Biological Sciences, Department of

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Evaluating Social and Ecological Vulnerability of Coral Reef Fisheries to Climate Change

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

There is an increasing need to evaluate the links between the social and ecological dimensions of human vulnerability to climate change. We use an empirical case study of 12 coastal communities and associated coral reefs in Kenya to assess and compare five key ecological and social components of the vulnerability of coastal social-ecological systems to temperature induced coral mortality [specifically: 1) environmental exposure; 2) ecological sensitivity; 3) ecological recovery potential; 4) social sensitivity; and 5) social adaptive capacity]. We examined whether ecological components of vulnerability varied between government operated no-take marine reserves, community-based reserves, and openly fished areas. Overall, fished sites were marginally more vulnerable than community-based and government marine reserves. Social sensitivity was indicated by the occupational composition of each community, including the importance of fishing relative to other occupations, as well as the susceptibility of different fishing gears to the effects of coral bleaching on target fish species. Key components of social adaptive capacity varied considerably between the communities. Together, these results show that different communities have relative strengths and weaknesses in terms of social-ecological vulnerability to climate change.

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Article
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The Long and the Short of It: No Dietary Specialisation between Male and Female Western Sandpipers Despite Strong Bill Size Dimorphism

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Many bird species show spatial or habitat segregation of the sexes during the non-breeding season. One potential ecological explanation is that differences in bill morphology favour foraging niche specialisation and segregation. Western sandpipers Calidris mauri have pronounced bill size dimorphism, with female bills averaging 15% longer than those of males. The sexes differ in foraging behaviour and exhibit partial latitudinal segregation during the non-breeding season, with males predominant in the north and females in the south. Niche specialisation at a local scale might account for this broad geographic pattern, and we investigated whether longer-billed females and shorter-billed males occupy different foraging niches at 16 sites across the non-breeding range. We used stable-nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analysis of whole blood to test for dietary specialisation according to bill length and sex. Stable-nitrogen isotope ratios increase with trophic level. We predicted that δ15N values would increase with bill length and would be higher for females, which use a greater proportion of foraging behaviour that targets higher-trophic level prey. We used stable-carbon (δ13C) isotope analysis to test for habitat segregation according to bill length and sex. Stable-carbon isotope ratios vary between marine- and freshwater-influenced habitats. We predicted that δ13C values would differ between males and females if the sexes segregate between habitat types. Using a model selection approach, we found little support for a relationship between δ15N and either bill length or sex. There was some indication, however, that more marine δ13C values occur with shorter bill lengths. Our findings provide little evidence that male and female western sandpipers exhibit dietary specialisation as a function of their bill size, but indicate that the sexes may segregate in different habitats according to bill length at some non-breeding sites. Potential ecological factors underlying habitat segregation between sexes include differences in preferred habitat type and predation risk.

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Article
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Citizen Science Reveals an Extensive Shift in the Winter Distribution of Migratory Western Grebes

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Marine waterbirds have shown variable trends in abundance over the past four decades with some species displaying steep declines along the Pacific coast from British Columbia through California. One of the most dramatic changes has been that of western grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis) in the Salish Sea. This region was a former core of the species wintering distribution but they have become increasingly rare prompting calls for conservation action. A more thorough understanding of this situation requires the analysis of trends at broader geographic scales as well as a consideration of mechanisms that might have led to a change in abundance. We used hierarchical modeling with a Bayesian framework applied to 36 years of Audubon Christmas Bird Count data to assess continent-wide and regional population trends in western and Clark’s grebes (A. clarkii) from 1975 to 2010. Our results show that the North American wintering population of Aechmophorus grebes decreased by ~52% after 1975, but also that western grebes displayed strongly opposing regional patterns. Abundance decreased by about 95% over 36 years in the Salish Sea but increased by over 300% along coastal California. As a result, the mean centre of the species distribution shifted south by an estimated 895 km between 1980 and 2010. Mechanisms underlying this shift require further study but we hypothesize that it may be related to a change in the abundance and availability of their forage fish prey base. Since the mid-1980s, the Pacific sardine stock off the California coast increased from a few thousand metric tonnes to over two million. At the same time both the abundance and availability of Pacific herring declined in the Salish Sea. Studies are needed to examine this hypothesis further and additional consideration should be directed at other changes in the marine environment that may have contributed to a range shift.

