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23 November 2017

The architecture of mutualistic networks as an evolutionary spandrel [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

Keywords : ecological networks, theoretical ecology

Mutualistic networks have been shown to involve complex patterns of interactions among animal and plant species, including a widespread presence of nestedness. The nested structure of these webs seems to be positively correlated with higher diversity and resilience. Moreover, these webs exhibit marked measurable structural patterns, including broad distributions of connectivity, strongly asymmetrical interactions and hierarchical organization. Hierarchical organization is an especially interesting property, since it is positively correlated with biodiversity and network resilience, thus suggesting potential selection processes favouring the observed web organization. However, here we show that all these structural quantitative patterns—and nestedness in particular—can be properly explained by means of a very simple dynamical model of speciation and divergence with no selection-driven coevolution of traits. The agreement between observed and modelled networks suggests that the patterns displayed by real mutualistic webs might actually represent evolutionary spandrels.(...)

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23 November 2017

Nucleic acid purification from plants, animals and microbes in under 30 seconds [PLOS Biology]

Subject Areas : nucleic acids, cellulose, polymerase chain reaction, DNA extraction, DNA purification, Arabidopsis thaliana, leaves, RNA extraction

Nucleic acid amplification is a powerful molecular biology tool, although its use outside the modern laboratory environment is limited due to the relatively cumbersome methods required to extract nucleic acids from biological samples. To address this issue, we investigated a variety of materials for their suitability for nucleic acid capture and purification. We report here that untreated cellulose-based paper can rapidly capture nucleic acids within seconds and retain them during a single washing step, while contaminants present in complex biological samples are quickly removed. Building on this knowledge, we have successfully created an equipment-free nucleic acid extraction dipstick methodology that can obtain amplification-ready DNA and RNA from plants, animals, and microbes from difficult biological samples such as blood and leaves from adult trees in less than 30 seconds.(...)

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23 November 2017

Rates of change in climatic niches in plant and animal populations are much slower than projected climate change [Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences]

Keywords : animals, climate change, climatic niche, niche evolution, phylogeography, plants

Climate change may soon threaten much of global biodiversity. A critical question is: can species undergo niche shifts of sufficient speed and magnitude to persist within their current geographic ranges? Here, we analyse niche shifts among populations within 56 plant and animal species using time-calibrated trees from phylogeographic studies. Across 266 phylogeographic groups analysed, rates of niche change were much slower than rates of projected climate change (mean difference > 200 000-fold for temperature variables).(...)

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23 November 2017

The sensitivity of breeding songbirds to changes in seasonal timing is linked to population change but cannot be directly attributed to the effects of trophic asynchrony on productivity [Global Change Biology]

Keywords : citizen science, climate change, demography, migration, mismatch hypothesis, phenology, population change, trophic asynchrony

A consequence of climate change has been an advance in the timing of seasonal events. Differences in the rate of advance between trophic levels may result in predators becoming mismatched with prey availability, reducing fitness and potentially driving population declines. Such “trophic asynchrony” is hypothesized to have contributed to recent population declines of long-distance migratory birds in particular. Using spatially extensive survey data from 1983 to 2010 to estimate variation in spring phenology from 280 plant and insect species and the egg-laying phenology of 21 British songbird species, we explored the effects of trophic asynchrony on avian population trends and potential underlying demographic mechanisms.(...)

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22 November 2017

Improved genome assembly and annotation for the rock pigeon (Columba livia) [BioRxiv]

The domestic rock pigeon (Columba livia) is among the most widely distributed and phenotypically diverse avian species. This species is broadly studied in ecology, genetics, physiology, behavior, and evolutionary biology, and has recently emerged as a model for understanding the molecular basis of anatomical diversity, the magnetic sense, and other key aspects of avian biology. Here we report an update to the C. livia genome reference assembly and gene annotation dataset (Cliv_1.0). Greatly increased scaffold lengths in the updated reference assembly, along with an updated annotation set, provide improved tools for evolutionary and functional genetic studies of the pigeon, and for comparative avian genomics in general.

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