When moving slowly, kangaroos plant their tail on the ground in sequence with their front and hind legs. To determine the tail's role in this ‘pentapedal’ gait, we measured the forces the tail exerts on the ground and calculated the mechanical power it generates. We found that the tail is responsible for as much propulsive force as the front and hind legs combined. It also generates almost exclusively positive mechanical power, performing as much mass-specific mechanical work as does a human leg during walking at the same speed. Kangaroos use their muscular tail to support, propel and power their pentapedal gait just like a leg.
kangaroo; locomotion; energetics; biomechanics; pentapedal
Uric acid stored in the fat body of cockroaches is a nitrogen reservoir mobilized in times of scarcity. The discovery of urease in Blattabacterium cuenoti, the primary endosymbiont of cockroaches, suggests that the endosymbiont may participate in cockroach nitrogen economy. However, bacterial urease may only be one piece in the entire nitrogen recycling process from insect uric acid. Thus, in addition to the uricolytic pathway to urea, there must be glutamine synthetase assimilating the released ammonia by the urease reaction to enable the stored nitrogen to be metabolically usable. None of the Blattabacterium genomes sequenced to date possess genes encoding for those enzymes. To test the host's contribution to the process, we have sequenced and analysed Blattella germanica transcriptomes from the fat body. We identified transcripts corresponding to all genes necessary for the synthesis of uric acid and its catabolism to urea, as well as for the synthesis of glutamine, asparagine, proline and glycine, i.e. the amino acids required by the endosymbiont. We also explored the changes in gene expression with different dietary protein levels. It appears that the ability to use uric acid as a nitrogen reservoir emerged in cockroaches after its age-old symbiotic association with bacteria.
nitrogen metabolism; Blattabacterium; glutamine; asparagine; proline; glycine
Eurypterids are a group of extinct chelicerates that ranged for over 200 Myr from the Ordovician to the Permian. Gigantism is common in the group; about 50% of families include taxa over 0.8 m in length. Among these were the pterygotids (Pterygotidae), which reached lengths of over 2 m and were the largest arthropods that ever lived. They have been interpreted as highly mobile visual predators on the basis of their large size, enlarged, robust chelicerae and forward-facing compound eyes. Here, we test this interpretation by reconstructing the visual capability of Acutiramus cummingsi (Pterygotidae) and comparing it with that of the smaller Eurypterus sp. (Eurypteridae), which lacked enlarged chelicerae, and other arthropods of similar geologic age. In A. cummingsi, there is no area of lenses differentiated to provide increased visual acuity, and the interommatidial angles (IOA) do not fall within the range of high-level modern arthropod predators. Our results show that the visual acuity of A. cummingsi is poor compared with that of co-occurring Eurypterus sp. The ecological role of pterygotids may have been as predators on thin-shelled and soft-bodied prey, perhaps in low-light conditions or at night.
eurypterid; gigantism; arthropod vision; predation
Elastic energy is critical for amplifying muscle power during the propulsive phase of anuran jumping. In this study, we use toads (Bufo marinus) to address whether elastic recoil is also involved after take-off to help flex the limbs before landing. The potential for such spring-like behaviour stems from the unusually flexed configuration of a toad's hindlimbs in a relaxed state. Manual extension of the knee beyond approximately 90° leads to the rapid development of passive tension in the limb as underlying elastic tissues become stretched. We hypothesized that during take-off, the knee regularly extends beyond this, allowing passive recoil to help drive limb flexion in mid-air. To test this, we used high-speed video and electromyography to record hindlimb kinematics and electrical activity in a hindlimb extensor (semimembranosus) and flexor (iliofibularis). We predicted that hops in which the knees extended further during take-off would require less knee flexor recruitment during recovery. Knees extended beyond 90° in over 80% of hops, and longer hops involved greater degrees of knee extension during take-off and more intense semimembranosus activity. However, knee flexion velocities during recovery were maintained despite a significant decrease in iliofibularis intensity in longer hops, results consistent with elastic recoil playing a role.
toads; muscle; elastic energy; electromyography; kinematics; jumping
How do animals determine when others are able and disposed to receive their communicative signals? In particular, it is futile to make a silent gesture when the intended audience cannot see it. Some non-human primates use the head and body orientation of their audience to infer visual attentiveness when signalling, but whether species relying less on visual information use such cues when producing visual signals is unknown. Here, we test whether African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are sensitive to the visual perspective of a human experimenter. We examined whether the frequency of gestures of head and trunk, produced to request food, was influenced by indications of an experimenter's visual attention. Elephants signalled significantly more towards the experimenter when her face was oriented towards them, except when her body faced away from them. These results suggest that elephants understand the importance of visual attention for effective communication.
