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Journal: Molecular ecology


The recent incorporation of molecular methods into analyses of social and mating systems has provided evidence that mating patterns often differ from those predicted by group social organization. Based on field studies and paternity analyses at a limited number of sites, African lions are predicted to exhibit a strict within-pride mating system. Extra-group paternity has not been previously reported in African lions; however, observations of extra-group associations among lions inhabiting Etosha National Park in Namibia suggest deviation from the predicted within-pride mating pattern. We analysed variation in 14 microsatellite loci in a population of 164 African lions in Etosha National Park. Genetic analysis was coupled with demographic and observational data to examine pride structure, relatedness and extra-group paternity (EGP). EGP was found to occur in 57% of prides where paternity was analysed (n = 7), and the overall rate of EGP in this population was 41% (n = 34). Group sex ratio had a significant effect on the occurrence of EGP (P < 0.05), indicating that variation in pride-level social structure may explain intergroup variation in EGP. Prides with a lower male-to-female ratio were significantly more likely to experience EGP in this population. The results of this study challenge the current models of African lion mating systems and provide evidence that social structure may not reflect breeding structure in some social mammals.

Concepts: Scientific method, Sociology, Lion, Felidae, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera, Etosha National Park


Anthropogenic endocrine disruptors now contaminate all environments globally, with concomitant deleterious effects across diverse taxa. While most studies on endocrine disruption (ED) have focused on vertebrates, the superimposition of male sexual characteristics in the female dogwhelk, Nucella lapillus (imposex), caused by organotins, provides one of the most clearcut ecological examples of anthropogenically induced ED in aquatic ecosystems. To identify the underpinning mechanisms of imposex for this ‘nonmodel’ species, we combined Roche 454 pyrosequencing with custom oligoarray fabrication inexpensively to both generate gene models and identify those responding to chronic tributyltin (TBT) treatment. The results supported the involvement of steroid, neuroendocrine peptide hormone dysfunction and retinoid mechanisms, but suggested additionally the involvement of putative peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) pathways. Application of rosiglitazone, a well-known vertebrate PPARγ ligand, to dogwhelks induced imposex in the absence of TBT. Thus, while TBT-induced imposex is linked to the induction of many genes and has a complex phenotype, it is likely also to be driven by PPAR-responsive pathways, hitherto not described in invertebrates. Our findings provide further evidence for a common signalling pathway between invertebrate and vertebrate species that has previously been overlooked in the study of endocrine disruption.

Concepts: Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, Species, Hormone, Endocrinology, Receptor, Vertebrate, Invertebrate, Dog whelk


Although bryophytes are a dominant vegetation component of boreal and alpine ecosystems, little is known about their associated fungal communities. HPLC assays of ergosterol (fungal biomass) and amplicon pyrosequencing of the ITS2 region of rDNA were used to investigate how the fungal communities associated with four bryophyte species changed across an elevational gradient transitioning from conifer forest to the low-alpine. Fungal biomass and OTU richness associated with the four moss hosts did not vary significantly across the gradient (P > 0.05), and both were more strongly affected by host and tissue type. Despite largely constant levels of fungal biomass, distinct shifts in community composition of fungi associated with Hylocomium, Pleurozium and Polytrichum occurred between the elevation zones of the gradient. This likely is a result of influence on fungal communities by major environmental factors such as temperature, directly or indirectly mediated by, or interacting with, the response of other components of the vegetation (i.e. the dominant trees). Fungal communities associated with Dicranum were an exception, exhibiting spatial autocorrelation between plots, and no significant structuring by elevation. Nevertheless, the detection of distinct fungal assemblages associated with a single host growing in different elevation zones along an elevational gradient is of particular relevance in the light of the ongoing changes in vegetation patterns in boreal and alpine systems due to global climate warming.

Concepts: Plant, Climate, Climate change, Global warming, Bryophyte, Moss, Marchantiophyta, Hornwort