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Moving into Protected Areas? Setting Conservation Priorities for Romanian Reptiles and Amphibians at Risk from Climate Change

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Rapid climate change represents one of the top threats to biodiversity, causing declines and extinctions of many species. Range shifts are a key response, but in many cases are incompatible with the current extent of protected areas. In this study we used ensemble species distribution models to identify range changes for 21 reptile and 16 amphibian species in Romania for the 2020s and 2050s time horizons under three emission scenarios (A1B = integrated world, rapid economic growth, A2A = divided world, rapid economic growth [realistic scenario], B2A = regional development, environmentally-friendly scenario) and no- and limited-dispersal assumptions. We then used irreplaceability analysis to test the efficacy of the Natura 2000 network to meet conservation targets. Under all scenarios and time horizons, 90% of the species suffered range contractions (greatest loses under scenarios B2A for 2020s, and A1B for 2050s), and four reptile species expanded their ranges. Two reptile and two amphibian species are predicted to completely lose climate space by 2050s. Currently, 35 species do not meet conservation targets (>40% representation in protected areas), but the target is predicted to be met for 4 - 14 species under future climate conditions, with higher representation under the limited-dispersal scenario. The Alpine and Steppic-Black Sea biogeographic regions have the highest irreplaceability value, and act as climate refugia for many reptiles and amphibians. The Natura 2000 network performs better for achieving herpetofauna conservation goals in the future, owing to the interaction between drastic range contractions, and range shifts towards existing protected areas. Thus, conservation actions for herpetofauna in Romania need to focus on: (1) building institutional capacity of protected areas in the Alpine and Steppic-Black Sea biogeographic regions, and (2) facilitating natural range shifts by improving the conservation status of herpetofauna outside protected areas, specifically in traditionally-managed landscapes and abandoned cropland.

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Article
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Identification of 526 Conserved Metazoan Genetic Innovations Exposes a New Role for Cofactor E-like in Neuronal Microtubule Homeostasis

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

The evolution of metazoans from their choanoflagellate-like unicellular ancestor coincided with the acquisition of novel biological functions to support a multicellular lifestyle, and eventually, the unique cellular and physiological demands of differentiated cell types such as those forming the nervous, muscle and immune systems. In an effort to understand the molecular underpinnings of such metazoan innovations, we carried out a comparative genomics analysis for genes found exclusively in, and widely conserved across, metazoans. Using this approach, we identified a set of 526 core metazoan-specific genes (the ‘metazoanome’), approximately 10% of which are largely uncharacterized, 16% of which are associated with known human disease, and 66% of which are conserved in Trichoplax adhaerens, a basal metazoan lacking neurons and other specialized cell types. Global analyses of previously-characterized core metazoan genes suggest a prevalent property, namely that they act as partially redundant modifiers of ancient eukaryotic pathways. Our data also highlights the importance of exaptation of pre-existing genetic tools during metazoan evolution. Expression studies in C. elegans revealed that many metazoan-specific genes, including tubulin folding cofactor E-like (TBCEL/coel-1), are expressed in neurons. We used C. elegans COEL-1 as a representative to experimentally validate the metazoan-specific character of our dataset. We show that coel-1 disruption results in developmental hypersensitivity to the microtubule drug paclitaxel/taxol, and that overexpression of coel-1 has broad effects during embryonic development and perturbs specialized microtubules in the touch receptor neurons (TRNs). In addition, coel-1 influences the migration, neurite outgrowth and mechanosensory function of the TRNs, and functionally interacts with components of the tubulin acetylation/deacetylation pathway. Together, our findings unveil a conserved molecular toolbox fundamental to metazoan biology that contains a number of neuronally expressed and disease-related genes, and reveal a key role for TBCEL/coel-1 in regulating microtubule function during metazoan development and neuronal differentiation.

