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  1. Hornett EA, Charlat S, Wedell N, Jiggins CD, Hurst GD
    Curr. Biol., 2009 Oct 13;19(19):1628-31.
    PMID: 19747825 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.071
    Sex ratios are subject to distortion by a range of inherited parasites. Although it has been predicted that the presence of these elements will result in spatial and temporal variation in host sex ratio, testing of this hypothesis has been constrained by availability of historical data. We here determine spatial and temporal variation in sex ratio in a interaction between a butterfly and male-killing Wolbachia bacteria by assaying infection presence in museum specimens, and from this inferring infection prevalence and phenotype in historical populations. Comparison of contemporary and museum samples revealed profound change in four of five populations examined. Two populations become extremely female biased, associated with spread of the male-killer bacterium. One evolved from extremely female biased to a sex ratio near parity, resulting from the infection losing male-killing activity. The final population fluctuated widely in sex ratio, associated with varying frequency of the male killer. We conclude that asynchronous invasion and decline of sex-ratio distorters combines with the evolution of host suppressors to produce a rapidly changing mosaic of sex ratio. As a consequence, the reproductive ecology of the host species is likely to be fundamentally altered over short time scales. Further, the study demonstrates the utility of museum specimens as "silent witnesses" of evolutionary change.
  2. Schöner MG, Schöner CR, Simon R, Grafe TU, Puechmaille SJ, Ji LL, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2015 Jul 20;25(14):1911-6.
    PMID: 26166777 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.05.054
    Mutualisms between plants and animals shape the world's ecosystems. In such interactions, achieving contact with the partner species is imperative. Plants regularly advertise themselves with signals that specifically appeal to the partner's perceptual preferences. For example, many plants have acquired traits such as brightly colored, fragrant flowers that attract pollinators with visual, olfactory, or--in the case of a few bat-pollinated flowers--even acoustic stimuli in the form of echo-reflecting structures. However, acoustic attraction in plants is rare compared to other advertisements and has never been found outside the pollination context and only in the Neotropics. We hypothesized that this phenomenon is more widespread and more diverse as plant-bat interactions also occur in the Paleotropics. In Borneo, mutualistic bats fertilize a carnivorous pitcher plant while roosting in its pitchers. The pitcher's orifice features a prolonged concave structure, which we predicted to distinctively reflect the bats' echolocation calls for a wide range of angles. This structure should facilitate the location and identification of pitchers even within highly cluttered surroundings. Pitchers lacking this structure should be less attractive for the bats. Ensonifications of the pitchers around their orifice revealed that this structure indeed acts as a multidirectional ultrasound reflector. In behavioral experiments where bats were confronted with differently modified pitchers, the reflector's presence clearly facilitated the finding and identification of pitchers. These results suggest that plants have convergently acquired reflectors in the Paleotropics and the Neotropics to acoustically attract bats, albeit for completely different ecological reasons.
  3. Meijaard E, Sherman J, Ancrenaz M, Wich SA, Santika T, Voigt M
    Curr. Biol., 2018 11 05;28(21):R1241-R1242.
    PMID: 30399343 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.09.052
    A recent report, published by the Government of Indonesia with support from the Food and Agricultural Organization and Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative, states that orangutan populations (Pongo spp.) have increased by more than 10% in Indonesia from 2015 to 2017, exceeding the government target of an annual 2% population increase [1]. This assessment is in strong contrast with recent publications that showed that the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus) lost more than 100,000 individuals in the past 16 years [2] and declined by at least 25% over the past 10 years [3]. Furthermore, recent work has also demonstrated that both Sumatran orangutans (P. abelii) and the recently described Tapanuli orangutan (P. tapanuliensis) lost more than 60% of their key habitats between 1985 and 2007, and ongoing land use changes are expected to result in an 11-27% decline in their populations by 2020 [4,5]. Most scientific data indicate that the survival of these species continues to be seriously threatened by deforestation and killing [4,6,7] and thus all three are Critically Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.
  4. Gopalakrishnan S, Sinding MS, Ramos-Madrigal J, Niemann J, Samaniego Castruita JA, Vieira FG, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2018 11 05;28(21):3441-3449.e5.
