. Conclusions: Lysozyme g is an essential muramidase enzyme that is widespread in vertebrates. Duplication of the lysozyme g gene, and the retention of non-secreted isozymes that have lost enzymatic activity indicate that lysozyme g has an activity other than the muramidase activity associated with being an antibacterial enzyme.

August 28, 2014

18:00
Background: A compelling demonstration of adaptation by natural selection is the ability of parasites to manipulate host behavior. One dramatic example involves fungal species from the genus Ophiocordyceps that control their ant hosts by inducing a biting behavior. Intensive sampling across the globe of ants that died after being manipulated by Ophiocordyceps suggests that this phenomenon is highly species-specific. We advance our understanding of this system by reconstructing host manipulation by Ophiocordyceps parasites under controlled laboratory conditions and combining this with field observations of infection rates and a metabolomics survey. Results: We report on a newly discovered species of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato from North America that we use to address the species-specificity of Ophiocordyceps-induced manipulation of ant behavior. We show that the fungus can kill all ant species tested, but only manipulates the behavior of those it infects in nature. To investigate if this could be explained at the molecular level, we used ex vivo culturing assays to measure the metabolites that are secreted by the fungus to mediate fungus-ant tissue interactions. We show the fungus reacts heterogeneously to brains of different ant species by secreting a different array of metabolites. By determining which ion peaks are significantly enriched when the fungus is grown alongside brains of its naturally occurring host, we discovered candidate compounds that could be involved in behavioral manipulation by O. unilateralis s.l.. Two of these candidates are known to be involved in neurological diseases and cancer. Conclusions: The integrative work presented here shows that ant brain manipulation by O. unilateralis s.l. is species-specific seemingly because the fungus produces a specific array of compounds as a reaction to the presence of the host brain it has evolved to manipulate. These studies have resulted in the discovery of candidate compounds involved in establishing behavioral manipulation by this specialized fungus and therefore represent a major advancement towards an understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying this phenomenon.
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Background: Hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is a master regulator that mediates major changes in gene expression under hypoxic conditions. Though HIF family has been identified in many organisms, little is known about this family in schizothoracine fish. Results: Duplicated hif-α (hif-1αA, hif-1αB, hif-2αA, and hif-2αB) genes were identified in schizothoracine fish. All the deduced HIF-α proteins contain the main domains (bHLH-PAS, ODDD, and TAD), also found in humans. Evidence suggests a Cyprinidae-specific deletion, specifically, a conserved proline hydroxylation motif LxxLAP, in the NODD domain of schizothoracine fish HIF-1αA. In addition, a schizothoracine-specific mutation was observed in the CODD domain of the specialized and highly specialized schizothoracine fish HIF-1αB, which is the proline hydroxylation motif mutated into PxxLAP. Standard and stochastic branch-site codon model analysis indicated that only HIF-1αB has undergone positive selection, which may have led to changes in function. To confirm this hypothesis, HIF-αs tagged with Myc were transfected into HEK 293 T cells. Each HIF-1αB was found to significantly upregulate luciferase activity under normoxic and hypoxic conditions, which indicated that the HIF-1αB protein was more stable than other HIF-αs. Conclusions: All deduced HIF-α proteins of schizothoracine fish contain important domains, like their mammalian counterparts, and each HIF-α is shorter than that of human. Our experiments reveal that teleost-specific duplicated hif-α genes played different roles under hypoxic conditions, and HIF-1αB may be the most important regulator in the adaptation of schizothoracine fish to the environment of the Tibetan Plateau.

