Members of animal groups face a trade-off between the benefits of remaining with a familiar group and the potential benefits of dispersing into a new group. Here, we examined the group membership decisions of Neolamprologus pulcher, a group-living cichlid. We found that subordinate helpers showed a preference for joining familiar groups, but when choosing between two unfamiliar groups, helpers did not preferentially join groups that maximized their social rank. Rather, helpers preferred groups containing larger, more dominant individuals, despite receiving significantly more aggression within these groups, possibly owing to increased protection from predation in such groups. These results suggest a complex decision process in N. pulcher when choosing among groups, dependent not only on familiarity but also on the social and life-history consequences of joining new groups.
group membership; familiarity; social hierarchy; Neolamprologus pulcher
A principle shared by both economists and ecologists is that a diversified portfolio spreads risk, but this idea has little empirical support in the field of population biology. We found that population growth rates (recruits per spawner) and life-history diversity as measured by variation in freshwater and ocean residency were negatively correlated across short time periods (one to two generations), but positively correlated at longer time periods, in nine Bristol Bay sockeye salmon populations. Further, the relationship between variation in growth rate and life-history diversity was consistently negative. These findings strongly suggest that life-history diversity can both increase production and buffer population fluctuations, particularly over long time periods. Our findings provide new insights into the importance of biocomplexity beyond spatio-temporal aspects of populations, and suggest that maintaining diverse life-history portfolios of populations may be crucial for their resilience to unfavourable conditions like habitat loss and climate change.
biocomplexity; life-history diversity; population dynamics
We investigated the risk associated with crossing the Sahara Desert for migrating birds by evaluating more than 90 journeys across this desert by four species of raptors (osprey Pandion haliaetus, honey buzzard Pernis apivorus, marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus and Eurasian hobby Falco subbuteo) recorded by satellite telemetry. Forty per cent of the crossings included events of aberrant behaviours, such as abrupt course changes, slow travel speeds, interruptions, aborted crossings followed by retreats from the desert and failed crossings due to death, indicating difficulties for the migrants. The mortality during the Sahara crossing was 31 per cent per crossing attempt for juveniles (first autumn migration), compared with only 2 per cent for adults (autumn and spring combined). Mortality associated with the Sahara passage made up a substantial fraction (up to about half for juveniles) of the total annual mortality, demonstrating that this passage has a profound influence on survival and fitness of migrants. Aberrant behaviours resulted in late arrival at the breeding grounds and an increased probability of breeding failure (carry-over effects). This study also demonstrates that satellite tracking can be a powerful method to reveal when and where birds are exposed to enhanced risk and mortality during their annual cycles.
avian migration; barrier crossings; carry-over effects; mortality
A recent analysis of brain size evolution reconstructed the plesiomorphic brain–body size allometry for the mammalian order Carnivora, providing an important reference frame for comparative analyses of encephalization (brain volume scaled to body mass). I performed phylogenetically corrected regressions to remove the effects of body mass, calculating correlations between residual values of encephalization with basal metabolic rate (BMR) and six life-history variables (gestation time, neonatal mass, weaning time, weaning mass, litter size, litters per year). No significant correlations were recovered between encephalization and any life-history variable or BMR, arguing against hypotheses relating encephalization to maternal energetic investment. However, after correcting for clade-specific adaptations, I recovered significant correlations for several variables, and further analysis revealed a conserved carnivoran reproductive strategy, linking degree of encephalization to the well-documented mammalian life-history trade-off between neonatal mass and litter size. This strategy of fewer, larger offspring correlating with increased encephalization remains intact even after independent changes in encephalization allometries in the evolutionary history of this clade.
brain size; maternal energy hypothesis; Carnivora; Mammalia; likelihood ratios
With an understudied amphibian fauna, the highest deforestation rate on the planet and high harvesting pressures, Southeast Asian amphibians are facing a conservation crisis. Owing to the overriding threat of habitat loss, the most critical conservation action required is the identification and strict protection of habitat assessed as having high amphibian species diversity and/or representing distinctive regional amphibian faunas. Long-term population monitoring, enhanced survey efforts, collection of basic biological and ecological information, continued taxonomic research and evaluation of the impact of commercial trade for food, medicine and pets are also needed. Strong involvement of regional stakeholders, students and professionals is essential to accomplish these actions.
amphibians; Southeast Asia; conservation; habitat loss
For prey species that rely on learning to recognize their predators, natural selection should favour individuals able to learn as early as possible. The earliest point at which individuals can gather information about the identity of their potential predators is during the embryonic stage. Indeed, recent experiments have demonstrated that amphibians can learn to recognize predators prior to hatching. Here, we conditioned woodfrog embryos to recognize predatory salamander cues either in the morning or in the evening, and subsequently exposed the two-week-old tadpoles to salamander cues either in the morning or in the evening, and recorded the intensity of their antipredator behaviour. The data indicate that amphibians learn to recognize potential predators while still in the egg, and also learn the temporal component of this information, which they use later in life, to adjust the intensity of their antipredator responses throughout the day.
