When water is scarce, trees invest in the moderate carbon cost of supporting defensive ants to avoid the potentially high carbon cost of extremities being eaten.
Abiotic environmental variables strongly affect the outcomes of species interactions. For example, mutualistic interactions between species are often stronger when resources are limited. The effect might be indirect: water stress on plants can lead to carbon stress, which could alter carbon-mediated plant mutualisms. In mutualistic ant–plant symbioses, plants host ant colonies that defend them against herbivores. Here we show that the partners' investments in a widespread ant–plant symbiosis increase with water stress across 26 sites along a Mesoamerican precipitation gradient. At lower precipitation levels, Cordia alliodora trees invest more carbon in Azteca ants via phloem-feeding scale insects that provide the ants with sugars, and the ants provide better defense of the carbon-producing leaves. Under water stress, the trees have smaller carbon pools. A model of the carbon trade-offs for the mutualistic partners shows that the observed strategies can arise from the carbon costs of rare but extreme events of herbivory in the rainy season. Thus, water limitation, together with the risk of herbivory, increases the strength of a carbon-based mutualism.
The strength of ecological interactions, measured as the costs or benefits sustained by each species, depends on the environmental context in which the interaction occurs. Stressful environmental conditions should favor trading between species that can produce a given resource or service at the lowest cost. Mutualisms, in which both interacting species incur a net benefit, may thus strengthen under stressful conditions. Here we examine an ant–plant mutualism, in which plants provide food and housing for ants and ants defend plants against leaf-eating insects, along a four-fold annual precipitation gradient comprising tropical sites in Mexico and Central America. We show that the strength of the mutualism, in terms of carbon investment by plants and leaf defense by ants, increases as water availability decreases. Carbon shortages are more frequent where water is scarce and increase the risk that plants will die if all of their leaves are eaten by herbivores. Trees appear to invest more in ant defenders when water is scarce to insure themselves against extreme herbivory. Water availability thus indirectly determines the outcomes of this ant–plant mutualism, which suggests that the increasing frequency of extreme climate events in the tropics will have important ecological consequences.
Computed tomography (CT) chest is widely used as an adjunct to clinical examination and pulmonary function tests in the evaluation of unexplained dyspnoea. In such patients, heterogeneous lung attenuation is a common finding on CT. Heterogeneous lungs can be caused by varying regional aeration, varying regional perfusion, and ground glass opacities (GGO) representing airspace or interstitial pathology. It does not serve the referring clinicians or the patients well if the radiology report simply mentions the heterogeneity of the lungs without due analysis of the cause of heterogeneity and a meaningful differential diagnosis. Therefore, it is imperative for the radiologist and the treating pulmonologist to have an in-depth understanding of the pathogenesis of pulmonary heterogeneity. This, in conjunction with clinical data, can narrow the differential diagnosis or, at times, lead to specific diagnoses. The purpose of this review is to familiarize readers with the CT representation of heterogeneities in aeration and perfusion of the lung, relate patterns of GGO to underlying pathology, and provide illustrative case studies highlighting the radiological approach to heterogeneous lungs.
Ground glass opacity; heterogeneous lungs; heterogeneous lung attenuation; mosaic attenuation; mosaic perfusion
Obesity, metabolic syndrome, and asthma are all rapidly increasing globally. Substantial emerging evidence suggests that these three conditions are epidemiologically and mechanistically linked. Since the link between obesity and asthma appears to extend beyond mechanical pulmonary disadvantage, molecular understanding is necessary. Insulin resistance is a strong, independent risk factor for asthma development, but it is unknown whether a direct effect of insulin on the lung is involved. This review summarizes current knowledge regarding the effect of insulin on cellular components of the lung and highlights the molecular consequences of insulin-related metabolic signaling cascades that could adversely affect lung structure and function. Examples include airway smooth muscle proliferation and contractility and regulatory signaling networks that are associated with asthma. These aspects of insulin signaling provide mechanistic insight into the clinical evidence for the links between obesity, metabolic syndrome, and airway diseases, setting the stage for novel therapeutic avenues targeting these conditions.