Haptophytes are a key phylum of marine protists, including ~300 described morphospecies and 80 morphogenera. We used 454 pyrosequencing on large subunit ribosomal DNA (LSU rDNA) fragments to assess the diversity from size-fractioned plankton samples collected in the Bay of Naples. One group-specific primer set targeting the LSU rDNA D1/D2 region was designed to amplify Haptophyte sequences from nucleic acid extracts (total DNA or RNA) of two size fractions (0.8-3 or 3-20 μm) and two sampling depths [subsurface, at 1 m, or deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM) at 23 m]. 454 reads were identified using a database covering the entire Haptophyta diversity currently sequenced. Our data set revealed several hundreds of Haptophyte clusters. However, most of these clusters could not be linked to taxonomically known sequences: considering OTUs(97%) (clusters build at a sequence identity level of 97%) on our global data set, less than 1% of the reads clustered with sequences from cultures, and less than 12% clustered with reference sequences obtained previously from cloning and Sanger sequencing of environmental samples. Thus, we highlighted a large uncharacterized environmental genetic diversity, which clearly shows that currently cultivated species poorly reflect the actual diversity present in the natural environment. Haptophyte community appeared to be significantly structured according to the depth. The highest diversity and evenness were obtained in samples from the DCM, and samples from the large size fraction (3-20 μm) taken at the DCM shared a lower proportion of common OTUs(97%) with the other samples. Reads from the species Chrysoculter romboideus were notably found at the DCM, while they could be detected at the subsurface. The highest proportion of totally unknown OTUs(97%) was collected at the DCM in the smallest size fraction (0.8-3 μm). Overall, this study emphasized several technical and theoretical barriers inherent to the exploration of the large and largely unknown diversity of unicellular eukaryotes.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Eukaryote, RNA, DNA sequencing, Pyrosequencing, Sequence, Naples


Heteropatric differentiation is a mode of speciation with gene flow in which divergence occurs between lineages that are in sympatry and allopatry at different times during cyclic spatial movements. Empirical evidence suggests that heteropatric differentiation may prove to be common among seasonally migratory organisms. We examined genetic differentiation between the sedentary Aleutian Islands population of green-winged teal (Anas crecca-nimia) and its close migratory relative, the Eurasian, or Old World (OW), Anas c. crecca population, a portion of which passes through the range of nimia during its seasonal migrations. We also examined its relationship with the parapatric North American, New World (NW), A. c. carolinensis population. Sequence data from eight nuclear introns and the mtDNA control region showed that the nimia-crecca divergence occurred much more recently than the deeper crecca-carolinensis split (~83 000 years vs. ~1.1 Myr). Despite considerable spatial overlap between crecca and nimia during seasonal migration, three key predictions of heteropatric differentiation are supported: significant genetic divergence (overall mean Φst  = 0.07), low gene flow (2Ne m ~ 1.8), and an effective population size in nimia that is not especially low (Ne  ~ 80 000 individuals). Similar levels of gene flow have come into nimia from carolinensis, but no detectable nuclear gene flow has gone out of nimia into either OW (crecca) or NW (carolinensis) populations. We infer that adaptations of these populations to local optima in different places (e.g. each matching their reproductive effort to different resource blooms) promote genetic isolation and divergence despite periods of sympatry between them, as the heteropatric model predicts.

Concepts: Population ecology, Population genetics, Speciation, Genetic drift, Anas, Allopatric speciation, Common Teal, Green-winged Teal


Recent investigations have demonstrated that unusually ‘hairy’ yeti crabs within the family Kiwaidae associate with two predominant filamentous bacterial families, the Epsilon and Gammaproteobacteria. These analyses, however, were based on samples collected from a single body region, the setae of pereopods. To more thoroughly investigate the microbiome associated with Kiwa puravida, a yeti crab species from Costa Rica, we utilized barcoded 16S rRNA amplicon pyrosequencing, as well as microscopy and terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis. Results indicate that, indeed, the bacterial community on the pereopods is far less diverse than on the rest of the body (Shannon indices ranged from 1.30-2.02 and 2.22-2.66, respectively). Similarly, the bacterial communities associated with juveniles and adults were more complex than previously recognized, with as many as 46 bacterial families represented. Ontogenetic differences in the microbial community, from egg to juvenile to adult, included a dramatic under-representation of the Helicobacteraceae and higher abundances of both Thiotrichaceae and Methylococcaceae for the eggs, which paralleled patterns observed in another bacteria-crustacean symbiosis. The degree to which abiotic and biotic feedbacks influence the bacterial community on the crabs is still not known, but predictions suggest that both the local environment and host-derived factors influence the establishment and maintenance of microbes associated with the surfaces of aquatic animals.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Microbiology, Crustacean, Microorganism, Crab, Costa Rica, Kiwa hirsuta


Infections with maternally inherited Wolbachia bacteria may have dramatic influences on reproductive traits and speciation patterns of their hosts. We here show that in the beetle genus Altica, infection has influenced phylogenetic patterns of the host’s mtDNA and different strains led to repeated selective sweeps. By comparing a COI/II-based phylogeny of the hosts with a phylogeny of the bacteria based on ftsZ, we show that cospeciation is rare and restricted to few recently diverged species. While in general each species apparently harbours a single Wolbachia strain, Altica lythri presents a strikingly different pattern: in the polyphyletic species, three highly divergent mtDNA haplotypes (2.1-4.6% p-distance) are coupled with three different Wolbachia strains (wLytA1, wLytA2 and wLytB). These haplotypes and Wolbachia strains are widely distributed and mostly found in sympatry. A phylogeny based on microsatellite data supports the monophyly of A. lythri. The discrepancy between mtDNA and nuclear phylogeny may best be explained by interspecific hybridization that led to introgression of mtDNA coupled with a different Wolbachia strain. Selective sweeps apparently drove the introgressed haplotypes to widespread distribution. As for effects of Wolbachia on reproduction, infection with wLytA1 appears to be correlated with a substantial sex ratio distortion, which was most prominent in A. lythri.