audience effect; theory of mind; perspective taking; communication
Evidence of social learning, whereby the actions of an animal facilitate the acquisition of new information by another, is taxonomically biased towards mammals, especially primates, and birds. However, social learning need not be limited to group-living animals because species with less interaction can still benefit from learning about potential predators, food sources, rivals and mates. We trained male skinks (Eulamprus quoyii), a mostly solitary lizard from eastern Australia, in a two-step foraging task. Lizards belonging to ‘young’ and ‘old’ age classes were presented with a novel instrumental task (displacing a lid) and an association task (reward under blue lid). We did not find evidence for age-dependent learning of the instrumental task; however, young males in the presence of a demonstrator learnt the association task faster than young males without a demonstrator, whereas old males in both treatments had similar success rates. We present the first evidence of age-dependent social learning in a lizard and suggest that the use of social information for learning may be more widespread than previously believed.
cognition; social learning; lizard
Fungal endophytes modify plant–herbivore interactions by producing toxic alkaloids that deter herbivory. However, studies have neglected the direct effects herbivores may have on endophytes. Antifungal properties and signalling effectors in herbivore saliva suggest that evolutionary pressures may select for animals that mitigate the effects of endophyte-produced alkaloids. Here, we tested whether saliva of moose (Alces alces) and European reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) reduced hyphal elongation and production of ergot alkaloids by the foliar endophyte Epichloë festucae associated with the globally distributed red fescue Festuca rubra. Both moose and reindeer saliva reduced the growth of isolated endophyte hyphae when compared with a treatment of distilled water. Induction of the highly toxic alkaloid ergovaline was also inhibited in plants from the core of F. rubra's distribution when treated with moose saliva following simulated grazing. In genotypes from the southern limit of the species' distribution, ergovaline was constitutively expressed, as predicted where growth is environmentally limited. Our results now present the first evidence, to our knowledge, that ungulate saliva can combat plant defences produced by a grass–endophyte mutualism.
symbioses; evolutionary ecology; plant defences
We use dated phylogenetic trees for tetrapod vertebrates to identify lineages that shifted between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in terms of feeding or development, and to assess the timing of such events. Both stem and crown lineage ages indicate a peak in transition events in correspondence with the K-Pg mass extinction. This meets the prediction that changes in competitive pressure and resource availability following mass extinction events should facilitate such transitions.
realm transitions; K-Pg extinctions; tetrapod vertebrates
We used simulated magnetic displacements to test orientation preferences of juvenile steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) exposed to magnetic fields existing at the northernmost and southernmost boundaries of their oceanic range. Fish reared in natural magnetic conditions distinguished between these two fields by orienting in opposite directions, with headings that would lead fish towards marine foraging grounds. However, fish reared in a spatially distorted magnetic field failed to distinguish between the experimental fields and were randomly oriented. The non-uniform field in which fish were reared is probably typical of fields that many hatchery fish encounter due to magnetic distortions associated with the infrastructure of aquaculture. Given that the reduced navigational abilities we observed could negatively influence marine survival, homing ability and hatchery efficiency, we recommend further study on the implications of rearing salmonids in unnatural magnetic fields.
magnetic map; navigation; trout; salmon
Aposematic signal variation is a paradox: predators are better at learning and retaining the association between conspicuousness and unprofitability when signal variation is low. Movement patterns and variable colour patterns are linked in non-aposematic species: striped patterns generate illusions of altered speed and direction when moving linearly, affecting predators' tracking ability; blotched patterns benefit instead from unpredictable pauses and random movement. We tested whether the extensive colour-pattern variation in an aposematic frog is linked to movement, and found that individuals moving directionally and faster have more elongated patterns than individuals moving randomly and slowly. This may help explain the paradox of polymorphic aposematism: variable warning signals may reduce protection, but predator defence might still be effective if specific behaviours are tuned to specific signals. The interacting effects of behavioural and morphological traits may be a key to the evolution of warning signals.