Studying ultrastructural changes could reveal novel pathophysiology of obese-asthmatic condition as existing concepts in asthma pathogenesis are based on the histological changes of the diseased airway. While asthma is defined in functional terms, the potential of electron microscopy (EM) in providing cellular and subcellular detail is underutilized. With this view, we have performed transmission EM in the lungs from allergic mice that show key features of asthma and high-fat- or high-fructose-fed mice that mimicked metabolic syndrome to illustrate the ultrastructural changes. The primary focus was epithelial injury and metaplasia, which are cardinal features of asthma and initiate airway remodeling. EM findings of the allergically inflamed mouse lungs correlate with known features of human asthma such as increased mitochondria in airway smooth muscle, platelet activation and subepithelial myofibroblasts. Interestingly, we found a clear and unambiguous evidence to suggest that ciliated cells can become goblet cells using immunoelectron microscopy. Additionally, we show for the first time the stressed mitochondria in the bronchial epithelia of high-fat- or high-fructose-fed mice even without allergen exposure. These results may stimulate interest in using EM in understanding novel pathological mechanisms for different subtypes of asthma including obese asthma.
Anurag Agrawal and colleagues describe their experience of setting up a readily deployable cargo container-based health center in rural India.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are non-uniformly distributed in genomes and ~30% of the miRNAs in the human genome are clustered. In this study we have focused on the imprinted miRNA cluster miR-379/miR-656 on 14q32.31 (hereafter C14) to test their coordinated function. We have analyzed expression profile of >1000 human miRNAs in >1400 samples representing seven different human tissue types obtained from cancer patients along with matched and unmatched controls.
We found 68% of the miRNAs in this cluster to be significantly downregulated in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), 61% downregulated in kidney renal clear cell carcinoma (KIRC), 46% in breast invasive carcinoma (BRCA) and 14% in ovarian serous cystadenocarcinoma (OV). On a genome-wide scale C14 miRNAs accounted for 12-30% of the total downregulated miRNAs in different cancers. Pathway enrichment for the predicted targets of C14 miRNA was significant for cancer pathways, especially Glioma (p< 3.77x10-6, FDR<0.005). The observed downregulation was confirmed in GBM patients by real-time PCR, where 79% of C14 miRNAs (34/43) showed downregulation. In GBM samples, hypermethylation at C14 locus (p<0.003) and downregulation of MEF2, a crucial transcription factor for the cluster was observed which likely contribute to the observed downregulation of the entire miRNA cluster.
We provide compelling evidence that the entire C14 miRNA cluster is a tumor suppressor locus involved in multiple cancers, especially in GBM, and points toward a general mechanism of coordinated function for clustered miRNAs.
Reviewed by: Prof. Gregory J Goodall and Dr. Alexander Max Burroughs
MiRNAs; Cluster; GBM; DLK1-DIO3; MEF2; Tumor Suppressor; Cancer
The mechanisms underlying asthmatic airway epithelial injury are not clear. 12/15-lipoxygenase (an ortholog of human 15-LOX-1), which is induced by IL-13, is associated with mitochondrial degradation in reticulocytes at physiological conditions. In this study, we showed that 12/15-LOX expressed in nonepithelial cells caused epithelial injury in asthma pathogenesis. While 12/15-LOX overexpression or IL-13 administration to naïve mice showed airway epithelial injury, 12/15-LOX knockout/knockdown in allergic mice reduced airway epithelial injury. The constitutive expression of 15-LOX-1 in bronchial epithelia of normal human lungs further indicated that epithelial 15-LOX-1 may not cause epithelial injury. 12/15-LOX expression is increased in various inflammatory cells in allergic mice. Though non-epithelial cells such as macrophages or fibroblasts released 12/15-LOX metabolites upon IL-13 induction, bronchial epithelia didn't release. Further 12-S-HETE, arachidonic acid metabolite of 12/15-LOX leads to epithelial injury. These findings suggested 12/15-LOX expressed in non-epithelial cells such as macrophages and fibroblasts leads to bronchial epithelial injury.
