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author:("ulcer, Tobias")
1.  Phylogeography and Conservation Genetics of the Common Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis, on Islands at Its Northern Range 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(2):e0117113.
Populations at range limits are often characterized by lower genetic diversity, increased genetic isolation and differentiation relative to populations at the core of geographical ranges. Furthermore, it is increasingly recognized that populations situated at range limits might be the result of human introductions rather than natural dispersal. It is therefore important to document the origin and genetic diversity of marginal populations to establish conservation priorities. In this study, we investigate the phylogeography and genetic structure of peripheral populations of the common European wall lizard, Podarcis muralis, on Jersey (Channel Islands, UK) and in the Chausey archipelago. We sequenced a fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene in 200 individuals of P. muralis to infer the phylogeography of the island populations using Bayesian approaches. We also genotyped 484 individuals from 21 populations at 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci to evaluate the genetic structure and diversity of island and mainland (Western France) populations. We detected four unique haplotypes in the island populations that formed a sub-clade within the Western France clade. There was a significant reduction in genetic diversity (HO, HE and AR) of the island populations in relation to the mainland. The small fragmented island populations at the northern range margin of the common wall lizard distribution are most likely native, with genetic differentiation reflecting isolation following sea level increase approximately 7000 BP. Genetic diversity is lower on islands than in marginal populations on the mainland, potentially as a result of early founder effects or long-term isolation. The combination of restriction to specific localities and an inability to expand their range into adjacent suitable locations might make the island populations more vulnerable to extinction.
PMCID: PMC4319766  PMID: 25659074
2.  The Information Value of Non-Genetic Inheritance in Plants and Animals 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(1):e0116996.
Parents influence the development of their offspring in many ways beyond the transmission of DNA. This includes transfer of epigenetic states, nutrients, antibodies and hormones, and behavioural interactions after birth. While the evolutionary consequences of such non-genetic inheritance are increasingly well understood, less is known about how inheritance mechanisms evolve. Here, we present a simple but versatile model to explore the adaptive evolution of non-genetic inheritance. Our model is based on a switch mechanism that produces alternative phenotypes in response to different inputs, including genes and non-genetic factors transmitted from parents and the environment experienced during development. This framework shows how genetic and non-genetic inheritance mechanisms and environmental conditions can act as cues by carrying correlational information about future selective conditions. Differential use of these cues is manifested as different degrees of genetic, parental or environmental morph determination. We use this framework to evaluate the conditions favouring non-genetic inheritance, as opposed to genetic determination of phenotype or within-generation plasticity, by applying it to two putative examples of adaptive non-genetic inheritance: maternal effects on seed germination in plants and transgenerational phase shift in desert locusts. Our simulation models show how the adaptive value of non-genetic inheritance depends on its mechanism, the pace of environmental change, and life history characteristics.
PMCID: PMC4300080  PMID: 25603120
3.  Neutral and adaptive explanations for an association between caste-biased gene expression and rate of sequence evolution 
Frontiers in Genetics  2014;5:297.
The castes of social insects provide outstanding opportunities to address the causes and consequences of evolution of discrete phenotypes, i.e., polymorphisms. Here we focus on recently described patterns of a positive association between the degree of caste-specific gene expression and the rate of sequence evolution. We outline how neutral and adaptive evolution can cause genes that are morph-biased in their expression profiles to exhibit historical signatures of faster or slower sequence evolution compared to unbiased genes. We conclude that evaluation of different hypotheses will benefit from (i) reconstruction of the phylogenetic origin of biased expression and changes in rates of sequence evolution, and (ii) replicated data on gene expression variation within versus between morphs. Although the data are limited at present, we suggest that the observed phylogenetic and intra-population variation in gene expression lends support to the hypothesis that the association between caste-biased expression and rate of sequence evolution largely is a result of neutral processes.
PMCID: PMC4148897  PMID: 25221570
polymorphism; social insects; phenotypic plasticity; neutral evolution; antagonistic pleiotropy
4.  Transgenerational sex determination: the embryonic environment experienced by a male affects offspring sex ratio 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:2709.