Concepts: Evolution, Organism, Species, Horizontal gene transfer, Phylogenetics, Beetle, Monophyly, Flea beetle


Speciation is often categorized based on geographic modes (allopatric, parapatric or sympatric). Although it is widely accepted that species can arise in allopatry and then later become sympatrically or parapatrically distributed, patterns in the opposite direction are also theoretically possible (e.g. sympatric lineages or ecotypes becoming parapatric), but such patterns have not been shown at a macrogeographic scale. Here, we analyse genetic, climatic, ecological and morphological data and show that two typically sympatric colour morphs of the salamander Plethodon cinereus (redback and leadback) appear to have become parapatrically distributed on Long Island, New York, with pure-redback populations in the west and pure-leadback populations in the east (and polymorphic populations in between and on the mainland). In addition, the pure-leadback populations in eastern Long Island are genetically, ecologically and morphologically divergent from both mainland and other Long Island populations, suggesting the possibility of incipient speciation. This parapatric separation seems to be related to the different ecological preferences of the two morphs, preferences which are present on the mainland and across Long Island. These results potentially support the idea that spatial segregation of sympatric ecotypes may sometimes play an important part in parapatric speciation.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Ecology, Taxonomy, Speciation, Sympatric speciation, Allopatric speciation, Ring species


Plant and animal biodiversity can be studied by obtaining DNA directly from the environment. This new approach in combination with the use of generic barcoding primers (metabarcoding) has been suggested as complementary or alternative to traditional biodiversity monitoring in ancient soil sediments. However, the extent to which metabarcoding truly reflects plant composition remains unclear, as does its power to identify species with no pollen or macrofossil evidence. Here, we compared pollen-based and metabarcoding approaches to explore the Holocene plant composition around two lakes in central Scandinavia. At one site, we also compared barcoding results with those obtained in earlier studies with species-specific primers. The pollen analyses revealed a larger number of taxa (46), of which the majority (78%) was not identified by metabarcoding. The metabarcoding identified 14 taxa (MTUs), but allowed identification to a lower taxonomical level. The combined analyses identified 52 taxa. The barcoding primers may favour amplification of certain taxa, as they did not detect taxa previously identified with species-specific primers. Taphonomy and selectiveness of the primers are likely the major factors influencing these results. We conclude that metabarcoding from lake sediments provides a complementary, but not an alternative, tool to pollen analysis for investigating past flora. In the absence of other fossil evidence, metabarcoding gives a local and important signal from the vegetation, but the resulting assemblages show limited capacity to detect all taxa, regardless of their abundance around the lake. We suggest that metabarcoding is followed by pollen analysis and the use of species-specific primers to provide the most comprehensive signal from the environment.

Concepts: Fungus, Ecology, Lake, Sediment, Natural environment, Pollination, Fossil, Palynology


Quantifying interannual variation in effective adult breeding number (N(b) ) and relationships between N(b) , effective population size (N(e) ), adult census size (N) and population demographic characteristics are important to predict genetic changes in populations of conservation concern. Such relationships are rarely available for long-lived iteroparous species like lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). We estimated annual N(b) and generational N(e) using genotypes from 12 microsatellite loci for lake sturgeon adults (n = 796) captured during eight spawning seasons and offspring (n = 3925) collected during larval dispersal in a closed population over 10 years. Inbreeding and variance N(b) estimated using mean and variance in individual reproductive success derived from genetically identified parentage and using linkage disequilibrium (LD) were similar within and among years (interannual range of N(b) across estimators: 41-205). Variance in reproductive success and unequal sex ratios reduced N(b) relative to N on average 36.8% and 16.3%, respectively. Interannual variation in N(b) /N ratios (0.27-0.86) resulted from stable N and low standardized variance in reproductive success due to high proportions of adults breeding and the species' polygamous mating system, despite a 40-fold difference in annual larval production across years (437-16 417). Results indicated environmental conditions and features of the species' reproductive ecology interact to affect demographic parameters and N(b) /N. Estimates of N(e) based on three single-sample estimators, including LD, approximate Bayesian computation and sibship assignment, were similar to annual estimates of N(b) . Findings have important implications concerning applications of genetic monitoring in conservation planning for lake sturgeon and other species with similar life histories and mating systems.

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, Biology, Population ecology, Population genetics, Estimation, Sturgeon, Lake sturgeon