Herbivores have been hypothesized to adapt locally to variation in plant defences and such adaptation could facilitate novel associations in the context of biological invasions. Here, we show that in the native range of the viburnum leaf beetle (VLB, Pyrrhalta viburni), two populations of geographically isolated hosts—Viburnum opulus and Viburnum tinus—have divergent defences against VLB oviposition: negative versus positive density-dependent egg-crushing wound responses, respectively. Populations of beetles coexisting with each host show an adaptive behavioural response: aggregative versus non-aggregative oviposition on V. opulus and V. tinus, respectively. In parallel, we show that in North America, where VLB is invasive, defences of three novel hosts are negatively density-dependent, and beetles' oviposition behaviour is aggregative. Thus, local adaptation to plant defences has the potential to facilitate the invasion of herbivores onto novel hosts.
insect oviposition strategy; invasion ecology; adaptive deme hypothesis; Chrysomelidae; plant–insect interactions; plant defence theory
Lung cancer is one of the deadliest cancers worldwide, with the highest incidence and mortality amongst all cancers. While the prognosis of lung cancer is generally grim, with 5-year survival rates of only 15%, there is hope, and evidence, that early detection of lung cancer can reduce mortality. Today, only computed tomography screening has shown to lead to early detection and reduction in mortality, but is limited by being anatomic in nature, unable to differentiate between inflammatory and neoplastic pathways, and therefore, susceptible to false positives. There is increasing interest in biomarkers for lung cancer, especially those that predict metastatic risk. Some biomarkers like DNA mutations and epigenetic changes potentially require tissue from the at-risk site; some like serum proteins and miRNAs are minimally invasive, but may not be specific to the lung. In comparison, emerging biomarkers from exhaled breath, like volatile organic compounds (VOC), and exhaled breath condensate, e.g., small molecules and nucleic acids, have the potential to combine the best of both. This mini review is intended to provide an overview of the field, briefly discussing the potential of what is known and highlighting the exciting recent developments, particularly with miRNAs and VOCs.
Exhaled breath; lung cancer; miRNA; volatile organic compounds
Airway epithelial injury is the hallmark of various respiratory diseases, but its mechanisms remain poorly understood. While 13-S-hydroxyoctadecadienoic acid (13-S-HODE) is produced in high concentration during mitochondrial degradation in reticulocytes little is known about its role in asthma pathogenesis. Here, we show that extracellular 13-S-HODE induces mitochondrial dysfunction and airway epithelial apoptosis. This is associated with features of severe airway obstruction, lung remodeling, increase in epithelial stress related proinflammatory cytokines and drastic airway neutrophilia in mouse. Further, 13-S-HODE induced features are attenuated by inhibiting Transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel, Vanilloid-type 1 (TRPV1) both in mouse model and human bronchial epithelial cells. These findings are relevant to human asthma, as 13-S-HODE levels are increased in human asthmatic airways. Blocking of 13-S-HODE activity or disruption of TRPV1 activity attenuated airway injury and asthma mimicking features in murine allergic airway inflammation. These findings indicate that 13-S-HODE induces mitochondrial dysfunction and airway epithelial injury.
Parasitic wasps that develop inside herbivorous hosts alter the volatiles produced by plants in response to the damage, thus giving away the presence of the parasitoid larvae to their hyperparasitoid enemies.
Plants respond to herbivory with the emission of induced plant volatiles. These volatiles may attract parasitic wasps (parasitoids) that attack the herbivores. Although in this sense the emission of volatiles has been hypothesized to be beneficial to the plant, it is still debated whether this is also the case under natural conditions because other organisms such as herbivores also respond to the emitted volatiles. One important group of organisms, the enemies of parasitoids, hyperparasitoids, has not been included in this debate because little is known about their foraging behaviour. Here, we address whether hyperparasitoids use herbivore-induced plant volatiles to locate their host. We show that hyperparasitoids find their victims through herbivore-induced plant volatiles emitted in response to attack by caterpillars that in turn had been parasitized by primary parasitoids. Moreover, only one of two species of parasitoids affected herbivore-induced plant volatiles resulting in the attraction of more hyperparasitoids than volatiles from plants damaged by healthy caterpillars. This resulted in higher levels of hyperparasitism of the parasitoid that indirectly gave away its presence through its effect on plant odours induced by its caterpillar host. Here, we provide evidence for a role of compounds in the oral secretion of parasitized caterpillars that induce these changes in plant volatile emission. Our results demonstrate that the effects of herbivore-induced plant volatiles should be placed in a community-wide perspective that includes species in the fourth trophic level to improve our understanding of the ecological functions of volatile release by plants. Furthermore, these findings suggest that the impact of species in the fourth trophic level should also be considered when developing Integrated Pest Management strategies aimed at optimizing the control of insect pests using parasitoids.
