Biological Sciences, Department of

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Face Your Fears: Cleaning Gobies Inspect Predators despite Being Stressed by Them

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012
Abstract: 

Social stressors typically elicit two distinct behavioural responses in vertebrates: an active response (i.e., “fight or flight”) or behavioural inhibition (i.e., freezing). Here, we report an interesting exception to this dichotomy in a Caribbean cleaner fish, which interacts with a wide variety of reef fish clients, including predatory species. Cleaning gobies appraise predatory clients as potential threat and become stressed in their presence, as evidenced by their higher cortisol levels when exposed to predatory rather than to non-predatory clients. Nevertheless, cleaning gobies neither flee nor freeze in response to dangerous clients but instead approach predators faster (both in captivity and in the wild), and interact longer with these clients than with non-predatory clients (in the wild). We hypothesise that cleaners interrupt the potentially harmful physiological consequences elicited by predatory clients by becoming increasingly proactive and by reducing the time elapsed between client approach and the start of the interaction process. The activation of a stress response may therefore also be responsible for the longer cleaning service provided by these cleaners to predatory clients in the wild. Future experimental studies may reveal similar patterns in other social vertebrate species when, for instance, individuals approach an opponent for reconciliation after a conflict.

Document type: 
Article

Multiple Mating and Family Structure of the Western Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma californicum pluviale: Impact on Disease Resistance

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012
Abstract: 

Background

Levels of genetic diversity can strongly influence the dynamics and evolutionary changes of natural populations. Survival and disease resistance have been linked to levels of genetic diversity in eusocial insects, yet these relationships remain untested in gregarious insects where disease transmission can be high and selection for resistance is likely to be strong.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Here we use 8 microsatellite loci to examine genetic variation in 12 families of western tent caterpillars, Malacosoma californicum pluviale from four different island populations to determine the relationship of genetic variability to survival and disease resistance. In addition these genetic markers were used to elucidate the population structure of western tent caterpillars. Multiple paternity was revealed by microsatellite markers, with the number of sires estimated to range from one to three per family (mean ± SE = 1.92±0.23). Observed heterozygosity (HO) of families was not associated to the resistance of families to a nucleopolyhedrovirus (NPV) (r = 0.161, F1,12 = 0.271, P = 0.614), a major cause of mortality in high-density populations, but was positively associated with larval survival (r = 0.635, F1,10 = 5.412, P = 0.048). Genetic differentiation among the families was high (FST = 0.269, P<0.0001), and families from the same island were as differentiated as were families from other islands.

Conclusion/Significance

We have been able to describe and characterize 8 microsatellite loci, which demonstrate patterns of variation within and between families of western tent caterpillars. We have discovered an association between larval survival and family-level heterozygosity that may be relevant to the population dynamics of this cyclic forest lepidopteran, and this will be the topic of future work.

Document type: 
Article
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The Origin of Malarial Parasites in Orangutans

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012
Abstract: 

Background

Recent findings of Plasmodium in African apes have changed our perspectives on the evolution of malarial parasites in hominids. However, phylogenetic analyses of primate malarias are still missing information from Southeast Asian apes. In this study, we report molecular data for a malaria parasite lineage found in orangutans.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We screened twenty-four blood samples from Pongo pygmaeus (Kalimantan, Indonesia) for Plasmodium parasites by PCR. For all the malaria positive orangutan samples, parasite mitochondrial genomes (mtDNA) and two antigens: merozoite surface protein 1 42 kDa (MSP-142) and circumsporozoite protein gene (CSP) were amplified, cloned, and sequenced. Fifteen orangutans tested positive and yielded 5 distinct mitochondrial haplotypes not previously found. The haplotypes detected exhibited low genetic divergence among them, indicating that they belong to one species. We report phylogenetic analyses using mitochondrial genomes, MSP-142 and CSP. We found that the orangutan malaria parasite lineage was part of a monophyletic group that includes all the known non-human primate malaria parasites found in Southeast Asia; specifically, it shares a recent common ancestor with P. inui (a macaque parasite) and P. hylobati (a gibbon parasite) suggesting that this lineage originated as a result of a host switch. The genetic diversity of MSP-142 in orangutans seems to be under negative selection. This result is similar to previous findings in non-human primate malarias closely related to P. vivax. As has been previously observed in the other Plasmodium species found in non-human primates, the CSP shows high polymorphism in the number of repeats. However, it has clearly distinctive motifs from those previously found in other malarial parasites.