predator recognition; temporal learning; embryonic learning
A number of widely grown varieties of Vitis vinifera ssp. sativa, the grape used for wine production, are known to have resulted from crosses between Pinot noir and Gouais blanc, although it is not known which was the maternal parent in these crosses. We have analysed microsatellites and a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in chloroplast DNA from these two varieties and twelve progeny strains, including Chardonnay, Gamay noir and Aligoté. The results demonstrate that Gouais blanc was the maternal parent for nine of these strains, including Chardonnay, Gamay noir and Aligoté. This is a striking conclusion, as Gouais is generally considered a highly inferior variety, and its cultivation was banned for many years in parts of Europe.
Vitis vinifera; Chardonnay; maternal inheritance; chloroplast DNA; microsatellite; SNP
Three Gyps vulture species are on the brink of extinction in South Asia owing to the veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac. Carcasses of domesticated ungulates are the main food source for Asia's vultures and birds die from kidney failure after consuming diclofenac-contaminated tissues. Here, we report on the safety testing of the NSAID ketoprofen, which was not reported to cause mortality in clinical treatment of scavenging birds and is rapidly eliminated from livestock tissues. Safety testing was undertaken using captive non-releasable Cape griffon vultures (Gyps coprotheres) and wild-caught African white-backed vultures (G. africanus), both previously identified as susceptible to diclofenac and suitable surrogates. Ketoprofen doses ranged from 0.5 to 5 mg kg−1 vulture body weight, based upon recommended veterinary guidelines and maximum levels of exposure for wild vultures (estimated as 1.54 mg kg−1). Doses were administered by oral gavage or through feeding tissues from cattle dosed with ketoprofen at 6 mg kg−1 cattle body weight, before slaughter. Mortalities occurred at dose levels of 1.5 and 5 mg kg−1 vulture body weight (within the range recommended for clinical treatment) with the same clinical signs as observed for diclofenac. Surveys of livestock carcasses in India indicate that toxic levels of residual ketoprofen are already present in vulture food supplies. Consequently, we strongly recommend that ketoprofen is not used for veterinary treatment of livestock in Asia and in other regions of the world where vultures access livestock carcasses. The only alternative to diclofenac that should be promoted as safe for vultures is the NSAID meloxicam.
Gyps; vultures; toxicity; ketoprofen; diclofenac; NSAIDs
Phylogenetic approaches to inferring ancestral character states are becoming increasingly sophisticated; however, the potential remains for available methods to yield strongly supported but inaccurate ancestral state estimates. The consistency of ancestral states inferred for two or more characters affords a useful criterion for evaluating ancestral trait reconstructions. Ancestral state estimates for multiple characters that entail plausible phenotypes when considered together may reasonably be assumed to be reliable. However, the accuracy of inferred ancestral states for one or more characters may be questionable where combined reconstructions imply implausible phenotypes for a proportion of internal nodes. This criterion for assessing reconstructed ancestral states is applied here in evaluating inferences of ancestral limb morphology in the scincid lizard clade Lerista. Ancestral numbers of digits for the manus and pes inferred assuming the models that best fit the data entail ancestral digit configurations for many nodes that differ fundamentally from configurations observed among known species. However, when an alternative model is assumed for the pes, inferred ancestral digit configurations are invariably represented among observed phenotypes. This indicates that a suboptimal model for the pes (and not the model providing the best fit to the data) yields accurate ancestral state estimates.
ancestral state; Bayesian inference; Lerista; limb reduction; Squamata
A flying insect must travel to find food, mates and sites for oviposition, but for a small animal in a turbulent world this means dealing with frequent unplanned deviations from course. We measured a fly's sensory-motor impulse response to perturbations in optic flow. After an abrupt change in its apparent visual position, a fly generates a compensatory dynamical steering response in the opposite direction. The response dynamics, however, may be influenced by superimposed background velocity generated by the animal's flight direction. Here we show that constant forward velocity has no effect on the steering responses to orthogonal sideslip perturbations, whereas constant parallel sideslip substantially shortens the lags and relaxation times of the linear dynamical responses. This implies that for flies stabilizing in sideslip, the control effort is strongly affected by the direction of background motion.
insect vision; velocity; perturbation; dynamical control
The brain activity of a fully awake chimpanzee being presented with her name was investigated. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured for each of the following auditory stimuli: the vocal sound of the subject's own name (SON), the vocal sound of a familiar name of another group member, the vocal sound of an unfamiliar name and a non-vocal sound. Some differences in ERP waveforms were detected between kinds of stimuli at latencies at which P3 and Nc components are typically observed in humans. Following stimulus onset, an Nc-like negative shift at approximately 500 ms latency was observed, particularly in response to SON. Such specific ERP patterns suggest that the chimpanzee processes her name differently from other sounds.