In nature, plants often release volatiles in response to damage by herbivores (e.g., by caterpillars), and these can indirectly help defend the plants. Indeed, it is well documented that volatiles can recruit the natural enemies of herbivores, such as predators and parasitoid wasps, whose offspring feed on and develop within their caterpillar hosts. However, such induced plant odours can also be detected by other organisms. One important group of organisms, hyperparasitoids, the enemies of the parasitoids that indirectly benefit the plants, have not been included in this trophic web because so little is known about their foraging behaviour. Here, using a combination of laboratory and field experiments, we demonstrate that hyperparasitoid wasps also take advantage of the odours that plants produce in response to the feeding by caterpillars. The larvae of parasitic wasps developing inside the caterpillar alter the composition of the oral secretions of their herbivorous host and thereby affect the cocktail of volatiles the plant produces. The hyperparasitoids on the lookout for their parasitoid prey can preferentially detect infected caterpillars, although not all parasitoid wasps gave away their presence through this host–plant interaction. We conclude that herbivore-induced plant volatiles can affect the interaction among parasitoids and their enemies and thereby may reduce the indirect defence accrued for the plant.
The transcription factor NF-κB regulates numerous inflammatory diseases, and proteins involved in the NF-κB-activating signaling pathway are important therapeutic targets. In human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), TNF-α-induced IκBα degradation and p65/RelA phosphorylation regulate NF-κB activation. These are mediated by IKKs (IκB kinases) viz. IKKα, β and γ which receive activating signals from upstream kinases such as Akt. Akt is known to be positively regulated by PI-3K (phosphoinositide-3-kinase) and differentially regulated via Protein kinase A (PKA) in various cell types. However, the involvement of PKA/Akt cross talk in regulating NF-κB in HUVECs has not been explored yet. Here, we examined the involvement of PKA/Akt cross-talk in HUVECs using a novel compound, 2-methyl-pyran-4-one-3-O-β-D-2′,3′,4′,6′-tetra-O-acetyl glucopyranoside (MPTAG). We observed that MPTAG does not directly inhibit IKK-β but prevents TNF-α-induced activation of IKK-β by blocking its association with Akt and thereby inhibits NF-κB activation. Interestingly, our results also revealed that inhibitory effect of MPTAG on Akt and NF-κB activation was unaffected by wortmannin, and was completely abolished by H-89 treatment in these cells. Thus, MPTAG-mediated inhibition of TNF-α-induced Akt activation was independent of PI-3K and dependent on PKA. Most importantly, MPTAG restores the otherwise repressed activity of PKA and inhibits the TNF-α-induced Akt phosphorylation at both Thr308 and Ser473 residues. Thus, we demonstrate for the first time the involvement of PKA/Akt cross talk in NF-κB activation in HUVECs. Also, MPTAG could be useful as a lead molecule for developing potent therapeutic molecules for diseases where NF-κB activation plays a key role.