August 27, 2014

18:00
Background: Myzostomids are marine annelids, nearly all of which live symbiotically on or inside echinoderms, chiefly crinoids, and to a lesser extent asteroids and ophiuroids. These symbionts possess a variety of adult body plans and lifestyles. Most described species live freely on the exterior of their hosts as adults (though starting life on the host inside cysts), while other taxa permanently reside in galls, cysts, or within the host’s mouth, digestive system, coelom, or gonads. Myzostomid lifestyles range from stealing incoming food from the host’s food grooves to consuming the host’s tissue directly. Previous molecular studies of myzostomids have had limited sampling with respect to assessing the evolutionary relationships within the group; therefore molecular data from 75 myzostomid taxa were analyzed using maximum likelihood and maximum parsimony methods. To compare relationships of myzostomids with their hosts, a phylogeny was inferred for 53 hosts and a tanglegram constructed with 88 associations. Results: Gall- and some cyst-dwellers were recovered as a clade, while cyst-to-free-living forms were found as a grade including two clades of internal host-eaters (one infecting crinoids and the other asteroids and ophiuroids), mouth/digestive system inhabitants, and other cyst-dwellers. Clades of myzostomids were recovered that associated with asteroids, ophiuroids, and stalked or feather star crinoids. Co-phylogenetic analyses rejected a null-hypothesis of random associations at the global level, but not for individual associations. Event-based analyses relied most upon host-switching and duplication events to reconcile the association history. Conclusion: Hypotheses were revised concerning the systematics and evolution of Myzostomida, as well their relationships to their hosts. We found two or three transitions between food-stealing and host-eating. Taxa that dwell within the mouth or digestive system and some cyst forms are arguably derived from cyst-to-free-living ancestors – possibly the result of a free-living form moving to the mouth and paedomorphic retention of the juvenile cyst. Phylogenetic conservatism in host use was observed among related myzostomid taxa. This finding suggests that myzostomids (which have a free-living planktonic stage) are limited to one or a few closely related hosts, despite most hosts co-occurring on the same reefs, many within physical contact of each other.
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Background: Drosophila Dscam1 is a cell-surface protein that plays important roles in neural development and axon tiling of neurons. It is known that thousands of isoforms bind themselves through specific homophilic interactions, a process which provides the basis for cellular self-recognition. Detailed biochemical studies of specific isoforms strongly suggest that homophilic binding, i.e. the formation of homodimers by identical Dscam1 isomers, is of great importance for the self-avoidance of neurons. Due to experimental limitations, it is currently impossible to measure the homophilic binding affinities for all 19,000 potential isoforms. Results: Here we reconstructed the DNA sequences of an ancestral Dscam form (which likely existed approximately 40 ~ 50 million years ago) using a comparative genomic approach. On the basis of this sequence, we established a working model to predict the self-binding affinities of all isoforms in both the current and the ancestral genome, using machine-learning methods. Detailed computational analysis was performed to compare the self-binding affinities of all isoforms present in these two genomes. Our results revealed that 1) isoforms containing newly derived variable domains exhibit higher self-binding affinities than those with conserved domains, and 2) current isoforms display higher self-binding affinities than their counterparts in the ancient genome. As thousands of Dscam isoforms are needed for the self-avoidance of the neuron, we propose that an increase in self-binding affinity provides the basis for the successful evolution of the arthropod brain. Conclusions: Our data presented here provide an excellent model for future experimental studies of the binding behavior of Dscam isoforms. The results of our analysis indicate that evolution favored the rise of novel variable domains thanks to their higher self-binding affinities, rather than selection merely on the basis of simple expansion of isoform diversity, as that this particular selection process would have established the powerful mechanisms required for neuronal self-avoidance. Thus, we reveal here a new molecular mechanism for the successful evolution of arthropod brains.
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Background: Fleas, the most notorious insect ectoparasites of human, dogs, cats, birds, etc., have recently been traced to its basal and primitive ancestors during the Middle Jurassic. Compared with extant fleas, these large basal fleas have many different features. Although several fossil species with transitional morphologies filled the evolutionary blank, the early evolution of these ectoparasites is still poorly known. Results: Here we report a new flea with transitional characters, Pseudopulex tanlan sp. nov., assigned to Pseudopulicidae, from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Liaoning Province, China. Different from the previously described pseudopulicids, P. tanlan has relatively smaller body size but lacking any ctenidia on the tibiae or body, while the male with comparatively smaller and shorter genitalia. On the other hand, P. tanlan has some characters similar to the transitional fleas of saurophthirids, such as, a small head, short compacted antennae, small pygidium and many stiff setae covering the body. Conclusions: Even though other possibilities can not be ruled out, the female specimen with extremely distended abdomen suggests that it might have consumed its last meal before its demise. Compared with other reported female flea fossils, we calculate and estimate that P. tanlan sp. nov. might have consumed 0.02 milliliter (ml) of blood, which is about 15 times of the intake volume by extant fleas. These new findings further support that fleas had evolved a broad diversity by the Early Cretaceous.