Conditions experienced during embryonic development can have lasting effects, even carrying across generations. Most evidence for transgenerational effects comes from studies of female mammals, with much less known about egg-laying organisms or paternally-mediated effects. Here we show that offspring sex can be affected by the incubation temperature its father experiences years earlier. We incubated eggs of an Australian lizard with temperature-dependent sex determination under three thermal regimes; some eggs were given an aromatase inhibitor to produce sons at temperatures that usually produce only daughters. Offspring were raised to maturity and freely interbred within field enclosures. After incubating eggs of the subsequent generation and assigning parentage, we found that the developmental temperature experienced by a male significantly influences the sex of his future progeny. This transgenerational effect on sex ratio may reflect an epigenetic influence on paternally-inherited DNA. Clearly, sex determination in reptiles is far more complex than is currently envisaged.
PMCID: PMC3776964  PMID: 24048344
5.  More on how and why: a response to commentaries 
Biology & Philosophy  2013;28(5):793-810.
We are grateful to the commentators for taking the time to respond to our article. Too many interesting and important points have been raised for us to tackle them all in this response, and so in the below we have sought to draw out the major themes. These include problems with both the term ‘ultimate causation’ and the proximate-ultimate causation dichotomy more generally, clarification of the meaning of reciprocal causation, discussion of issues related to the nature of development and phenotypic plasticity and their roles in evolution, and consideration of the need for an extended evolutionary synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3745615  PMID: 23970808
Proximate causation; Ultimate causation; Mayr; Niche construction; Developmental plasticity; Developmental bias; Extended evolutionary synthesis
6.  Strategic female reproductive investment in response to male attractiveness in birds 
Life-history theory predicts that individuals should adjust their reproductive effort according to the expected fitness returns on investment. Because sexually selected male traits should provide honest information about male genetic or phenotypic quality, females may invest more when paired with attractive males. However, there is substantial disagreement in the literature whether such differential allocation is a general pattern. Using a comparative meta-regression approach, we show that female birds generally invest more into reproduction when paired with attractive males, both in terms of egg size and number as well as food provisioning. However, whereas females of species with bi-parental care tend to primarily increase the number of eggs when paired with attractive males, females of species with female-only care produce larger, but not more, eggs. These patterns may reflect adaptive differences in female allocation strategies arising from variation in the signal content of sexually selected male traits between systems of parental care. In contrast to reproductive effort, female allocation of immune-stimulants, anti-oxidants and androgens to the egg yolk was not consistently increased when mated to attractive males, which probably reflects the context-dependent costs and benefits of those yolk compounds to females and offspring.
PMCID: PMC3223647  PMID: 21632630
maternal effects; reproductive investment; differential allocation; parental care; birds; phenotypic plasticity
7.  Transgenerational effects of food availability on age at maturity and reproductive output in an asexual collembolan species 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):755-758.
Transgenerational effects of environmental conditions can have several important ecological and evolutionary implications. We conducted a fully factorial experiment manipulating food availability across three generations in the collembolan Folsomia candida, a springtail species that inhabits soil and leaf litter environments which vary in resource availability. Maternal and grandmaternal food availability influenced age at maturity and reproductive output. These effects appear to be cumulative rather than adaptive transgenerational life-history adjustments. Such cumulative effects can profoundly influence eco-evolutionary dynamics in both stable and fluctuating environments.
PMCID: PMC3169046  PMID: 21411448
maternal effect; adaptive plasticity; resource variability
8.  Introduction pathway and climate trump ecology and life history as predictors of establishment success in alien frogs and toads 
Ecology and Evolution  2012;2(7):1437-1445.
A major goal for ecology and evolution is to understand how abiotic and biotic factors shape patterns of biological diversity. Here, we show that variation in establishment success of nonnative frogs and toads is primarily explained by variation in introduction pathways and climatic similarity between the native range and introduction locality, with minor contributions from phylogeny, species ecology, and life history. This finding contrasts with recent evidence that particular species characteristics promote evolutionary range expansion and reduce the probability of extinction in native populations of amphibians, emphasizing how different mechanisms may shape species distributions on different temporal and spatial scales. We suggest that contemporary changes in the distribution of amphibians will be primarily determined by human-mediated extinctions and movement of species within climatic envelopes, and less by species-typical traits.