Airway mucin secretion and MC (mast cell) degranulation must be tightly controlled for homoeostasis of the lungs and immune system respectively. We found the exocytic protein Munc18b to be highly expressed in mouse airway epithelial cells and MCs, and localized to the apical pole of airway secretory cells. To address its functions, we created a mouse with a severely hypomorphic Munc18b allele such that protein expression in heterozygotes was reduced by ~50%. Homozygous mutant mice were not viable, but heterozygotes showed a ~50% reduction in stimulated release of mucin from epithelial cells and granule contents from MCs. The defect in MCs affected only regulated secretion and not constitutive or transporter-mediated secretion. The severity of passive cutaneous anaphylaxis was also reduced by ~50%, showing that reduction of Munc18b expression results in an attenuation of physiological responses dependent on MC degranulation. The Munc18b promoter is controlled by INR (initiator), Sp1 (specificity protein 1), Ets, CRE (cAMP-response element), GRE (glucocorticoid-response element), GATA and E-box elements in airway epithelial cells; however, protein levels did not change during mucous metaplasia induced by allergic inflammation. Taken together, the results of the present study identify Munc18b as an essential gene that is a limiting component of the exocytic machinery of epithelial cells and MCs.
exocytosis; mast cell; mucin; mucus; Munc18; secretion; AB-PAS, Alcian Blue/periodic acid/Schiff reagent; bHLH, basic helix–loop–helix; CCSP, Clara cell secretory protein; Clca3, chloride channel, calcium-activated, family member 3; CRE, cAMP-response element; DNP, 2,4-dinitrophenol; FBS, fetal bovine serum; FcϵRIα, high-affinity IgE receptor, α subunit; FRT, flippase recognition target; GAPDH, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase; GRE, glucocorticoid-response element; HA, haemagglutinin; HSA, human serum albumin; HRP, horseradish peroxidase; IL-3, interleukin-3; INR, initiator; ISH, in situ hybridization; MC, mast cell; mBMMC, mouse bone-marrow-derived MC; mClca3, mouse Clca3; MFI, mean fluorescent intensity; mtCC, mouse transformed Clara cell; NK, natural killer; OCT, optimal cutting temperature compound; PAFS, periodic acid/fluorescent Schiff reagent; PBST, PBS containing 0.05% Tween 20; PGD2, prostaglandin D2; PGK, phosphoglucokinase; SCF, stem cell factor; SM, Sec1/Munc18; SNAP, soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor-attachment protein; SNARE, SNAP receptor; Stxbp2, syntaxin-binding protein 2; TK, thymidine kinase; TNFα, tumour necrosis factor α; WT, wild-type; YFP, yellow fluorescent protein
Social insects defend their own colonies and some species also protect their mutualist partners. In mutualisms with aphids, ants typically feed on honeydew produced by aphids and, in turn guard and shelter aphid colonies from insect natural enemies. Here we report that Formica podzolica ants tending milkweed aphids, Aphis asclepiadis, protect aphid colonies from lethal fungal infections caused by an obligate aphid pathogen, Pandora neoaphidis. In field experiments, bodies of fungal-killed aphids were quickly removed from ant-tended aphid colonies. Ant workers were also able to detect infective conidia on the cuticle of living aphids and responded by either removing or grooming these aphids. Our results extend the long-standing view of ants as mutualists and protectors of aphids by demonstrating focused sanitizing and quarantining behaviour that may lead to reduced disease transmission in aphid colonies.
ant–aphid interactions; social insects; behaviour; mutualism; entomopathogenic fungi; common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
When the optimal phenotype differs among environments, adaptive phenotypic plasticity can evolve unless constraints impede such evolution. Costs and limits of plasticity have been proposed as important constraints on the evolution of plasticity, yet confusion exists over their distinction. We attempt to clarify these concepts by reviewing their categorization and measurement, highlighting how costs and limits are defined in different currencies (and may describe the same phenomenon). Conclusions from studies that measure the costs of plasticity have been equivocal, but we caution that these conclusions may be premature owing to a potentially common correlation between environment-specific trait values and the magnitude of trait plasticities (i.e. multi-collinearity) that results in imprecise and/or biased estimates of the costs. Meanwhile, our understanding of the limits of plasticity, and how they may be underlain by the costs of plasticity, is still in its infancy. Based on our re-evaluation of these constraints, we discuss areas for future research.
adaptation; canalization; constraint; cost of defence; homeostasis; phenotypic stability
Oak galls are spectacular extended phenotypes of gallwasp genes in host oak tissues and have evolved complex morphologies that serve, in part, to exclude parasitoid natural enemies.