    PMID: 30344120 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.08.041
    The evolutionary history of the wolf-like canids of the genus Canis has been heavily debated, especially regarding the number of distinct species and their relationships at the population and species level [1-6]. We assembled a dataset of 48 resequenced genomes spanning all members of the genus Canis except the black-backed and side-striped jackals, encompassing the global diversity of seven extant canid lineages. This includes eight new genomes, including the first resequenced Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), one dhole (Cuon alpinus), two East African hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus), two Eurasian golden jackals (Canis aureus), and two Middle Eastern gray wolves (Canis lupus). The relationships between the Ethiopian wolf, African golden wolf, and golden jackal were resolved. We highlight the role of interspecific hybridization in the evolution of this charismatic group. Specifically, we find gene flow between the ancestors of the dhole and African hunting dog and admixture between the gray wolf, coyote (Canis latrans), golden jackal, and African golden wolf. Additionally, we report gene flow from gray and Ethiopian wolves to the African golden wolf, suggesting that the African golden wolf originated through hybridization between these species. Finally, we hypothesize that coyotes and gray wolves carry genetic material derived from a "ghost" basal canid lineage.
  5. Nater A, Mattle-Greminger MP, Nurcahyo A, Nowak MG, de Manuel M, Desai T, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2017 Nov 20;27(22):3487-3498.e10.
    PMID: 29103940 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.047
    Six extant species of non-human great apes are currently recognized: Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, and chimpanzees and bonobos [1]. However, large gaps remain in our knowledge of fine-scale variation in hominoid morphology, behavior, and genetics, and aspects of great ape taxonomy remain in flux. This is particularly true for orangutans (genus: Pongo), the only Asian great apes and phylogenetically our most distant relatives among extant hominids [1]. Designation of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, P. pygmaeus (Linnaeus 1760) and P. abelii (Lesson 1827), as distinct species occurred in 2001 [1, 2]. Here, we show that an isolated population from Batang Toru, at the southernmost range limit of extant Sumatran orangutans south of Lake Toba, is distinct from other northern Sumatran and Bornean populations. By comparing cranio-mandibular and dental characters of an orangutan killed in a human-animal conflict to those of 33 adult male orangutans of a similar developmental stage, we found consistent differences between the Batang Toru individual and other extant Ponginae. Our analyses of 37 orangutan genomes provided a second line of evidence. Model-based approaches revealed that the deepest split in the evolutionary history of extant orangutans occurred ∼3.38 mya between the Batang Toru population and those to the north of Lake Toba, whereas both currently recognized species separated much later, about 674 kya. Our combined analyses support a new classification of orangutans into three extant species. The new species, Pongo tapanuliensis, encompasses the Batang Toru population, of which fewer than 800 individuals survive. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
  6. Voigt M, Wich SA, Ancrenaz M, Meijaard E, Abram N, Banes GL, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2018 03 05;28(5):761-769.e5.
    PMID: 29456144 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.01.053
    Unsustainable exploitation of natural resources is increasingly affecting the highly biodiverse tropics [1, 2]. Although rapid developments in remote sensing technology have permitted more precise estimates of land-cover change over large spatial scales [3-5], our knowledge about the effects of these changes on wildlife is much more sparse [6, 7]. Here we use field survey data, predictive density distribution modeling, and remote sensing to investigate the impact of resource use and land-use changes on the density distribution of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). Our models indicate that between 1999 and 2015, half of the orangutan population was affected by logging, deforestation, or industrialized plantations. Although land clearance caused the most dramatic rates of decline, it accounted for only a small proportion of the total loss. A much larger number of orangutans were lost in selectively logged and primary forests, where rates of decline were less precipitous, but where far more orangutans are found. This suggests that further drivers, independent of land-use change, contribute to orangutan loss. This finding is consistent with studies reporting hunting as a major cause in orangutan decline [8-10]. Our predictions of orangutan abundance loss across Borneo suggest that the population decreased by more than 100,000 individuals, corroborating recent estimates of decline [11]. Practical solutions to prevent future orangutan decline can only be realized by addressing its complex causes in a holistic manner across political and societal sectors, such as in land-use planning, resource exploitation, infrastructure development, and education, and by increasing long-term sustainability [12]. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
  7. Pinotti T, Bergström A, Geppert M, Bawn M, Ohasi D, Shi W, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2019 01 07;29(1):149-157.e3.
