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Journal: BMC evolutionary biology


Recent studies suggest there is a relationship between intervertebral disc herniation and vertebral shape. The nature of this relationship is unclear, however. Humans are more commonly afflicted with spinal disease than are non-human primates and one suggested explanation for this is the stress placed on the spine by bipedalism. With this in mind, we carried out a study of human, chimpanzee, and orangutan vertebrae to examine the links between vertebral shape, locomotion, and Schmorl’s nodes, which are bony indicators of vertical intervertebral disc herniation. We tested the hypothesis that vertical disc herniation preferentially affects individuals with vertebrae that are towards the ancestral end of the range of shape variation within Homo sapiens and therefore are less well adapted for bipedalism.

Concepts: Chimpanzee, Primate, Spinal disc herniation, Human evolution, Hominidae, Vertebral column, Intervertebral disc, Human


Despite its short-term costs, behaviour that appears altruistic can increase an individual’s inclusive fitness by earning direct (selfish) and/or indirect (kin-selected) benefits. An evolved preference for other-regarding or helping behaviour in potential mates has been proposed as an additional mechanism by which these behaviours can yield direct fitness benefits in humans.

Concepts: Motivation, Evolutionary psychology, Evolutionary biology, Richard Dawkins, Inclusive fitness, The Selfish Gene, Altruism, Kin selection


The highly derived morphology and astounding diversity of snakes has long inspired debate regarding the ecological and evolutionary origin of both the snake total-group (Pan-Serpentes) and crown snakes (Serpentes). Although speculation abounds on the ecology, behavior, and provenance of the earliest snakes, a rigorous, clade-wide analysis of snake origins has yet to be attempted, in part due to a dearth of adequate paleontological data on early stem snakes. Here, we present the first comprehensive analytical reconstruction of the ancestor of crown snakes and the ancestor of the snake total-group, as inferred using multiple methods of ancestral state reconstruction. We use a combined-data approach that includes new information from the fossil record on extinct crown snakes, new data on the anatomy of the stem snakes Najash rionegrina, Dinilysia patagonica, and Coniophis precedens, and a deeper understanding of the distribution of phenotypic apomorphies among the major clades of fossil and Recent snakes. Additionally, we infer time-calibrated phylogenies using both new ‘tip-dating’ and traditional node-based approaches, providing new insights on temporal patterns in the early evolutionary history of snakes.

Concepts: Biology, Najash, Fossil, Phylogenetics, Paleontology, Dinosaur, Snake, Evolution


Lepidosauria (lizards, snakes, tuatara) is a globally distributed and ecologically important group of over 9,000 reptile species. The earliest fossil records are currently restricted to the Late Triassic and often dated to 227 million years ago (Mya). As these early records include taxa that are relatively derived in their morphology (e.g. Brachyrhinodon), an earlier unknown history of Lepidosauria is implied. However, molecular age estimates for Lepidosauria have been problematic; dates for the most recent common ancestor of all lepidosaurs range between approximately 226 and 289 Mya whereas estimates for crown-group Squamata (lizards and snakes) vary more dramatically: 179 to 294 Mya. This uncertainty restricts inferences regarding the patterns of diversification and evolution of Lepidosauria as a whole.

Concepts: Lizard, Lepidosauria, Evolution, Squamata, Dinosaur, Sphenodontia, Tuatara, Reptile


BACKGROUND: Beneficial mutations play an essential role in bacterial adaptation, yet little is known about their fitness effects across genetic backgrounds and environments. One prominent example of bacterial adaptation is antibiotic resistance. Until recently, the paradigm has been that antibiotic resistance is selected by the presence of antibiotics because resistant mutations confer fitness costs in antibiotic free environments. In this study we show that it is not always the case, documenting the selection and fixation of resistant mutations in populations of Escherichia coli B that had never been exposed to antibiotics but instead evolved for 2000 generations at high temperature (42.2[degree sign]C). RESULTS: We found parallel mutations within the rpoB gene encoding the beta subunit of RNA polymerase. These amino acid substitutions conferred different levels of rifampicin resistance. The resistant mutations typically appeared, and were fixed, early in the evolution experiment. We confirmed the high advantage of these mutations at 42.2[degree sign]C in glucose-limited medium. However, the rpoB mutations had different fitness effects across three genetic backgrounds and six environments. CONCLUSIONS: We describe resistance mutations that are not necessarily costly in the absence of antibiotics or compensatory mutations but are highly beneficial at high temperature and low glucose. Their fitness effects depend on the environment and the genetic background, providing glimpses into the prevalence of epistasis and pleiotropy.