August 23, 2014

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Background: Branched polymers of glucose are universally used for energy storage in cells, taking the form of glycogen in animals, fungi, Bacteria, and Archaea, and of amylopectin in plants. Some enzymes involved in glycogen and amylopectin metabolism are similarly conserved in all forms of life, but some, interestingly, are not. In this paper we focus on the phylogeny of glycogen branching and debranching enzymes, respectively involved in introducing and removing of the ?(1?6) bonds in glucose polymers, bonds that provide the unique branching structure to glucose polymers. Results: We performed a large-scale phylogenomic analysis of branching and debranching enzymes in over 400 completely sequenced genomes, including more than 200 from eukaryotes. We show that branching and debranching enzymes can be found in all kingdoms of life, including all major groups of eukaryotes, and thus were likely to have been present in the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) but have been lost in seemingly random fashion in numerous single-celled eukaryotes. We also show how animal branching and debranching enzymes evolved from their LUCA ancestors by acquiring additional domains. Furthermore, we show that enzymes commonly perceived as orthologous, such as human branching enzyme GBE1 and E. coli branching enzyme GlgB, are in fact related by a gene duplication and consequently paralogous. Conclusions: Despite being usually associated with animal liver glycogen and plant starch, energy storage in the form of branched glucose polymers is clearly an ancient process and has probably been present in the last universal common ancestor of all present life. The evolution of the enzymes enabling this form of energy storage is more complex than previously thought and illustrates the need for explicit phylogenomic analysis in the study of even seemingly ?simple? metabolic enzymes. Patterns of conservation in the evolution of the glycogen/starch branching and debranching enzymes hint at some as yet unknown mechanisms, as mutations disrupting these patterns lead to a variety of genetic diseases in humans and other mammals.

August 22, 2014

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Background: The genetic diversity of the human microbiome holds great potential for shedding light on the history of our ancestors. Helicobacter pylori is the most prominent example as its analysis allowed a fine-scale resolution of past migration patterns including some that could not be distinguished using human genetic markers. However studies of H. pylori require stomach biopsies, which severely limits the number of samples that can be analysed. By focussing on the house-keeping gene gdh (coding for the glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase), on the virulence gene gtf (coding for the glucosyltransferase) of mitis-streptococci and on the 16S-23S rRNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the Fusobacterium nucleatum/periodonticum-group we here tested the hypothesis that bacterial genes from human saliva have the potential for distinguishing human populations. Results: Analysis of 10 individuals from each of seven geographic regions, encompassing Africa, Asia and Europe, revealed that the genes gdh and ITS exhibited the highest number of polymorphic sites (59% and 79%, respectively) and most OTUs (defined at 99% identity) were unique to a given country. In contrast, the gene gtf had the lowest number of polymorphic sites (21%), and most OTUs were shared among countries. Most of the variation in the gdh and ITS genes was explained by the high clonal diversity within individuals (around 80%) followed by inter-individual variation of around 20%, leaving the geographic region as providing virtually no source of sequence variation. Conversely, for gtf the variation within individuals accounted for 32%, between individuals for 57% and among geographic regions for 11%. This geographic signature persisted upon extension of the analysis to four additional locations from the American continent. Pearson correlation analysis, pairwise Fst-cluster analysis as well as UniFrac analyses consistently supported a tree structure in which the European countries clustered tightly together and branched with American countries and South Africa, to the exclusion of Asian countries and the Congo. Conclusion: This study shows that saliva harbours protein-coding bacterial genes that are geographically structured, and which could potentially be used for addressing previously unresolved human migration events.
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Background: Vertebrate mitogenomes are economically organized and usually lack intergenic sequences other than the control region. Intergenic spacers located between the tRNAThr and tRNAPro genes (“T-P spacers”) have been observed in several taxa, including gadiform species, but information about their biological roles and putative functions is still lacking. Results: Sequence characterization of the complete European hake Merluccius merluccius mitogenome identified a complex T-P spacer ranging in size from 223–532 bp. Further analyses of 32 gadiform species, representing 8 families and 28 genera, revealed the evolutionary preserved presence of T-P spacers across all taxa. Molecular complexity of the T-P spacers was found to be coherent with the phylogenetic relationships, supporting a common ancestral origin and gain of function during codfish evolution. Intraspecific variation of T-P spacer sequences was assessed in 225 Atlantic cod specimens and revealed 26 haplotypes. Pyrosequencing data representing the mito-transcriptome poly (A) fraction in Atlantic cod identified an abundant H-strand specific long noncoding RNA of about 375 nt. The T-P spacer corresponded to the 5’ part of this transcript, which terminated within the control region in a tail-to-tail configuration with the L-strand specific transcript (the 7S RNA). Conclusions: The T-P spacer is inferred to be evolutionary preserved in gadiform mitogenomes due to gain of function through a long noncoding RNA. We suggest that the T-P spacer adds stability to the H-strand specific long noncoding RNA by forming stable hairpin structures and additional protein binding sites.