Parasitoids and their insect herbivore hosts have coevolved to produce diverse communities comprising about a third of all animal species. The factors structuring these communities, however, remain poorly understood. An emerging theme in community ecology is the need to consider the effects of host traits, shaped by both natural selection and phylogenetic history, on associated communities of natural enemies. Here we examine the impact of host traits and phylogenetic relatedness on 48 ecologically closed and species-rich communities of parasitoids attacking gall-inducing wasps on oaks. Gallwasps induce the development of spectacular and structurally complex galls whose species- and generation-specific morphologies are the extended phenotypes of gallwasp genes. All the associated natural enemies attack their concealed hosts through gall tissues, and several structural gall traits have been shown to enhance defence against parasitoid attack. Here we explore the significance of these and other host traits in predicting variation in parasitoid community structure across gallwasp species. In particular, we test the “Enemy Hypothesis,” which predicts that galls with similar morphology will exclude similar sets of parasitoids and therefore have similar parasitoid communities. Having controlled for phylogenetic patterning in host traits and communities, we found significant correlations between parasitoid community structure and several gall structural traits (toughness, hairiness, stickiness), supporting the Enemy Hypothesis. Parasitoid community structure was also consistently predicted by components of the hosts' spatiotemporal niche, particularly host oak taxonomy and gall location (e.g., leaf versus bud versus seed). The combined explanatory power of structural and spatiotemporal traits on community structure can be high, reaching 62% in one analysis. The observed patterns derive mainly from partial niche specialisation of highly generalist parasitoids with broad host ranges (>20 hosts), rather than strict separation of enemies with narrower host ranges, and so may contribute to maintenance of the richness of generalist parasitoids in gallwasp communities. Though evolutionary escape from parasitoids might most effectively be achieved via changes in host oak taxon, extreme conservatism in this trait for gallwasps suggests that selection is more likely to have acted on gall morphology and location. Any escape from parasitoids associated with evolutionary shifts in these traits has probably only been transient, however, due to subsequent recruitment of parasitoid species already attacking other host galls with similar trait combinations.
Herbivorous insects, such as the wasps that induce trees to make galls, and the parasitoids that attack (and ultimately kill) the wasps comprise about a third of all animal species, but it remains unclear what determines the structure of these complex coevolving communities. Here, we analyzed 48 parasitoid communities attacking different cynipid wasps that live and feed on oak trees. These communities are diverse and “closed,” with each centered upon the characteristic gall induced by a given cynipid wasp species. The often spectacular and complex galls are extended phenotypes of gallwasp genes and have been suggested to evolve as gallwasp defenses against their parasitoid enemies—“the Enemy Hypothesis.” Our analysis showed that similar parasitoid communities occurred on galls with similar structural traits (e.g., toughness, hairiness, stickiness), supporting the Enemy Hypothesis. We also found similar communities on galls that co-occur frequently in time and space; in particular, those occurring on the same oak species and same plant organ (e.g., leaf, bud, seed). Our results suggest that cynipid wasps might escape particular parasitoids via evolutionary shifts in the structure or location of their galls. However, escape may often be transient due to recruitment of new enemies already attacking other host galls with similar trait combinations.
Predicting the allergenicity of proteins is challenging. We considered the possibility that the properties of the intact protein that may alter the likelihood of being taken up by antigen presenting cells, may be useful adjuncts in predicting allergens and non-allergens in silico. It has been shown that negatively charged acidic proteins are preferentially processed by dendritic cells.
Datasets (aeroallergen, food-allergen and non-allergen) for in-silico study were obtained from public databases. Isoelectric point (pI), net charge, and electrostatic potential (EP) were calculated from the protein sequence (for pI and net charge) or predicted structure (for EP).