PMCID: PMC3434934  PMID: 22957152
Amphibians; colonization; extinction; invasion; life history; range expansion
9.  Progressive, Transgenerational Changes in Offspring Phenotype and Epigenotype following Nutritional Transition 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e28282.
Induction of altered phenotypes during development in response to environmental input involves epigenetic changes. Phenotypic traits can be passed between generations by a variety of mechanisms, including direct transmission of epigenetic states or by induction of epigenetic marks de novo in each generation. To distinguish between these possibilities we measured epigenetic marks over four generations in rats exposed to a sustained environmental challenge. Dietary energy was increased by 25% at conception in F0 female rats and maintained at this level to generation F3. F0 dams showed higher pregnancy weight gain, but lower weight gain and food intake during lactation than F1 and F2 dams. On gestational day 8, fasting plasma glucose concentration was higher and β-hydroxybutyrate lower in F0 and F1 dams than F2 dams. This was accompanied by decreased phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) and increased PPARα and carnitine palmitoyl transferase-1 mRNA expression. PEPCK mRNA expression was inversely related to the methylation of specific CpG dinucleotides in its promoter. DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt) 3a2, but not Dnmt1 or Dnmt3b, expression increased and methylation of its promoter decreased from F1 to F3 generations. These data suggest that the regulation of energy metabolism during pregnancy and lactation within a generation is influenced by the maternal phenotype in the preceding generation and the environment during the current pregnancy. The transgenerational effects on phenotype were associated with altered DNA methylation of specific genes in a manner consistent with induction de novo of epigenetic marks in each generation.
PMCID: PMC3227644  PMID: 22140567
10.  Sex Differences in Sand Lizard Telomere Inheritance: Paternal Epigenetic Effects Increases Telomere Heritability and Offspring Survival 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e17473.
To date, the only estimate of the heritability of telomere length in wild populations comes from humans. Thus, there is a need for analysis of natural populations with respect to how telomeres evolve.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here, we show that telomere length is heritable in free-ranging sand lizards, Lacerta agilis. More importantly, heritability estimates analysed within, and contrasted between, the sexes are markedly different; son-sire heritability is much higher relative to daughter-dam heritability. We assess the effect of paternal age on Telomere Length (TL) and show that in this species, paternal age at conception is the best predictor of TL in sons. Neither paternal age per se at blood sampling for telomere screening, nor corresponding age in sons impact TL in sons. Processes maintaining telomere length are also associated with negative fitness effects, most notably by increasing the risk of cancer and show variation across different categories of individuals (e.g. males vs. females). We therefore tested whether TL influences offspring survival in their first year of life. Indeed such effects were present and independent of sex-biased offspring mortality and offspring malformations.
TL show differences in sex-specific heritability with implications for differences between the sexes with respect to ongoing telomere selection. Paternal age influences the length of telomeres in sons and longer telomeres enhance offspring survival.
PMCID: PMC3081292  PMID: 21526170
12.  Reproductive investment when mate quality varies: differential allocation versus reproductive compensation 
Reproductive investment decisions form an integral part of life-history biology. Selection frequently favours plasticity in investment that can generate maternal effects on offspring development. For example, if females differentially allocate resources based on mate attractiveness or quality, this can create a non-genetic link between mate attractiveness and offspring fitness with potential consequences for ecological and evolutionary dynamics. It is therefore important to understand under what conditions differential investment into offspring in relation to male quality is expected to occur and the direction of the effect. Two opposite predictions, increased investment into offspring produced with high-quality mates (differential allocation (DA)) and increased investment with low-quality males (reproductive compensation (RC)) have been suggested but no formal theoretical treatment justifying the assumptions underlying these two hypotheses has been conducted to date. Here, we used a state-based approach to investigate the circumstances under which the variation in mate quality results in differential female investment into offspring and how this interacts with female energetic resource levels. We found that a pattern of increased investment when mating with high-quality mates (i.e. DA) was the most common optimal investment strategy for females in our model. By contrast, increased investment when mating with low-quality mates (i.e. RC) was predicted only when the relative impact of parental investment on offspring quality was low. Finally, we found that the specific pattern of investment in relation to male quality depends on female energetic state, the likelihood for future mating opportunities and the expected future distribution of mate quality. Thus, the female's age and body condition should be important factors mediating DA and RC, which may help to explain the equivocal results of empirical studies.