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Article
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Predator-Driven Nutrient Recycling in California Stream Ecosystems

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Nutrient recycling by consumers in streams can influence ecosystem nutrient availability and the assemblage and growth of photoautotrophs. Stream fishes can play a large role in nutrient recycling, but contributions by other vertebrates to overall recycling rates remain poorly studied. In tributaries of the Pacific Northwest, coastal giant salamanders (Dicamptodon tenebrosus) occur at high densities alongside steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and are top aquatic predators. We surveyed the density and body size distributions of D. tenebrosus and O. mykiss in a California tributary stream, combined with a field study to determine mass-specific excretion rates of ammonium (N) and total dissolved phosphorus (P) for D. tenebrosus. We estimated O. mykiss excretion rates (N, P) by bioenergetics using field-collected data on the nutrient composition of O. mykiss diets from the same system. Despite lower abundance, D. tenebrosus biomass was 2.5 times higher than O. mykiss. Mass-specific excretion summed over 170 m of stream revealed that O. mykiss recycle 1.7 times more N, and 1.2 times more P than D. tenebrosus, and had a higher N:P ratio (8.7) than that of D. tenebrosus (6.0), or the two species combined (7.5). Through simulated trade-offs in biomass, we estimate that shifts from salamander biomass toward fish biomass have the potential to ease nutrient limitation in forested tributary streams. These results suggest that natural and anthropogenic heterogeneity in the relative abundance of these vertebrates and variation in the uptake rates across river networks can affect broad-scale patterns of nutrient limitation.

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Article
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Strike Fast, Strike Hard: The Red-Throated Caracara Exploits Absconding Behavior of Social Wasps during Nest Predation

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Red-throated Caracaras Ibycter americanus (Falconidae) are specialist predators of social wasps in the Neotropics. It had been proposed that these caracaras possess chemical repellents that allow them to take the brood of wasp nests without being attacked by worker wasps. To determine how caracaras exploit nests of social wasps and whether chemical repellents facilitate predation, we: (1) video recorded the birds attacking wasp nests; (2) analyzed surface extracts of the birds' faces, feet, and feathers for potential chemical repellents; and (3) inflicted mechanical damage on wasp nests to determine the defensive behavior of wasps in response to varying levels of disturbance. During caracara predation events, two species of large-bodied wasps mounted stinging attacks on caracaras, whereas three smaller-bodied wasp species did not. The “hit-and-run” predation tactic of caracaras when they attacked nests of large and aggressive wasps reduced the risk of getting stung. Our data reveal that the predation strategy of caracaras is based on mechanical disturbance of, and damage to, target wasp nests. Caracara attacks and severe experimental disturbance of nests invariably caused wasps to abscond (abandon their nests). Two compounds in caracara foot extracts [sulcatone and iridodial] elicited electrophysiological responses from wasp antennae, and were also present in defensive secretions of sympatric arboreal-nesting Azteca ants. These compounds appear not to be wasp repellents but to be acquired coincidentally by caracaras when they perch on trees inhabited with Azteca ants. We conclude that caracara predation success does not depend on wasp repellents but relies on the absconding response that is typical of swarm-founding polistine wasps. Our study highlights the potential importance of vertebrate predators in the ecology and evolution of social wasps.

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Article
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How Are Autism and Schizotypy Related? Evidence from a Non-Clinical Population