Allergens and non allergens differed significantly in pI, net charge, and EP (p<0.0001). Cluster analysis based on these parameters resulted in well defined clusters. Non-allergens were characterized by neutral to basic pI (mean±SE, 7.6±0.16) and positive charge. In contrast allergens were acidic (5.7±0.15) and negatively charged. Surface electrostatic potentials calculated from predicted structures were mostly negative for allergens and mostly positive for non-allergens. The classification accuracy for non-allergens was superior to that for allergens. Thus neutral to basic pI, positive charge, and positive electrostatic potentials characterize non-allergens, and seem rare in allergens (p<0.0001). It may be possible to predict reduced likelihood of allergenicity in such proteins, but this needs to be prospectively validated.
Ecological communities are structured in part by evolutionary interactions among their members. A number of recent studies incorporating phylogenetics into community ecology have upheld the paradigm that competition drives ecological divergence among species of the same guild. However, the role of other interspecific interactions, in particular positive interactions such as mutualism, remains poorly explored. We characterized the ecological niche and inferred phylogenetic relationships among members of a diverse community of neotropical Müllerian mimetic butterflies. Müllerian mimicry is one of the best studied examples of mutualism, in which unpalatable species converge in wing pattern locally to advertize their toxicity to predators. We provide evidence that mutualistic interactions can drive convergence along multiple ecological axes, outweighing both phylogeny and competition in shaping community structure. Our findings imply that ecological communities are adaptively assembled to a much greater degree than commonly suspected. In addition, our results show that phenotype and ecology are strongly linked and support the idea that mimicry can cause ecological speciation through multiple cascading effects on species' biology.
What governs the composition of communities of species? Competition promotes divergence in behavior and habitat, allowing species to co-exist. But the effects of other interactions, such as mutualism, are less well understood. We examined the interplay between mutualistic interactions, common ancestry and competition in mimetic butterflies, one of the best studied examples of mutualism, in which species converge in wing pattern to advertize their toxicity to predators. We showed that mutualism drives convergence in flight height and forest habitat, and that these effects outweigh common ancestry (which should lead related species to be more similar) and competition (which promotes ecological divergence). Our findings imply that species that benefit from one another might evolve to form more tightly knit local communities, suggesting that adaptation is a more important process affecting community composition than is commonly suspected. Our results also support the idea that mimicry can cause speciation, through its multiple cascading effects on species' biology.
Müllerian mimicry, a classic mutualism, is associated with microhabitat convergence in tropical butterflies, outweighing both common ancestry and competition. Positive interactions may thus be more important in community assembly than commonly assumed.
Mutualisms are interspecific interactions in which both players benefit. Explaining their maintenance is problematic, because cheaters should outcompete cooperative conspecifics, leading to mutualism instability. Monoecious figs (Ficus) are pollinated by host-specific wasps (Agaonidae), whose larvae gall ovules in their “fruits” (syconia). Female pollinating wasps oviposit directly into Ficus ovules from inside the receptive syconium. Across Ficus species, there is a widely documented segregation of pollinator galls in inner ovules and seeds in outer ovules. This pattern suggests that wasps avoid, or are prevented from ovipositing into, outer ovules, and this results in mutualism stability. However, the mechanisms preventing wasps from exploiting outer ovules remain unknown. We report that in Ficus rubiginosa, offspring in outer ovules are vulnerable to attack by parasitic wasps that oviposit from outside the syconium. Parasitism risk decreases towards the centre of the syconium, where inner ovules provide enemy-free space for pollinator offspring. We suggest that the resulting gradient in offspring viability is likely to contribute to selection on pollinators to avoid outer ovules, and by forcing wasps to focus on a subset of ovules, reduces their galling rates. This previously unidentified mechanism may therefore contribute to mutualism persistence independent of additional factors that invoke plant defences against pollinator oviposition, or physiological constraints on pollinators that prevent oviposition in all available ovules.
