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23 March 2017

Neogene amphibians and reptiles (Caudata, Anura, Gekkota, Lacertilia, and Testudines) from the south of Western Siberia, Russia, and Northeastern Kazakhstan [PeerJ]

Keywords : biodiversity, biogeography, paleontology, taxonomy, zoology

The present-day amphibian and reptile fauna of Western Siberia are the least diverse of the Palaearctic Realm, as a consequence of the unfavourable climatic conditions that predominate in this region. The origin and emergence of these herpetofaunal groups are poorly understood. Aside from the better-explored European Neogene localities yielding amphibian and reptile fossil remains, the Neogene herpetofauna of Western Asia is understudied. The few available data need critical reviews and new interpretations, taking into account the more recent records of the European herpetofauna.(...)

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22 March 2017

Does the morphological fit between flowers and pollinators affect pollen deposition? An experimental test in a buzz-pollinated species with anther dimorphism [Ecology and Evolution]

Keywords : Bombus terrestris, herkogamy, pollen deposition, pollinator size, Solanum rostratum

Some pollination systems, such as buzz-pollination, are associated with floral morphologies that require a close physical interaction between floral sexual organs and insect visitors. In these systems, a pollinator’s size relative to the flower may be an important feature determining whether the visitor touches both male and female sexual organs and thus transfers pollen between plants efficiently. To date, few studies have addressed whether in fact the “fit” between flower and pollinator influences pollen transfer, particularly among buzz-pollinated species. Here we use Solanum rostratum, a buzz-pollinated plant with dimorphic anthers and mirror-image flowers, to investigate whether the morphological fit between the pollinator’s body and floral morphology influences pollen deposition.(...)

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21 March 2017

Walking and talking the tree of life: Why and how to teach about biodiversity [PLOS Biology]

Keywords : biodiversity, textbooks, schools, phylogenetic analysis, animal phylogenetics, human learning, universities, taxonomy

Taxonomic details of diversity are an essential scaffolding for biology education, yet outdated methods for teaching the tree of life (TOL), as implied by textbook content and usage, are still commonly employed. Here, we show that the traditional approach only vaguely represents evolutionary relationships, fails to denote major events in the history of life, and relies heavily on memorizing near-meaningless taxonomic ranks. Conversely, a clade-based strategy—focused on common ancestry, monophyletic groups, and derived functional traits—is explicitly based on Darwin’s “descent with modification,” provides students with a rational system for organizing the details of biodiversity, and readily lends itself to active learning techniques. We advocate for a phylogenetic classification that mirrors the TOL, a pedagogical format of increasingly complex but always hierarchical presentations, and the adoption of active learning technologies and tactics.

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17 March 2017

High resolution analysis of tropical forest fragmentation and its impact on the global carbon cycle [Nature Communications]

Keywords : carbon cycle, forest ecology, tropical ecology

Deforestation in the tropics is not only responsible for direct carbon emissions but also extends the forest edge wherein trees suffer increased mortality. Here we combine high-resolution (30 m) satellite maps of forest cover with estimates of the edge effect and show that 19% of the remaining area of tropical forests lies within 100 m of a forest edge. The tropics house around 50 million forest fragments and the length of the world’s tropical forest edges sums to nearly 50 million km. Edge effects in tropical forests have caused an additional 10.3 Gt (2.1–14.4 Gt) of carbon emissions, which translates into 0.34 Gt per year and represents 31% of the currently estimated annual carbon releases due to tropical deforestation. Fragmentation substantially augments carbon emissions from tropical forests and must be taken into account when analysing the role of vegetation in the global carbon cycle.

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17 March 2017

Bumblebee family lineage survival is enhanced in high-quality landscapes [Nature]

Insect pollinators such as bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are in global decline. A major cause of this decline is habitat loss due to agricultural intensification. A range of global and national initiatives aimed at restoring pollinator habitats and populations have been developed. However, the success of these initiatives depends critically upon understanding how landscape change affects key population-level parameters, such as survival between lifecycle stages, in target species. This knowledge is lacking for bumblebees, because of the difficulty of systematically finding and monitoring colonies in the wild. We used a combination of habitat manipulation, land-use and habitat surveys, molecular genetics and demographic and spatial modelling to analyse between-year survival of family lineages in field populations of three bumblebee species.(...)

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