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Both autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) and schizophrenia spectrum conditions (SSCs) involve altered or impaired social and communicative functioning, but whether these shared features indicate overlapping or different etiological factors is unknown. We outline three hypotheses (overlapping, independent, and diametric) for the possible relationship between ASCs and SSCs, and compare their predictions for the expected relationships between autistic and schizotypal phenotypes using the Autism Spectrum Quotient and the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire-Brief Revised from a large non-clinical sample of undergraduate students. Consistent with previous research, autistic features were positively associated with several schizotypal features, with the most overlap occurring between interpersonal schizotypy and autistic social and communication phenotypes. The first component of a principal components analysis (PCA) of subscale scores reflected these positive correlations, and suggested the presence of an axis (PC1) representing general social interest and aptitude. By contrast, the second principal component (PC2) exhibited a pattern of positive and negative loadings indicative of an axis from autism to positive schizotypy, such that positive schizotypal features loaded in the opposite direction to core autistic features. These overall PCA patterns were replicated in a second data set from a Japanese population. To evaluate the validity of our interpretation of the PCA results, we measured handedness and mental rotation ability, as these are established correlates of SSCs and ASCs, respectively. PC2 scores were significantly associated with hand preference, such that increasingly ‘schizotypal’ scores predicted reduced strength of handedness, which is consistent with previous research. PC1 scores were positively related to performance on the mental rotation task, suggesting trade-offs between social skills and visual-spatial ability. These results provide novel evidence for an autism-positive schizotypy axis, and highlight the importance of recognizing that psychological variation involving reduced social interest and functioning may have diverse causes.

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Article
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Pregnancy Associated Plasma Protein A2 (PAPP-A2) Affects Bone Size and Shape and Contributes to Natural Variation in Postnatal Growth in Mice

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Pregnancy associated plasma protein A2 (PAPP-A2) is a protease of insulin-like growth factor binding protein 5 and is receiving increasing attention for its roles in pregnancy and postnatal growth. The goals of the present study were to characterize the effects of PAPP-A2 deletion on bone size and shape in mice at 10 weeks of age, and to determine whether Pappa2 is the gene responsible for a previously-identified quantitative trait locus (QTL) contributing to natural variation in postnatal growth in mice. Mice homozygous for constitutive PAPP-A2 deletion were lighter than wild-type littermates, and had smaller mandible dimensions and shorter skull, humerus, femur, tibia, pelvic girdle, and tail bone. Furthermore, PAPP-A2 deletion reduced mandible dimensions and the lengths of the skull, femur, pelvic girdle, and tail bone more than would be expected due to the effect on body mass. In addition to its effects on bone size, PAPP-A2 deficiency also altered the shape of the mandible and pelvic girdle, as assessed by geometric morphometrics. Mice homozygous for the PAPP-A2 deletion had less deep mandibles, and pelvic girdles with a more feminine shape. Using a quantitative complementation test, we confirmed that Pappa2 is responsible for the effects of the previously-identified QTL, demonstrating that natural variation in the Pappa2 gene contributes to variation in postnatal growth in mice. If similar functional variation in the Pappa2 gene exists in other species, effects of this variation on the shape of the pelvic girdle might explain the previously-reported associations between Pappa2 SNPs and developmental dysplasia of the hip in humans, and birthing in cattle.

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Article
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Hydrocarbon Divergence And Reproductive Isolation In Timema Stick Insects

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2013
Abstract: 

Background

Individuals commonly prefer certain trait values over others when choosing their mates. If such preferences diverge between populations, they can generate behavioral reproductive isolation and thereby contribute to speciation. Reproductive isolation in insects often involves chemical communication, and cuticular hydrocarbons, in particular, serve as mate recognition signals in many species. We combined data on female cuticular hydrocarbons, interspecific mating propensity, and phylogenetics to evaluate the role of cuticular hydrocarbons in diversification of Timema walking-sticks.

Results

Hydrocarbon profiles differed substantially among the nine analyzed species, as well as between partially reproductively-isolated T. cristinae populations adapted to different host plants. In no-choice trials, mating was more likely between species with similar than divergent hydrocarbon profiles, even after correcting for genetic divergences. The macroevolution of hydrocarbon profiles, along a Timema species phylogeny, fits best with a punctuated model of phenotypic change concentrated around speciation events, consistent with change driven by selection during the evolution of reproductive isolation.

Conclusion

Altogether, our data indicate that cuticular hydrocarbon profiles vary among Timema species and populations, and that most evolutionary change in hydrocarbon profiles occurs in association with speciation events. Similarities in hydrocarbon profiles between species are correlated with interspecific mating propensities, suggesting a role for cuticular hydrocarbon profiles in mate choice and speciation in the genus Timema.

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Article
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