Concepts: Virus, Genetics, Escherichia coli, Evolution, Antibiotic resistance, Natural selection, Bacteria, Gene


BACKGROUND: Males in some species of the genus Xiphophorus, small freshwater fishes from Meso-America, have an extended caudal fin, or sword – hence their common name “swordtails”. Longer swords are preferred by females from both sworded and – surprisingly also, non-sworded (platyfish) species that belong to the same genus. Swordtails have been studied widely as models in research on sexual selection. Specifically, the pre-existing bias hypothesis was interpreted to best explain the observed bias of females in presumed ancestral lineages of swordless species that show a preference for assumed derived males with swords over their conspecific swordless males. However, many of the phylogenetic relationships within this genus still remained unresolved. Here we construct a comprehensive molecular phylogeny of all 26 known Xiphophorus species, including the four recently described species (X. kallmani, X. mayae, X. mixei and X. monticolus). We use two mitochondrial and six new nuclear markers in an effort to increase the understanding of the evolutionary relationships among the species in this genus. Based on the phylogeny, the evolutionary history and character state evolution of the sword was reconstructed and found to have originated in the common ancestral lineage of the genus Xiphophorus and that it was lost again secondarily. RESULTS: We estimated the evolutionary relationships among all known species of the genus Xiphophorus based on the largest set of DNA markers so far. The phylogeny indicates that one of the newly described swordtail species, Xiphophorus monticolus, is likely to have arisen through hybridization since it is placed with the southern platyfish in the mitochondrial phylogeny, but with the southern swordtails in the nuclear phylogeny. Such discordance between these two types of markers is a strong indication for a hybrid origin. Additionally, by using a maximum likelihood approach the possession of the sexually selected sword trait is shown to be the most likely ancestral state for the genus Xiphophorus. Further, we provide a well supported estimation of the phylogenetic relationships between the previously unresolved northern swordtail groups. CONCLUSIONS: This comprehensive molecular phylogeny of the entire genus Xiphophorus provides evidence that a second swordtail species, X. monticolus, arose through hybridization. Previously, we demonstrated that X. clemenciae, another southern swordtail species, arose via hybridization. These findings highlight the potential key role of hybridization in the evolution of this genus and suggest the need for further investigations into how hybridization contributes to speciation more generally.

Concepts: Species, Biology, Phylogenetics, Phylogenetic tree, Evolution, Green swordtail, Southern platyfish, Xiphophorus


BACKGROUND: Cnidaria (corals, sea anemones, hydroids, jellyfish) is a phylum of relatively simple aquatic animals characterized by the presence of the cnidocyst: a cell containing a giant capsular organelle with an eversible tubule (cnida). Species within Cnidaria have life cycles that involve one or both of the two distinct body forms, a typically benthic polyp, which may or may not be colonial, and a typically pelagic mostly solitary medusa. The currently accepted taxonomic scheme subdivides Cnidaria into two main assemblages: Anthozoa (Hexacorallia + Octocorallia) – cnidarians with a reproductive polyp and the absence of a medusa stage – and Medusozoa (Cubozoa, Hydrozoa, Scyphozoa, Staurozoa) – cnidarians that usually possess a reproductive medusa stage. Hypothesized relationships among these taxa greatly impact interpretations of cnidarian character evolution. RESULTS: We expanded the sampling of cnidarian mitochondrial genomes, particularly from Medusozoa, to reevaluate phylogenetic relationships within Cnidaria. Our phylogenetic analyses based on a mitochogenomic dataset support many prior hypotheses, including monophyly of Hexacorallia, Octocorallia, Medusozoa, Cubozoa, Staurozoa, Hydrozoa, Carybdeida, Chirodropida, and Hydroidolina, but reject the monophyly of Anthozoa, indicating that the Octocorallia + Medusozoa relationship is not the result of sampling bias, as proposed earlier. Further, our analyses contradict Scyphozoa [Discomedusae + Coronatae], Acraspeda [Cubozoa + Scyphozoa], as well as the hypothesis that Staurozoa is the sister group to all the other medusozoans. CONCLUSIONS: Cnidarian mitochondrial genomic data contain phylogenetic signal informative for understanding the evolutionary history of this phylum. Mitogenome-based phylogenies, which reject the monophyly of Anthozoa, provide further evidence for the polyp-first hypothesis. By rejecting the traditional Acraspeda and Scyphozoa hypotheses, these analyses suggest that the shared morphological characters in these groups are plesiomorphies, originated in the branch leading to Medusozoa. The expansion of mitogenomic data along with improvements in phylogenetic inference methods and use of additional nuclear markers will further enhance our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships and character evolution within Cnidaria.