August 21, 2014

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Background: Thylacocephala is a group of enigmatic extinct arthropods. Here we provide a full description of the oldest unequivocal thylacocephalan, a new genus and species Thylacares brandonensis, which is present in the Silurian Waukesha fauna from Wisconsin, USA. We also present details of younger, Jurassic specimens, from the Solnhofen lithographic limestones, which are crucial to our interpretation of the systematic position of Thylacocephala. In the past, Thylacocephala has been interpreted as a crustacean ingroup and as closely related to various groups such as cirripeds, decapods or remipeds. Results: The Waukesha thylacocephalan, Thylacares brandonensis n. gen. n. sp., bears compound eyes and raptorial appendages that are relatively small compared to those of other representatives of the group. As in other thylacocephalans the large bivalved shield encloses much of the entire body. The shield lacks a marked optical notch. The eyes, which project just beyond the shield margin, appear to be stalked. Head appendages, which may represent antennulae, antennae and mandibles, appear to be present. The trunk is comprised of up to 22 segments. New details observed on thylacocephalans from the Jurassic Solnhofen lithographic limestones include antennulae and antennae of Mayrocaris bucculata, and endites on the raptorial appendages and an elongate last trunk appendage in Clausocaris lithographica. Preserved features of the internal morphology in C. lithographica include the muscles of the raptorial appendage and trunk. Conclusions: Our results indicate that some ‘typical’ thylacocephalan characters are unique to the group; these autapomorphies contribute to the difficulty of determining thylacocephalan affinities. While the new features reported here are consistent with a eucrustacean affinity, most previous hypotheses for the position of Thylacocephala within Eucrustacea (as Stomatopoda, Thecostraca or Decapoda) are shown to be unlikely. A sister group relationship to Remipedia appears compatible with the observed features of Thylacocephala but more fossil evidence is required to test this assertion. The raptorial appendages of Thylacocephala most likely projected 45 degrees abaxially instead of directly forward as previously reconstructed. The overall morphology of thylacocephalans supports a predatory mode of life.