ERPs; auditory processing; name; self; awake chimpanzee
Senescence is a progressive biological process expressed in behavioural, morphological, physiological, biochemical and cellular age-related changes. Age-associated alterations in activity are regularly found in insects when examining whole-organism senescence over the adult lifespan. In addition, overall stress resistance usually decreases with senescence. In the present study, we measured the critical thermal minimum (CTmin) and the subsequent recovery period over the lifespan of the sub-Antarctic wingless fly, Anatalanta aptera. Experiments were conducted on males and females in seven age groups: newly emerged, 1.5-, 5-, 7-, 13-, 15- and 18-month-old adults. Surprisingly, CTmin decreased significantly with ageing in A. aptera, from −3.8 ± 0.5°C just after the emergence to −5.6 ± 0.7°C in the 18-month-old flies. The subsequent recovery period remained similar between the seven groups tested. Our unexpected results contradict the previous data collected in other insects. We have demonstrated for the first time that ageing may improve rather than impair locomotor activity during unfavourable thermal conditions. It raises questions and challenges the literature dealing with ageing. These fascinating results also question the underpinning mechanisms involved in the improvement of the thermal performance with ageing in A. aptera.
senescence; CTmin; locomotor activity; fly; chill-coma recovery
Diurnal birds belong to one of two classes of colour vision. These are distinguished by the maximum absorbance wavelengths of the SWS1 visual pigment sensitive to violet (VS) and ultraviolet (UVS). Shifts between the classes have been rare events during avian evolution. Gulls (Laridae) are the only shorebirds (Charadriiformes) previously reported to have the UVS type of opsin, but too few species have been sampled to infer that gulls are unique among shorebirds or that Laridae is monomorphic for this trait. We have sequenced the SWS1 opsin gene in a broader sample of species. We confirm that cysteine in the key amino acid position 90, characteristic of the UVS class, has been conserved throughout gull evolution but also that the terns Anous minutus, A. tenuirostris and Gygis alba, and the skimmer Rynchops niger carry this trait. Terns, excluding Anous and Gygis, share the VS conferring serine in position 90 with other shorebirds but it is translated from a codon more similar to that found in UVS shorebirds. The most parsimonious interpretation of these findings, based on a molecular gene tree, is a single VS to UVS shift and a subsequent reversal in one lineage.
gulls; UV visual pigment; opsin; phylogeny
Does a dysfunction in the mirror neuron system (MNS) underlie the social symptoms defining autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Research suggests that the MNS matches observed actions to motor plans for similar actions, and that these motor plans include directions for predictive eye movements when observing goal-directed actions. Thus, one important question is whether children with ASD use predictive eye movements in action observation. Young children with ASD as well as typically developing children and adults were shown videos in which an actor performed object-directed actions (human agent condition). Children with ASD were also shown control videos showing objects moving by themselves (self-propelled condition). Gaze was measured using a corneal reflection technique. Children with ASD and typically developing individuals used strikingly similar goal-directed eye movements when observing others’ actions in the human agent condition. Gaze was reactive in the self-propelled condition, suggesting that prediction is linked to seeing a hand–object interaction. This study does not support the view that ASD is characterized by a global dysfunction in the MNS.
autism spectrum disorders; mirror neuron system; forward models; action prediction; eye movements
Mixed-species foraging associations may form to enhance feeding success or to avoid predators. We report the costs and consequences of an unusual foraging association between an endemic foliage gleaning tupaid (Nicobar treeshrew Tupaia nicobarica) and two species of birds; one an insectivorous commensal (greater racket-tailed drongo Dicrurus paradiseus) and the other a diurnal raptor and potential predator (Accipiter sp.). In an alliance driven, and perhaps engineered, by drongos, these species formed cohesive groups with predictable relationships. Treeshrew breeding pairs were found more frequently than solitary individuals with sparrowhawks and were more likely to tolerate sparrowhawks in the presence of drongos. Treeshrews maintained greater distances from sparrowhawks than drongos, and permitted the raptors to come closer when drongos were present. Treeshrew foraging rates declined in the presence of drongos; however, the latter may provide them predator avoidance benefits. The choice of the raptor to join the association is intriguing; particular environmental resource states may drive the evolution of such behavioural strategies. Although foraging benefits seem to be the primary driver of this association, predator avoidance also influences interactions, suggesting that strategies driving the formation of flocks may be complex and context dependent with varying benefits for different actors.