Conclusion

The evidence available from Asian apes indicates that these parasites originated independently from those found in Africa, likely as the result of host switches from other non-human primates.

Document type: 
Article

Invasive Lionfish Drive Atlantic Coral Reef Fish Declines

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012
Abstract: 

Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) have spread swiftly across the Western Atlantic, producing a marine predator invasion of unparalleled speed and magnitude. There is growing concern that lionfish will affect the structure and function of invaded marine ecosystems, however detrimental impacts on natural communities have yet to be measured. Here we document the response of native fish communities to predation by lionfish populations on nine coral reefs off New Providence Island, Bahamas. We assessed lionfish diet through stomach contents analysis, and quantified changes in fish biomass through visual surveys of lionfish and native fishes at the sites over time. Lionfish abundance increased rapidly between 2004 and 2010, by which time lionfish comprised nearly 40% of the total predator biomass in the system. The increase in lionfish abundance coincided with a 65% decline in the biomass of the lionfish's 42 Atlantic prey fishes in just two years. Without prompt action to control increasing lionfish populations, similar effects across the region may have long-term negative implications for the structure of Atlantic marine communities, as well as the societies and economies that depend on them.

Document type: 
Article

A Method for Quantifying Consistency in Animal Distributions Using Survey Data

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012-09-05
Abstract: 

The degree of consistency with which groups of animals use the landscape is determined by a variety of ecological processes that influence their movements and patterns of habitat use. We developed a technique termed Distributional Consistency that uses survey data of unmarked individuals to quantify temporal consistency in their spatial distribution, while accounting for changes in population size. Distributional consistency is quantified by comparing the observed distribution patterns to all theoretically possible distribution patterns of observed individuals, leading to a proportional score between 0 and 1, reflecting increasingly consistent use of sites within a region. The technique can be applied to survey data for any taxa across a range of spatial and temporal scales. We suggest ways in which distributional consistency could provide inferences about the dispersal and habitat decisions of individuals, and the scales at which these decisions operate. Distributional consistency integrates spatial and temporal processes to quantify an important characteristic of different habitats and their use by populations, which in turn will be particularly useful in complimenting and interpreting other ecological measures such as population density and stability. The technique can be applied to many existing data sets to investigate and evaluate a range of important ecological questions using simple survey data.

Document type: 
Article
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Age-Associated Hyper-Methylated Regions in the Human Brain Overlap with Bivalent Chromatin Domains

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012-09-24
Abstract: 

Recent associations between age-related differentially methylated sites and bivalently marked chromatin domains have implicated a role for these genomic regions in aging and age-related diseases. However, the overlap between such epigenetic modifications has so far only been identified with respect to age-associated hyper-methylated sites in blood. In this study, we observed that age-associated differentially methylated sites characterized in the human brain were also highly enriched in bivalent domains. Analysis of hyper- vs. hypo-methylated sites partitioned by age (fetal, child, and adult) revealed that enrichment was significant for hyper-methylated sites identified in children and adults (child, fold difference = 2.28, P = 0.0016; adult, fold difference = 4.73, P = 4.00×10−5); this trend was markedly more pronounced in adults when only the top 100 most significantly hypo- and hyper-methylated sites were considered (adult, fold difference = 10.7, P = 2.00×10−5). Interestingly, we found that bivalently marked genes overlapped by age-associated hyper-methylation in the adult brain had strong involvement in biological functions related to developmental processes, including neuronal differentiation. Our findings provide evidence that the accumulation of methylation in bivalent gene regions with age is likely to be a common process that occurs across tissue types. Furthermore, particularly with respect to the aging brain, this accumulation might be targeted to loci with important roles in cell differentiation and development, and the closing off of these developmental pathways. Further study of these genes is warranted to assess their potential impact upon the development of age-related neurological disorders.