August 17, 2014

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Background: Specific host-parasite systems often embody a particular co-distribution phenomenon, in which the parasite’s phylogeographic pattern is dependent on its host. In practice, however, both congruent and incongruent phylogeographic patterns between the host and the parasite have been reported. Here, we compared the population genetics of the plateau zokor (Eospalax baileyi), a subterranean rodent, and its host-associated flea species, Neopsylla paranoma, with an aim to determine whether the two animals share a similar phylogeographic pattern. Results: We sampled 130 host-parasite pairs from 17 localities in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP), China, and sequenced a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) segment (~2,500 bp), including the complete COI and COII genes. We also detected 55 zokor and 75 flea haplotypes. AMOVA showed that the percentage of variation among the populations of zokors constituted 97.10%, while the within population variation was only 2.90%; for fleas, the values were 85.68% and 14.32%, respectively. Moreover, the flea Fst (fixation index) values were significantly smaller than in zokor. Although the Fst values between zokors and fleas were significantly and positively correlated (N =105, R =0.439, p =0.000), only a small amount (R 2 = 0.19) of the flea Fst variations could be explained by the zokor Fst variations. The two animals showed very distinct haplotype network structures from each other while co-phylogenetic analyses were unable to reject the hypothesis of an independence of speciation events. Conclusions: Zokors and fleas have very distinct population genetic patterns from each other, likely due to the influence of other sympatrically-distributed vertebrates on the transmission of fleas.

August 15, 2014

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Background: Social information use is usually considered to lead to ecological convergence among involved con- or heterospecific individuals. However, recent results demonstrate that observers can also actively avoid behaving as those individuals being observed, leading to ecological divergence. This phenomenon has been little explored so far, yet it can have significant impact on resource use, realized niches and species co-existence. In particular, the time-scale and the ecological context over which such shifts can occur are unknown. We examined with a long-term (four years) field experiment whether experimentally manipulated, species-specific, nest-site feature preferences (symbols on nest boxes) are transmitted across breeding seasons and affect future nest-site preferences in a guild of three cavity-nesting birds. Results: Of the examined species, resident great tits (Parus major) preferred the symbol that had been associated with unoccupied nest boxes in the previous year, i.e., their preference shifted towards niche space previously unused by putative competitors and conspecifics. Conclusions: Our results show that animals can remember the earlier resource use of conspecifics and other guild members and adjust own decisions accordingly one year after. Our experiment cannot reveal the ultimate mechanism(s) behind the observed behaviour but avoiding costs of intra- or interspecific competition or ectoparasite load in old nests are plausible reasons. Our findings imply that interspecific social information use can affect resource sharing and realized niches in ecological time-scale through active avoidance of observed decisions and behavior of potentially competing species.

August 13, 2014

18:00
Background: In insect societies, intracolonial genetic variation is predicted to affect both colony efficiency and reproductive skew. However, because the effects of genetic variation on these two colony characteristics have been tested independently, it remains unclear whether they are affected by genetic variation independently or in a related manner. Here we test the effect of genetic variation on colony efficiency and reproductive skew in a rhinotermitid termite, Reticulitermes speratus, a species in which female-female pairs can facultatively found colonies. We established colonies using two types of female-female pairs: colonies founded by sisters (i.e., sister-pair colonies) and those founded by females from different colonies (i.e., unrelated-pair colonies). Colony growth and reproductive skew were then compared between the two types of incipient colonies. Results: At 15 months after colony foundation, unrelated-pair colonies were larger than sister-pair colonies, although the caste ratio between workers and nymphs, which were alternatively differentiated from young larvae, did not differ significantly. Microsatellite DNA analyses of both founders and their parthenogenetically produced offspring indicated that, in both sister-pair and unrelated-pair colonies, there was no significant skew in the production of eggs, larvae, workers and soldiers. Nymph production, however, was significantly more skewed in the sister-pair colonies than in unrelated-pair colonies. Because nymphs can develop into winged adults (alates) or nymphoid reproductives, they have a higher chance of direct reproduction than workers in this species. Conclusions: Our results support the idea that higher genetic variation among colony members could provide an increase in colony productivity, as shown in hymenopteran social insects. Moreover, this study suggests that low genetic variation (high relatedness) between founding females increases reproductive skew via one female preferentially channeling her relatives along the reproductive track. This study thus demonstrated that, in social insects, intracolonial genetic variation can simultaneously affect both colony efficiency and reproductive skew.