    PMID: 30581024 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.11.029
    The Americas were the last inhabitable continents to be occupied by humans, with a growing multidisciplinary consensus for entry 15-25 thousand years ago (kya) from northeast Asia via the former Beringia land bridge [1-4]. Autosomal DNA analyses have dated the separation of Native American ancestors from the Asian gene pool to 23 kya or later [5, 6] and mtDNA analyses to ∼25 kya [7], followed by isolation ("Beringian Standstill" [8, 9]) for 2.4-9 ky and then a rapid expansion throughout the Americas. Here, we present a calibrated sequence-based analysis of 222 Native American and relevant Eurasian Y chromosomes (24 new) from haplogroups Q and C [10], with four major conclusions. First, we identify three to four independent lineages as autochthonous and likely founders: the major Q-M3 and rarer Q-CTS1780 present throughout the Americas, the very rare C3-MPB373 in South America, and possibly the C3-P39/Z30536 in North America. Second, from the divergence times and Eurasian/American distribution of lineages, we estimate a Beringian Standstill duration of 2.7 ky or 4.6 ky, according to alternative models, and entry south of the ice sheet after 19.5 kya. Third, we describe the star-like expansion of Q-M848 (within Q-M3) starting at 15 kya [11] in the Americas, followed by establishment of substantial spatial structure in South America by 12 kya. Fourth, the deep branches of the Q-CTS1780 lineage present at low frequencies throughout the Americas today [12] may reflect a separate out-of-Beringia dispersal after the melting of the glaciers at the end of the Pleistocene.
  8. Roth S, Balvín O, Siva-Jothy MT, Di Iorio O, Benda P, Calva O, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2019 06 03;29(11):1847-1853.e4.
    PMID: 31104934 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.04.048
    All 100+ bedbug species (Cimicidae) are obligate blood-sucking parasites [1, 2]. In general, blood sucking (hematophagy) is thought to have evolved in generalist feeders adventitiously taking blood meals [3, 4], but those cimicid taxa currently considered ancestral are putative host specialists [1, 5]. Bats are believed to be the ancestral hosts of cimicids [1], but a cimicid fossil [6] predates the oldest known bat fossil [7] by >30 million years (Ma). The bedbugs that parasitize humans [1, 8] are host generalists, so their evolution from specialist ancestors is incompatible with the "resource efficiency" hypothesis and only partially consistent with the "oscillation" hypothesis [9-16]. Because quantifying host shift frequencies of hematophagous specialists and generalists may help to predict host associations when vertebrate ranges expand by climate change [17], livestock, and pet trade in general and because of the previously proposed role of human pre-history in parasite speciation [18-20], we constructed a fossil-dated, molecular phylogeny of the Cimicidae. This phylogeny places ancestral Cimicidae to 115 mya as hematophagous specialists with lineages that later frequently populated bat and bird lineages. We also found that the clades, including the two major current urban pests, Cimex lectularius and C. hemipterus, separated 47 mya, rejecting the notion that the evolutionary trajectories of Homo caused their divergence [18-21]. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
  9. Gelabert P, Sandoval-Velasco M, Serres A, de Manuel M, Renom P, Margaryan A, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2020 Jan 06;30(1):108-114.e5.
    PMID: 31839456 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.10.066
    As the only endemic neotropical parrot to have recently lived in the northern hemisphere, the Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) was an iconic North American bird. The last surviving specimen died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918 [1]. The cause of its extinction remains contentious: besides excessive mortality associated to habitat destruction and active hunting, their survival could have been negatively affected by its range having become increasingly patchy [2] or by the exposure to poultry pathogens [3, 4]. In addition, the Carolina parakeet showed a predilection for cockleburs, an herbaceous plant that contains a powerful toxin, carboxyatractyloside, or CAT [5], which did not seem to affect them but made the birds notoriously toxic to most predators [3]. To explore the demographic history of this bird, we generated the complete genomic sequence of a preserved specimen held in a private collection in Espinelves (Girona, Spain), as well as of a close extant relative, Aratinga solstitialis. We identified two non-synonymous genetic changes in two highly conserved proteins known to interact with CAT that could underlie a specific dietary adaptation to this toxin. Our genomic analyses did not reveal evidence of a dramatic past demographic decline in the Carolina parakeet; also, its genome did not exhibit the long runs of homozygosity that are signals of recent inbreeding and are typically found in endangered species. As such, our results suggest its extinction was an abrupt process and thus likely solely attributable to human causes.
  10. Majid A, Kruspe N
    Curr. Biol., 2018 02 05;28(3):409-413.e2.
    PMID: 29358070 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.12.014
    People struggle to name odors [1-4]. This has been attributed to a diminution of olfaction in trade-off to vision [5-10]. This presumption has been challenged recently by data from the hunter-gatherer Jahai who, unlike English speakers, find odors as easy to name as colors [4]. Is the superior olfactory performance among the Jahai because of their ecology (tropical rainforest), their language family (Aslian), or because of their subsistence (they are hunter-gatherers)? We provide novel evidence from the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri and the non-hunter-gatherer (swidden-horticulturalist) Semelai that subsistence is the critical factor. Semaq Beri and Semelai speakers-who speak closely related languages and live in the tropical rainforest of the Malay Peninsula-took part in a controlled odor- and color-naming experiment. The swidden-horticulturalist Semelai found odors much more difficult to name than colors, replicating the typical Western finding. But for the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri odor naming was as easy as color naming, suggesting that hunter-gatherer olfactory cognition is special.