Document type: 
Article
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Evolutionarily Conserved Histone Methylation Dynamics during Seed Life-Cycle Transitions

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2012-12-11
Abstract: 

Plants have a remarkable ability to react to seasonal changes by synchronizing life-cycle transitions with environmental conditions. We addressed the question of how transcriptional re-programming occurs in response to an environmental cue that triggers the major life cycle transition from seed dormancy to germination and seedling growth. We elucidated an important mechanistic aspect of this process by following the chromatin dynamics of key regulatory genes with a focus on the two antagonistic marks, H3K4me3 and H3K27me3. Histone methylation patterns of major dormancy regulators changed during the transition to germination and seedling growth. We observed a switch from H3K4me3 and high transcription levels to silencing by the repressive H3K27me3 mark when dormancy was broken through exposure to moist chilling, underscoring that a functional PRC2 complex is necessary for this transition. Moreover, this reciprocal regulation by H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 is evolutionarily conserved from gymnosperms to angiosperms.

Document type: 
Article
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Historical Reconstruction Reveals Recovery in Hawaiian Coral Reefs

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2011
Abstract: 

Coral reef ecosystems are declining worldwide, yet regional differences in the trajectories, timing and extent of degradation highlight the need for in-depth regional case studies to understand the factors that contribute to either ecosystem sustainability or decline. We reconstructed social-ecological interactions in Hawaiian coral reef environments over 700 years using detailed datasets on ecological conditions, proximate anthropogenic stressor regimes and social change. Here we report previously undetected recovery periods in Hawaiian coral reefs, including a historical recovery in the MHI (~AD 1400–1820) and an ongoing recovery in the NWHI (~AD 1950–2009+). These recovery periods appear to be attributed to a complex set of changes in underlying social systems, which served to release reefs from direct anthropogenic stressor regimes. Recovery at the ecosystem level is associated with reductions in stressors over long time periods (decades+) and large spatial scales (>103 km2). Our results challenge conventional assumptions and reported findings that human impacts to ecosystems are cumulative and lead only to long-term trajectories of environmental decline. In contrast, recovery periods reveal that human societies have interacted sustainably with coral reef environments over long time periods, and that degraded ecosystems may still retain the adaptive capacity and resilience to recover from human impacts.

Document type: 
Article

Phylogenetically Clustered Extinction Risks Do Not Substantially Prune the Tree of Life

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2011
Abstract: 

Anthropogenic activities have increased the rate of biological extinction many-fold. Recent empirical studies suggest that projected extinction may lead to extensive loss to the Tree of Life, much more than if extinction were random. One suggested cause is that extinction risk is heritable (phylogenetically patterned), such that entire higher groups will be lost. We show here with simulation that phylogenetically clustered extinction risks are necessary but not sufficient for the extensive loss of phylogenetic diversity (PD) compared to random extinction. We simulated Yule trees and evolved extinction risks at various levels of heritability (measured using Pagel's ). At most levels of heritability ( in range of 0 to 10), mean values of extinction risk (range 0.25 to 0.75), tree sizes (64 to 128 tips), tree balance and temporal heterogeneity of diversification rates (Yule and coalescent trees), extinction risks do not substantially increase the loss of PD in these trees when compared to random extinction. The maximum loss of PD (20% above random) was only associated with the combination of extremely excessive values of phylogenetic signal, high mean species' extinction probabilities, and extreme (coalescent) tree shapes. Interestingly, we also observed a decline in the rate of increase in the loss of PD at high phylogenetic clustering of extinction risks. Our results suggest that the interplay between various aspects of tree shape and a predisposition of higher extinction risks in species-poor clades is required to explain the substantial pruning of the Tree of Life.

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Article
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Quantifying Rates of Evolutionary Adaptation in Response to Ocean Acidification

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2011
Abstract: 

The global acidification of the earth's oceans is predicted to impact biodiversity via physiological effects impacting growth, survival, reproduction, and immunology, leading to changes in species abundances and global distributions. However, the degree to which these changes will play out critically depends on the evolutionary rate at which populations will respond to natural selection imposed by ocean acidification, which remains largely unquantified. Here we measure the potential for an evolutionary response to ocean acidification in larval development rate in two coastal invertebrates using a full-factorial breeding design. We show that the sea urchin species Strongylocentrotus franciscanus has vastly greater levels of phenotypic and genetic variation for larval size in future CO2 conditions compared to the mussel species Mytilus trossulus. Using these measures we demonstrate that S. franciscanus may have faster evolutionary responses within 50 years of the onset of predicted year-2100 CO2 conditions despite having lower population turnover rates. Our comparisons suggest that information on genetic variation, phenotypic variation, and key demographic parameters, may lend valuable insight into relative evolutionary potentials across a large number of species.

Document type: 
Article
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