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26 May 2017

Teaching genetics prior to teaching evolution improves evolution understanding but not acceptance [PLOS Biology]

Keywords : evolutionary genetics, genetics, teachers, human learning, schools, evolutionary theory, religion, Monte Carlo method

What is the best way to teach evolution? As microevolution may be configured as a branch of genetics, it being a short conceptual leap from understanding the concepts of mutation and alleles (i.e., genetics) to allele frequency change (i.e., evolution), we hypothesised that learning genetics prior to evolution might improve student understanding of evolution. In the UK, genetics and evolution are typically taught to 14- to 16-y-old secondary school students as separate topics with few links, in no particular order and sometimes with a large time span between. Here, then, we report the results of a large trial into teaching order of evolution and genetics. We modified extant questionnaires to ascertain students’ understanding of evolution and genetics along with acceptance of evolution. Students were assessed prior to teaching, immediately post teaching and again after several months. Teachers were not instructed what to teach, just to teach in a given order.(...)

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24 May 2017

Maintaining mimicry diversity: optimal warning colour patterns differ among microhabitats in Amazonian clearwing butterflies [Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences]

Keywords : adaptation, anti-predator defence, Müllerian mimicry, niche

Mimicry is one of the best-studied examples of adaptation, and recent studies have provided new insights into the role of mimicry in speciation and diversification. Classical Müllerian mimicry theory predicts convergence in warning signal among protected species, yet tropical butterflies are exuberantly diverse in warning colour patterns, even within communities. We tested the hypothesis that microhabitat partitioning in aposematic butterflies and insectivorous birds can lead to selection for different colour patterns in different microhabitats and thus help maintain mimicry diversity.(...)

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23 May 2017

Components and drivers of change in European freshwater fish faunas [Journal of Biogeography]

Keywords : biodiversity, catchment range threshold, conservation, European rivers, exotic and invasive species, non-native species, species reshuffling, taxonomic homogenization, translocation

Human-induced loss of native species and introduction of non-native species have altered richness and composition of species assemblages world-wide. During the past 15 years many studies have focused on changes in taxonomic similarity and identified numerous yet often contrasting reasons for these changes. This study aims to quantify taxonomic changes in freshwater fish assemblages between the mid-19th century and today, while explicitly separating its different components and drivers.(...)

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23 May 2017

Contrasting effects of environment and genetics generate a continuum of parallel evolution [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

Keywords : ecological genetics, evolution, evolutionary ecology, genetic variation, ichthyology

Parallel evolution of similar traits by independent populations in similar environments is considered strong evidence for adaptation by natural selection. Often, however, replicate populations in similar environments do not all evolve in the same way, thus deviating from any single, predominant outcome of evolution. This variation might arise from non-adaptive, population-specific effects of genetic drift, gene flow or limited genetic variation. Alternatively, these deviations from parallel evolution might also reflect predictable adaptation to cryptic environmental heterogeneity within discrete habitat categories. Here, we show that deviations from parallel evolution are the consequence of environmental variation within habitats combined with variation in gene flow. Threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in adjoining lake and stream habitats (a lake–stream ‘pair’) diverge phenotypically, yet the direction and magnitude of this divergence is not always fully parallel among 16 replicate pairs.(...)

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22 May 2017

A trophic interaction framework for identifying the invasive capacity of novel organisms [Methods in Ecology and Evolution]

Keywords : alien species, dietary generalism, ecological novelty, GMO, invasion success, functional responses, predator-prey trophic interactions, risk assessment

1.The likelihood and impacts of invasions by novel organisms (e.g. non-native species, genetically-modified organisms) on the composition and functioning of receiving biological communities hinges on their capacity to exploit resources and/or avoid predation relative to resident counterparts. While assessment of invasion risk based on the comparison of functional responses (per-capita consumption rate as a function of resource density) of novel species with native analogues has been gaining popularity, it may be undermined if alternative prey and potential predators are not represented realistically.
2.Here, we propose a conceptual framework that enables rigorous identification of trophic traits conducive to invasion success by novel organisms – irrespective of their trophic position – and their likely ecological impacts, given their arrival and establishment. We focus on consumption here, but our framework can also be used for autotrophic energy acquisition, and extended to non-trophic and indirect interactions.(...)

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