PMCID: PMC2666688  PMID: 19324609
dynamic program; differential allocation; compensation hypothesis; sexual selection; mate choice; maternal effects
13.  Parental effects in ecology and evolution: mechanisms, processes and implications 
As is the case with any metaphor, parental effects mean different things to different biologists—from developmental induction of novel phenotypic variation to an evolved adaptation, and from epigenetic transference of essential developmental resources to a stage of inheritance and ecological succession. Such a diversity of perspectives illustrates the composite nature of parental effects that, depending on the stage of their expression and whether they are considered a pattern or a process, combine the elements of developmental induction, homeostasis, natural selection, epigenetic inheritance and historical persistence. Here, we suggest that by emphasizing the complexity of causes and influences in developmental systems and by making explicit the links between development, natural selection and inheritance, the study of parental effects enables deeper understanding of developmental dynamics of life cycles and provides a unique opportunity to explicitly integrate development and evolution. We highlight these perspectives by placing parental effects in a wider evolutionary framework and suggest that far from being only an evolved static outcome of natural selection, a distinct channel of transmission between parents and offspring, or a statistical abstraction, parental effects on development enable evolution by natural selection by reliably transferring developmental resources needed to reconstruct, maintain and modify genetically inherited components of the phenotype. The view of parental effects as an essential and dynamic part of an evolutionary continuum unifies mechanisms behind the origination, modification and historical persistence of organismal form and function, and thus brings us closer to a more realistic understanding of life's complexity and diversity.
PMCID: PMC2666689  PMID: 19324619
development; ecology; evolution; maternal effects; heredity
14.  A genetic component of resistance to fungal infection in frog embryos 
The embryo has traditionally been considered to completely rely upon parental strategies to prevent threats to survival posed by predators and pathogens, such as fungi. However, recent evidence suggests that embryos may have hitherto neglected abilities to counter pathogens. Using artificial fertilization, we show that among-family variation in the number of Saprolegnia-infected eggs and embryos in the moor frog, Rana arvalis, cannot be explained by maternal effects. However, analysed as a within-females effect, sire identity had an effect on the degree of infection. Furthermore, relatively more eggs and embryos were infected when eggs were fertilized by sperm from the same, compared with a different, population. These effects were independent of variation in fertilization success. Thus, there is likely to be a significant genetic component in embryonic resistance to fungal infection in frog embryos. Early developmental stages may show more diverse defences against pathogens than has previously been acknowledged.
PMCID: PMC2602705  PMID: 18319211
fungal infection; maternal effects; pathogen; Rana arvalis; Saprolegnia
16.  Free radicals run in lizard families 
Biology Letters  2008;4(2):186-188.
In the ageing individual, the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) accelerates with cell senescence. Depending on the heritability of the underlying processes that determine net ROS levels, this may influence ageing per se and its evolutionary direction and rate of change. In order to understand the inheritance and evolution of net ROS levels in free-ranging lizards, we used flow cytometry together with ROS-sensitive fluorogenic probes to measure ROS in lizard blood cells. We measured basal levels of (i) non-specific ROS (superoxide, singlet oxygen, H2O2 and peroxynitrite), (ii) superoxide specifically and (iii) superoxide after CCCP treatment, which elevated ROS production in the mitochondria. The cumulative level of non-specific ROS was higher in adults than juveniles and superoxide level showed high heritability and variability among families. We suggest that the evolution of ROS dynamics may be ROS species specific and perhaps depend on the relative degree of uni- or biparental inheritance of ROS main regulatory pathways.
PMCID: PMC2429935  PMID: 18211861
reactive oxygen species; mitochondrial inheritance; heritability
17.  Sons are made from old stores: sperm storage effects on sex ratio in a lizard 
Biology Letters  2007;3(5):491-493.
