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17 November 2017

Natural selection shaped the rise and fall of passenger pigeon genomic diversity [Science]

Subjects : genetics, evolution

The extinct passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, and possibly the world. Although theory predicts that large populations will be more genetically diverse, passenger pigeon genetic diversity was surprisingly low. To investigate this disconnect, we analyzed 41 mitochondrial and 4 nuclear genomes from passenger pigeons and 2 genomes from band-tailed pigeons, which are passenger pigeons’ closest living relatives. Passenger pigeons’ large population size appears to have allowed for faster adaptive evolution and removal of harmful mutations, driving a huge loss in their neutral genetic diversity. These results demonstrate the effect that selection can have on a vertebrate genome and contradict results that suggested that population instability contributed to this species’s surprisingly rapid extinction.

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16 November 2017

Impact of deforestation and climate on the Amazon Basin’s above-ground biomass during 1993–2012 [Scientific Reports]

Keywords : carbon cycle, climate-change mitigation

Since the 1960s, large-scale deforestation in the Amazon Basin has contributed to rising global CO2 concentrations and to climate change. Recent advances in satellite observations enable estimates of gross losses of above-ground biomass (AGB) stocks due to deforestation. However, because of simultaneous regrowth, the net contribution of deforestation emissions to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations is poorly quantified. Climate change may also reduce the potential for forest regeneration in previously disturbed regions. Here, we address these points of uncertainty with a machine-learning approach that combines satellite observations of AGB with climate data across the Amazon Basin to reconstruct annual maps of potential AGB during 1993–2012, the above-ground C storage potential of the undisturbed landscape.(...)

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16 November 2017

The deep conservation of the Lepidoptera Z chromosome suggests a non-canonical origin of the W [Nature Communications]

Keywords : comparative genomics, evolutionary genetics, genome evolution

Moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) usually have a pair of differentiated WZ sex chromosomes. However, in most lineages outside of the division Ditrysia, as well as in the sister order Trichoptera, females lack a W chromosome. The W is therefore thought to have been acquired secondarily. Here we compare the genomes of three Lepidoptera species (one Dytrisia and two non-Dytrisia) to test three models accounting for the origin of the W: (1) a Z-autosome fusion; (2) a sex chromosome turnover; and (3) a non-canonical mechanism (e.g., through the recruitment of a B chromosome).(...)

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16 November 2017

Species pool distributions along functional trade-offs shape plant productivity–diversity relationships [Scientific Reports]

Grasslands deliver the resources for food production and are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems. These characteristics are often in conflict as increasing yield through fertilization can lead to biodiversity loss. Thus, the challenge in grassland management is to sustain both yield and diversity. Biodiversity–ecosystem functioning experiments typically reveal a positive relationship between manipulated species diversity and productivity. In contrast, observations of the effect of increasing productivity via fertilization suggest a negative association with biodiversity. Using a mathematical model simulating species co-existence along a resource gradient, we show that trade-offs and species pool structure (size and trait distribution) determines the shape of the productivity-diversity relationship.(...)

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16 November 2017

Conservation demands safe gene drive [PLOS Biology]

Subject Areas : invasive species, CRISPR, New Zealand, ecosystems, malaria, islands, population genetics, opossums

Interest in developing gene drive systems to control invasive species is growing, with New Zealand reportedly considering the nascent technology as a way to locally eliminate the mammalian pests that threaten its unique flora and fauna. If gene drives successfully eradicated these invasive populations, many would rejoice, but what are the possible consequences? Here, we explore the risk of accidental spread posed by self-propagating gene drive technologies, highlight new gene drive designs that might achieve better outcomes, and explain why we need open and international discussions concerning a technology that could have global ramifications.(...)

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