predator–prey interactions; warning signals; polymorphism; visual illusions; poison frog
Behavioural flexibility allows an animal to adapt its behaviour in response to changes in the environment. Research conducted in primates, rodents and domestic fowl suggests greater behavioural persistence and reduced behavioural flexibility in males. We investigated sex differences in behavioural flexibility in fish by comparing male and female guppies (Poecilia reticulata) in a reversal learning task. Fish were first trained on a colour discrimination, which was learned equally rapidly by males and females. However, once the reward contingency was reversed, females were better at inhibiting the previous response and reached criterion twice as fast as males. When reward reversing was repeated, males gradually reduced the number of errors, and the two sexes had a comparable performance after four reversals. We suggest that sex differences in behavioural flexibility in guppies can be explained in terms of the different roles that males and females play in reproduction.
behavioural flexibility; sex differences; reversal learning; Poecilia reticulata
Most genetic studies of Holocene fauna have been performed with ancient samples from dry and cold regions, in which preservation of fossils is facilitated and molecular damage is reduced. Ancient DNA work from tropical regions has been precluded owing to factors that limit DNA preservation (e.g. temperature, hydrolytic damage). We analysed ancient DNA from rodent jawbones identified as Ototylomys phyllotis, found in Holocene and Late Pleistocene stratigraphic layers from Loltún, a humid tropical cave located in the Yucatan peninsula. We extracted DNA and amplified six short overlapping fragments of the cytochrome b gene, totalling 666 bp, which represents an unprecedented success considering tropical ancient DNA samples. We performed genetic, phylogenetic and divergence time analyses, combining sequences from ancient and modern O. phyllotis, in order to assess the ancestry of the Loltún samples. Results show that all ancient samples fall into a unique clade that diverged prior to the divergence of the modern O. phyllotis, supporting it as a distinct Pleistocene form of the Ototylomys genus. Hence, this rodent's tale suggests that the sister group to modern O. phyllotis arose during the Miocene–Pliocene, diversified during the Pleistocene and went extinct in the Holocene.
Cricetidae; Loltún cave; Mexico; Ototylomys phyllotis; Quaternary; Yucatan peninsula
How climate impacts organisms depends not only on their physiology, but also whether they can buffer themselves against climate variability via their behaviour. One of the way species can withstand hot temperatures is by seeking out cool microclimates, but only if their habitat provides such refugia. Here, we describe a novel thermoregulatory strategy in an arboreal mammal, the koala Phascolarctos cinereus. During hot weather, koalas enhanced conductive heat loss by seeking out and resting against tree trunks that were substantially cooler than ambient air temperature. Using a biophysical model of heat exchange, we show that this behaviour greatly reduces the amount of heat that must be lost via evaporative cooling, potentially increasing koala survival during extreme heat events. While it has long been known that internal temperatures of trees differ from ambient air temperatures, the relevance of this for arboreal and semi-arboreal mammals has not previously been explored. Our results highlight the important role of tree trunks as aboveground ‘heat sinks’, providing cool local microenvironments not only for koalas, but also for all tree-dwelling species.
behavioural thermoregulation; biophysical models; koala; climate change; microclimate selection
The parameters that drive population dynamics typically show a relationship with body size. By contrast, there is no theoretical or empirical support for a body-size dependence of mutual interference, which links foraging rates to consumer density. Here, I develop a model to predict that interference may be positively or negatively related to body size depending on how resource body size scales with consumer body size. Over a wide range of body sizes, however, the model predicts that interference will be body-size independent. This prediction was supported by a new dataset on interference and consumer body size. The stabilizing effect of intermediate interference therefore appears to be roughly constant across size, while the effect of body size on population dynamics is mediated through other parameters.
interference; population dynamics; interaction strength; allometry
Despite considerable study, mystery surrounds the use of signals that initiate cooperative hunting in animals. Using a labyrinth test chamber, we examined whether a lionfish, Dendrochirus zebra, would initiate cooperative hunts with piscine partners. We found that D. zebra uses a stereotyped flared fin display to alert conspecific and heterospecific lionfish species Pterois antennata to the presence of prey. Per capita success rate was significantly higher for cooperative hunters when compared with solitary ones, with hunt responders assisting hunt initiators in cornering the prey using their large extended pectoral fins. The initiators would most often take the first strike at the group of prey, but both hunters would then alternate striking at the remaining prey. Results suggest that the cooperative communication signal may be characteristic to the lionfish family, as interspecific hunters were equally coordinated and successful as intraspecific hunters. Our findings emphasize the complexity of collaborative foraging behaviours in lionfish; the turn-taking in strikes suggests that individuals do not solely try to maximize their own hunting success: instead they equally share the resources between themselves. Communicative group hunting has enabled Pteroine fish to function as highly efficient predators.