Much biodiversity ultimately relies on cooperation between different species, interactions called mutualisms. Benefits to one partner are gained by obtaining resources from the other, presenting a problem: what prevents one partner from exploiting the other at an unsustainable level? Fig trees are pollinated by tiny wasps that only develop successfully themselves by each destroying a single female fig flower that would otherwise become a seed. Wasps tend to occur in long flowers near the fruit's centre, with seeds developing near the outer wall. Female wasps therefore favour long flowers for their offspring, and leave short flowers to develop into seeds. To understand why wasps exploit fig trees sustainably, we need to explain why this preference has evolved. The fig-pollinator mutualism is exploited by small parasitic wasps that attack pollinators from outside the fruit. In three Australasian fig species, we found that pollinator offspring in the outer layer of flowers were more likely to be parasitized than those in the inner layer. Our data thus indicate that long flowers provide enemy-free space for pollinator offspring at the fruit's centre. We suggest that the provision of variable length flowers by fig trees may contribute to mutualism stability by indirectly involving a third party: parasitic wasps, previously regarded as detrimental to both mutualists.
The larvae of pollinating wasps in the inner flowers of figs are safe from parasitic wasps. Parasites may contribute to stability in the fig-pollinator mutualism because outer flowers avoided by pollinators tend to develop into seeds.
Because coevolution takes place across a broad scale of time and space, it is virtually impossible to understand its dynamics and trajectories by studying a single pair of interacting populations at one time. Comparing populations across a range of an interaction, especially for long-lived species, can provide insight into these features of coevolution by sampling across a diverse set of conditions and histories. We used measures of prey traits (tetrodotoxin toxicity in newts) and predator traits (tetrodotoxin resistance of snakes) to assess the degree of phenotypic mismatch across the range of their coevolutionary interaction. Geographic patterns of phenotypic exaggeration were similar in prey and predators, with most phenotypically elevated localities occurring along the central Oregon coast and central California. Contrary to expectations, however, these areas of elevated traits did not coincide with the most intense coevolutionary selection. Measures of functional trait mismatch revealed that over one-third of sampled localities were so mismatched that reciprocal selection could not occur given current trait distributions. Estimates of current locality-specific interaction selection gradients confirmed this interpretation. In every case of mismatch, predators were “ahead” of prey in the arms race; the converse escape of prey was never observed. The emergent pattern suggests a dynamic in which interacting species experience reciprocal selection that drives arms-race escalation of both prey and predator phenotypes at a subset of localities across the interaction. This coadaptation proceeds until the evolution of extreme phenotypes by predators, through genes of large effect, allows snakes to, at least temporarily, escape the arms race.
Arms races between natural enemies can lead to the rapid evolution of extreme traits, high degrees of specialization, and the formation of new species. They also serve as the ecological model for the evolution of drug resistance by diseases and for host–pathogen interactions in general. Revealing who wins these arms races and how they do so is critical to our understanding of these processes. Capitalizing on the geographic mosaic of species interactions, we examined the dynamics of the arms race between snakes and their toxic newt prey. Garter snakes in some populations have evolved dramatic resistance to the tetrodotoxin defense of the their local prey. By evaluating the pattern of mismatches between toxicity and resistance, we discovered that predators sometimes escape the arms race through the evolution of extreme resistance, but that prey never come out ahead. The reason for this one-sided outcome appears to depend on the molecular genetic basis of resistance in snakes, wherein changes to a single amino acid residue can confer huge differences in resistance.
Who wins in the arms race between predators and prey? In the interaction between snakes and toxic newts, predators sometimes escape the arms race through the evolution of extreme resistance, but prey never come out ahead.
Although many organisms show daily rhythms in their activity patterns, the mechanistic causes of these patterns are poorly understood. Here we show that host plant volatiles affect the nocturnal behavior of the caterpillar
Mythimna separata. Irrespective of light status, the caterpillars behaved as if they were in the dark when exposed to volatiles emitted from host plants (either uninfested or infested by conspecific larvae) in the dark. Likewise, irrespective of light status, the caterpillars behaved as if they were in the light when exposed to volatiles emitted from plants in the light. Caterpillars apparently utilize plant volatile information to sense their environment and modulate their daily activity patterns, thereby potentially avoiding the threat of parasitism.
The nocturnal feeding behavior of the caterpillar
Mythimna separata is mediated by the volatiles released by the host plant, rather than by photoperiod, and may help the caterpillars avoid attack from parasitoids.