Sperm storage is a widespread phenomenon across taxa and mating systems but its consequences for central fitness parameters, such as sex ratios, has rarely been investigated. In Australian painted dragon lizards (Ctenophorus pictus), we describe elsewhere that male reproductive success via sperm competition is largely an effect of sperm storage. That is, sperm being stored in the female reproductive tract out-compete more recently inseminated sperm in subsequent ovarian cycles. Here we look at the consequences of such sperm storage for sex allocation in the same species, which has genetic sex determination. We show that stored sperm have a 23% higher probability of producing sons than daughters. Thus, shifts in sex ratio, for example over the reproductive season, can partly be explained by different survival of son-producing sperm or some unidentified female mechanism taking effect during prolonged storage.
PMCID: PMC2391176  PMID: 17650477
sperm storage; sex ratios; lizard
18.  Consistent sex ratio bias of individual female dragon lizards 
Biology Letters  2006;2(4):569-572.
Sex ratio evolution relies on genetic variation in either the phenotypic traits that influence sex ratios or sex-determining mechanisms. However, consistent variation among females in offspring sex ratio is rarely investigated. Here, we show that female painted dragons (Ctenophorus pictus) have highly repeatable sex ratios among clutches within years. A consistent effect of female identity could represent stable phenotypic differences among females or genetic variation in sex-determining mechanisms. Sex ratios were not correlated with female size, body condition or coloration. Furthermore, sex ratios were not influenced by incubation temperature. However, the variation among females resulted in female-biased mean population sex ratios at hatching both within and among years.
PMCID: PMC1834013  PMID: 17148290
sex ratio; sex allocation; TSD; Ctenophorus pictus
19.  Differential sex allocation in sand lizards: bright males induce daughter production in a species with heteromorphic sex chromosomes 
Biology Letters  2005;1(3):378-380.
In sand lizards (Lacerta agilis), males with more and brighter nuptial coloration also have more DNA fragments visualized in restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of their major histocompatibility complex class I loci (and, hence, are probably more heterozygous at these loci). Such males produce more viable offspring, with a particularly strong viability effect on daughters. This suggests that females should adjust both their reproductive investment and offspring sex ratio in relation to male coloration (i.e. differential allocation). Our results show that experimental manipulation of partner coloration in the wild results in significantly higher maternal effort and a 10% higher proportion of daughters than sons. This supports the hypothesis that females increase their maternal energetic expenditure and adjust their offspring sex ratio in response to high-quality partners. However, it also suggests that this has probably evolved through natural selection for increased offspring viability (primarily through production of daughters), rather than through increased mate attraction (e.g. sexy sons).
PMCID: PMC1617163  PMID: 17148211
sex allocation; maternal allocation; male attractiveness; major histocompatibility complex; heteromorphic sex chromosomes
20.  Prenatal exposure to testosterone increases ectoparasite susceptibility in the common lizard (Lacerta vivipara). 
High levels of testosterone can benefit individual fitness, for example by increasing growth rate or ornament size, which may result in increased reproductive success. However, testosterone induces costs, such as a suppressed immune system, thereby generating trade-offs between growth or mate acquisition, and immunity. In birds and reptiles, females allocate steroids to their eggs, which may be a mechanism whereby females can influence the phenotype of their offspring. To our knowledge, only the benefits of early androgen exposure have been experimentally investigated to date. However, to understand this phenomenon, the costs also need to be evaluated. We manipulated testosterone levels in eggs of the viviparous common lizard and monitored growth, endurance and post-parturient responses to ectoparasites of the offspring. Testosterone-treated individuals had significantly higher growth rates than controls, but suffered a significant decrease in growth rate when exposed to ticks, whereas the corresponding difference for controls was non-significant. There was no difference in observed parasite load or leucocyte count between manipulated and control offspring. Thus, our results suggest that high testosterone levels during embryonic development have detrimental effects on immune function resulting in reduced growth rate, and that this must be taken into consideration when evaluating the potential adaptive value of maternal androgen allocation to eggs.
PMCID: PMC1691442  PMID: 12964990

Results 1-20 (20)