collaborative foraging; animal communication; predator–prey interactions; Pteroine fish
Dispersal dynamics have significant consequences for ecological and evolutionary processes. Previous work has demonstrated that dispersal can be context-dependent. However, factors affecting dispersal are typically considered in isolation, despite the probability that individuals make dispersal decisions in response to multiple, possibly interacting factors. We examined whether two ecological factors, predation risk and intraspecific competition, have interactive effects on dispersal dynamics. We performed a factorial experiment in mesocosms using backswimmers (Notonecta undulata), flight-capable, semi-aquatic insects. Emigration rates increased with density, and increased with predation risk at intermediate densities; however, predation had minimal effects on emigration at high and low densities. Our results indicate that factorial experiments may be required to understand dispersal dynamics under realistic ecological conditions.
dispersal; predator–prey; Notonecta; context-dependent dispersal
Batesian mimicry evolves when individuals of a palatable species gain the selective advantage of reduced predation because they resemble a toxic species that predators avoid. Here, we evaluated whether—and in which direction—Batesian mimicry has evolved in a natural population of mimics following extirpation of their model. We specifically asked whether the precision of coral snake mimicry has evolved among kingsnakes from a region where coral snakes recently (1960) went locally extinct. We found that these kingsnakes have evolved more precise mimicry; by contrast, no such change occurred in a sympatric non-mimetic species or in conspecifics from a region where coral snakes remain abundant. Presumably, more precise mimicry has continued to evolve after model extirpation, because relatively few predator generations have passed, and the fitness costs incurred by predators that mistook a deadly coral snake for a kingsnake were historically much greater than those incurred by predators that mistook a kingsnake for a coral snake. Indeed, these results are consistent with prior theoretical and empirical studies, which revealed that only the most precise mimics are favoured as their model becomes increasingly rare. Thus, highly noxious models can generate an ‘evolutionary momentum’ that drives the further evolution of more precise mimicry—even after models go extinct.
Batesian mimicry; convergent evolution; evolutionary momentum; predation; rapid evolution
In species where females mate promiscuously, competition between ejaculates from different males to fertilize the ova is an important selective force shaping many aspects of male reproductive traits, such as sperm number, sperm length and sperm–sperm interactions. In eusocial Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants), males die shortly after mating and their reproductive success is ultimately limited by the amount of sperm stored in the queen's spermatheca. Multiple mating by queens is expected to impose intense selective pressure on males to optimize the transfer of sperm to the storage organ. Here, we report a remarkable case of cooperation between spermatozoa in the desert ant Cataglyphis savignyi. Males ejaculate bundles of 50–100 spermatozoa. Sperm bundles swim on average 51% faster than solitary sperm cells. Team swimming is expected to increase the amount of sperm stored in the queen spermatheca and, ultimately, enhance male posthumous fitness.
sexual selection; sperm cooperation; ants
Processes driving and maintaining disjunct genetic populations in marine systems are poorly understood, owing to a lack of evidence of hard barriers that could have shaped patterns of extant population structure. Here, we map two genetically divergent lineages of an obligate rocky shore fish, Clinus cottoides, and model sea-level change during the last 110 000 years to provide the first evidence of a vicariant event along the southern coastline of Africa. Results reveal that lowered sea levels during glacial periods drastically reduced rocky intertidal habitat, which may have isolated populations in two refugia for at least 40 000 years. Contemporary coastal dynamics and oceanography explain secondary contact between lineages. This scenario provides an explanation for the origin of population genetic breaks despite a lack of obvious present-day geographical barriers and highlights the need for including palaeo-oceanography in unravelling extant population patterns.
vicariance; southern Africa; sea-level change
Recent evidence indicates that evolution can occur on a contemporary time scale. However, the precise timing and patterns of phenotypic change are not well known. Reservoir construction severely alters selective regimes in aquatic habitats due to abrupt cessation of water flow. We examined the spatial and temporal patterns of evolution of a widespread North American stream fish (Pimephales vigilax) in response to stream impoundment. Gross morphological changes occurred in P. vigilax populations following dam construction in each of seven different rivers. Significant changes in body depth, head shape and fin placement were observed relative to fish populations that occupied the rivers prior to dam construction. These changes occurred over a very small number of generations and independent populations exhibited common responses to similar selective pressures. The magnitude of change was observed to be greatest in the first 15 generations post-impoundment, followed by continued but more gradual change thereafter. This pattern suggests early directional selection facilitated by phenotypic plasticity in the first 10–20 years, followed by potential stabilizing selection as populations reached a new adaptive peak (or variation became exhausted). This study provides evidence for rapid, apparently adaptive, phenotypic divergence of natural populations due to major environmental perturbations in a changing world.