  11. Chrostek E, Hurst GDD, McGraw EA
    Curr. Biol., 2020 Jan 06;30(1):R30-R32.
    PMID: 31910374 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.11.046
    Vector-borne viral diseases pose an urgent public health challenge, particularly in the tropics. Field releases of mosquitoes carrying bacterial symbionts that reduce vector competence are ongoing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Early results show that wAlbB Wolbachia can persist in mosquitoes in urban settings and decrease dengue incidence in humans.
  12. Holzner A, Ruppert N, Swat F, Schmidt M, Weiß BM, Villa G, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2019 Oct 21;29(20):R1066-R1067.
    PMID: 31639346 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.09.011
    Conversion of tropical forests into oil palm plantations reduces the habitats of many species, including primates, and frequently leads to human-wildlife conflicts. Contrary to the widespread belief that macaques foraging in the forest-oil palm matrix are detrimental crop pests, we show that the impact of macaques on oil palm yield is minor. More importantly, our data suggest that wild macaques have the potential to act as biological pest control by feeding on plantation rats, the major pest for oil palm crops, with each macaque group estimated to reduce rat populations by about 3,000 individuals per year (mitigating annual losses of 112 USD per hectare). If used for rodent control in place of the conventional method of poison, macaques could provide an important ecosystem service and enhance palm oil sustainability.
  13. Nazni WA, Hoffmann AA, NoorAfizah A, Cheong YL, Mancini MV, Golding N, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2019 Dec 16;29(24):4241-4248.e5.
    PMID: 31761702 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.11.007
    Dengue has enormous health impacts globally. A novel approach to decrease dengue incidence involves the introduction of Wolbachia endosymbionts that block dengue virus transmission into populations of the primary vector mosquito, Aedes aegypti. The wMel Wolbachia strain has previously been trialed in open releases of Ae. aegypti; however, the wAlbB strain has been shown to maintain higher density than wMel at high larval rearing temperatures. Releases of Ae. aegypti mosquitoes carrying wAlbB were carried out in 6 diverse sites in greater Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with high endemic dengue transmission. The strain was successfully established and maintained at very high population frequency at some sites or persisted with additional releases following fluctuations at other sites. Based on passive case monitoring, reduced human dengue incidence was observed in the release sites when compared to control sites. The wAlbB strain of Wolbachia provides a promising option as a tool for dengue control, particularly in very hot climates.
  14. Griffiths HM, Ashton LA, Evans TA, Parr CL, Eggleton P
    Curr. Biol., 2019 02 18;29(4):R118-R119.
    PMID: 30779897 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.012
    Termite-mediated decomposition is an important, but often overlooked, component of the carbon cycle. Using a large-scale suppression experiment in Borneo, Griffiths et al. found that termites contribute between 58 and 64% of mass loss from dead wood.
  15. Friess DA, Yando ES, Abuchahla GMO, Adams JB, Cannicci S, Canty SWJ, et al.
    Curr. Biol., 2020 Feb 24;30(4):R153-R154.
    PMID: 32097637 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.12.054
    Friess et al. discuss the results of conservation efforts for mangrove forests in recent years.
  16. Zhang T, Wu Q, Zhang Z
    Curr. Biol., 2020 04 06;30(7):1346-1351.e2.
    PMID: 32197085 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.022
    An outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) began in the city of Wuhan in China and has widely spread worldwide. Currently, it is vital to explore potential intermediate hosts of SARS-CoV-2 to control COVID-19 spread. Therefore, we reinvestigated published data from pangolin lung samples from which SARS-CoV-like CoVs were detected by Liu et al. [1]. We found genomic and evolutionary evidence of the occurrence of a SARS-CoV-2-like CoV (named Pangolin-CoV) in dead Malayan pangolins. Pangolin-CoV is 91.02% and 90.55% identical to SARS-CoV-2 and BatCoV RaTG13, respectively, at the whole-genome level. Aside from RaTG13, Pangolin-CoV is the most closely related CoV to SARS-CoV-2. The S1 protein of Pangolin-CoV is much more closely related to SARS-CoV-2 than to RaTG13. Five key amino acid residues involved in the interaction with human ACE2 are completely consistent between Pangolin-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, but four amino acid mutations are present in RaTG13. Both Pangolin-CoV and RaTG13 lost the putative furin recognition sequence motif at S1/S2 cleavage site that can be observed in the SARS-CoV-2. Conclusively, this study suggests that pangolin species are a natural reservoir of SARS-CoV-2-like CoVs.
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