Concepts: Medusa, Coral, Anthozoa, Polyp, Hydrozoa, Sea anemone, Jellyfish, Cnidaria


BACKGROUND: Mangroves are ecologically important and highly threatened forest communities. Observational and genetic evidence has confirmed the long distance dispersal capacity of water-dispersed mangrove seeds, but less is known about the relative importance of pollen vs. seed gene flow in connecting populations. We analyzed 980 Avicennia germinans for 11 microsatellite loci and 940 Rhizophora mangle for six microsatellite loci and subsampled two non-coding cpDNA regions in order to understand population structure, and gene flow within and among four major estuaries on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Panama. RESULTS: Both species showed similar rates of outcrossing (t= 0.7 in A. germinans and 0.8 in R. mangle) and strong patterns of spatial genetic structure within estuaries, although A. germinans had greater genetic structure in nuclear and cpDNA markers (7 demes > 4 demes and Sp= 0.02 > 0.002), and much greater cpDNA diversity (Hd= 0.8 > 0.2) than R. mangle. The Central American Isthmus serves as an exceptionally strong barrier to gene flow, with high levels nuclear (FST= 0.3-0.5) and plastid (FST= 0.5-0.8) genetic differentiation observed within each species between coasts and no shared cpDNA haplotypes between species on each coast. Finally, evidence of low ratios of pollen to seed dispersal (r = -0.6 in A. germinans and 7.7 in R. mangle), coupled with the strong observed structure in nuclear and plastid DNA among most estuaries, suggests low levels of gene flow in these mangrove species. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that gene dispersal in mangroves is usually limited within estuaries and that coastal geomorphology and rare long distance dispersal events could also influence levels of structure.

Concepts: Biology, Population, Rhizophora, Biological dispersal, DNA, Rhizophora mangle, Avicennia germinans, Mangrove


BACKGROUND: Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a major food source for over 200 million sub-Saharan Africans. Unfortunately, its cultivation is severely hampered by cassava mosaic disease (CMD). Caused by a complex of bipartite cassava mosaic geminiviruses (CMG) species (Family: Geminivirideae; Genus: Begomovirus) CMD has been widely described throughout Africa and it is apparent that CMGs are expanding their geographical distribution. Determining where and when CMG movements have occurred could help curtail its spread and reveal the ecological and anthropic factors associated with similar viral invasions. We applied Bayesian phylogeographic inference and recombination analyses to available and newly described CMG sequences to reconstruct a plausible history of CMG diversification and migration between Africa and South West Indian Ocean (SWIO) islands. RESULTS: The isolation and analysis of 114 DNA-A and 41 DNA-B sequences demonstrated the presence of three CMG species circulating in the Comoros and Seychelles archipelagos (East African cassava mosaic virus, EACMV; East African cassava mosaic Kenya virus, EACMKV; and East African cassava mosaic Cameroon virus, EACMCV). Phylogeographic analyses suggest that CMG’s presence on these SWIO islands is probably the result of at least four independent introduction events from mainland Africa occurring between 1988 and 2009. Amongst the islands of the Comoros archipelago, two major migration pathways were inferred: One from Grande Comore to Moheli and the second from Mayotte to Anjouan. While only two recombination events characteristic of SWIO islands isolates were identified, numerous re-assortments events were detected between EACMV and EACMKV, which seem to almost freely interchange their genome components. CONCLUSIONS: Rapid and extensive virus spread within the SWIO islands was demonstrated for three CMG complex species. Strong evolutionary or ecological interaction between CMG species may explain both their propensity to exchange components and the absence of recombination with non-CMG begomoviruses. Our results suggest an important role of anthropic factors in CMGs spread as the principal axes of viral migration correspond with major routes of human movement and commercial trade. Finer-scale temporal analyses of CMGs to precisely scale the relative contributions of human and insect transmission to their movement dynamics will require further extensive sampling in the SWIO region.

Concepts: Virus, Mohéli, Evolution, Mayotte, Comoros, Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Africa


BACKGROUND: Coevolution with parasites and population size are both expected to influence the evolution of mating rates. To gain insights into the interaction between these dual selective factors, we used populations from a coevolution experiment with the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, and its microsporidian parasite, Nosema whitei. We maintained each experimental population at two different population sizes. We assayed the mating behaviour of both males and females from coevolved and paired non-coevolved control populations after 24 generations of coevolution with parasites. RESULTS: Males from large, coevolved populations (i.e. ancestors were exposed to parasites) showed a reduced eagerness to mate compared to males from large, non-coevolved populations. But in small populations, coevolution did not lead to decreased male mating rates. Coevolved females from both large and small populations appeared to be more willing to accept mating than non-coevolved females. CONCLUSIONS: This study provides unique, experimental insights into the combined roles of coevolving parasites and population size on the evolution of mating rate. Furthermore, we find that males and females respond differently to the same environmental conditions. Our results show that parasites can be key determinants of the sexual behaviour of their hosts.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Female, Population ecology, Fungus, Male, Coevolution, Tenebrionidae, Sex