rapid evolution; body shape; Cyprinidae
Predators are known to have both consumptive and non-consumptive effects (NCEs) on their prey that can cascade to affect lower trophic levels. Non-consumptive interactions often drive these effects, though the majority of studies have been conducted in aquatic- or herbivory-based systems. Here, we use a laboratory study to examine how linkages between an above-ground predator and a detritivore influence below-ground properties. We demonstrate that predators can depress soil metabolism (i.e. CO2 flux) and soil nutrient content via both consumptive and non-consumptive interactions with detritivores, and that the strength of isolated NCEs is comparable to changes resulting from predation. Changes in detritivore abundance and activity in response to predators and the fear of predation likely mediate interactions with the soil microbe community. Our results underscore the need to explore these mechanisms at large scales, considering the disproportionate extinction risk faced by predators and the importance of soils in the global carbon cycle.
predation; non-consumptive effects; detrital system
Allonursing, the nursing of another female's offspring, is commonly assumed to have evolved through the benefits of kin selection or reciprocity. The evolution of allonursing may also be influenced by variation in the possible costs to allonurses. The relative influence of costs and benefits on the incidence of allonursing in mammals remains unexplored. We show, using comparative analyses, that where females group with kin, the presence or the absence of allonursing is not associated with further variation in relatedness. Allonursing is most common where females produce litters; here the relative investment per offspring is low, and the costs of nursing additional young are likely to be reduced. Our results suggest that variation in the potential benefits is not associated with the distribution of allonursing, but that allonursing can quickly evolve when the costs to allonurses of nursing additional offspring are low.
allonursing; mammals; cooperation
A challenge in animal ecology is to link animal movement to demography. In general, reproducing and non-reproducing animals may show different movement patterns. Dramatic changes in reproductive status, such as the loss of an offspring during the course of migration, might also affect movement. Studies linking movement speed to reproductive status require individual monitoring of life-history events and hence are rare. Here, we link movement data from 98 GPS-collared female moose (Alces alces) to field observations of reproductive status and calf survival. We show that reproductive females move more quickly during migration than non-reproductive females. Further, the loss of a calf over the course of migration triggered a decrease in speed of the female. This is in contrast to what might be expected for females no longer constrained by an accompanying offspring. The observed patterns demonstrate that females of different reproductive status may have distinct movement patterns, and that the underlying motivation to move may be altered by a change in reproductive status during migration.
reproductive cost; reproductive status; velocity; moose; movement ecology; migration
Animals exposed to anthropogenic disturbance make trade-offs between perceived risk and the cost of leaving disturbed areas. Impact assessments tend to focus on overt behavioural responses leading to displacement, but trade-offs may also impact individual energy budgets through reduced foraging performance. Previous studies found no evidence for broad-scale displacement of harbour porpoises exposed to impulse noise from a 10 day two-dimensional seismic survey. Here, we used an array of passive acoustic loggers coupled with calibrated noise measurements to test whether the seismic survey influenced the activity patterns of porpoises remaining in the area. We showed that the probability of recording a buzz declined by 15% in the ensonified area and was positively related to distance from the source vessel. We also estimated received levels at the hydrophones and characterized the noise response curve. Our results demonstrate how environmental impact assessments can be developed to assess more subtle effects of noise disturbance on activity patterns and foraging efficiency.
activity budget; anthropogenic disturbance; environmental impact assessment; foraging efficiency
Superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) females use an incubation call to teach their embryos a vocal password to solicit parental feeding care after hatching. We previously showed that high call rate by the female was correlated with high call similarity in fairy-wren chicks, but not in cuckoo chicks, and that parent birds more often fed chicks with high call similarity. Hosts should be selected to increase their defence behaviour when the risk of brood parasitism is highest, such as when cuckoos are present in the area. Therefore, we experimentally test whether hosts increase call rate to embryos in the presence of a singing Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites basalis). Female fairy-wrens increased incubation call rate when we experimentally broadcast cuckoo song near the nest. Embryos had higher call similarity when females had higher incubation call rate. We interpret the findings of increased call rate as increased teaching effort in response to a signal of threat.
brood parasitism; frontline defence; host–parasite arms race; embryonic learning