mixed foraging associations; predator avoidance; context dependence; treeshrews; drongos; sparrowhawks
I discuss eukaryotic deep phylogeny and reclassify the basal eukaryotic kingdom Protozoa and derived kingdom Chromista in the light of multigene trees. I transfer the formerly protozoan Heliozoa and infrakingdoms Alveolata and Rhizaria into Chromista, which is sister to kingdom Plantae and arguably originated by synergistic double internal enslavement of green algal and red algal cells. I establish new subkingdoms (Harosa; Hacrobia) for the expanded Chromista. The protozoan phylum Euglenozoa differs immensely from other eukaryotes in its nuclear genome organization (trans-spliced multicistronic transcripts), mitochondrial DNA organization, cytochrome c-type biogenesis, cell structure and arguably primitive mitochondrial protein-import and nuclear DNA prereplication machineries. The bacteria-like absence of mitochondrial outer-membrane channel Tom40 and DNA replication origin-recognition complexes from trypanosomatid Euglenozoa roots the eukaryotic tree between Euglenozoa and all other eukaryotes (neokaryotes), or within Euglenozoa. Given their unique properties, I segregate Euglenozoa from infrakingdom Excavata (now comprising only phyla Percolozoa, Loukozoa, Metamonada), grouping infrakingdoms Euglenozoa and Excavata as the ancestral protozoan subkingdom Eozoa. I place phylum Apusozoa within the derived protozoan subkingdom Sarcomastigota. Clarifying early eukaryote evolution requires intensive study of properties distinguishing Euglenozoa from neokaryotes and Eozoa from neozoa (eukaryotes except Eozoa; ancestrally defined by haem lyase).
Euglenozoa; cytochrome c-type biogenesis; Tom40; ORC evolution; Rhizaria; double secondary symbiogenesis
Stable isotopes and their potential for detecting various and complex ecosystem processes are attracting an increasing number of scientists. Progress is challenging, particularly under global change scenarios, but some established views have been challenged. The IX meeting of the Spanish Association of Terrestrial Ecology (AAET, Úbeda, 18–22 October 2009) hosted a symposium on the ecology of stable isotopes where the linear mixing model approach of partitioning sinks and sources of carbon and water fluxes within an ecosystem was challenged, and new applications of stable isotopes for the study of plant interactions were evaluated. Discussion was also centred on the need for networks that monitor ecological processes using stable isotopes and key ideas for fostering future research with isotopes.
carbon isotopes; mixing models; monitoring networks; oxygen isotopes; plant interactions; water isotopes
Plants subjected to insect attack usually increase volatile emission which attracts natural enemies and repels further herbivore colonization. Less is known about the capacity of herbivores to suppress volatiles and the multitrophic consequences thereof. In our study, the African forage grass, Brachiaria brizantha, was exposed to ovipositing spotted stemborer, Chilo partellus, moths. A marked reduction in emission of the main volatile, (Z)-3-hexenyl acetate (Z3HA), occurred following oviposition but the ratio of certain other minor component volatiles to Z3HA was increased. While further herbivore colonization was reduced on plants after oviposition, the new volatile profile caused increased attraction of an adapted parasitoid, Cotesia sesamiae. Our results show that insect responses are dependent on the quality of volatile emission rather than merely the quantity in this multitrophic interaction.
volatile emission; ratios; plant–insect interactions; multitrophic interactions
Vocal imitation—the ability to learn a previously unknown acoustic signal from a tutor—is considered to be a key innovation in the evolution of speech. This faculty is very rare and patchily distributed within the animal kingdom, suggesting multiple instances of convergent evolution. It has long been predicted that bats should be capable of vocal imitation and our results provide evidence for this phenomenon. We report that pups of the bat Saccopteryx bilineata learn a complex vocalization through vocal imitation. During ontogeny, pups of both sexes imitate territorial song from adult males, starting with simple precursor songs that develop into genuine renditions. The resemblance of pup renditions to their acoustic model is not caused by physical maturation effects, is independent of pups' gender and relatedness towards adult males and becomes more pronounced during ontogeny, showing that auditory experience is essential for vocal development. Our findings indicate that the faculty of vocal imitation is more widespread than previously thought and emphasize the importance of research on audiovocal communication in bats for a better understanding of the evolutionary origin of vocal imitation.
Chiroptera; vocal production learning; mimicry; tutor; auditory input
Parasitic Maculinea alcon butterflies can only develop in nests of a subset of available Myrmica ant species, so female butterflies have been hypothesized to preferentially lay eggs on plants close to colonies of the correct host ants. Previous correlational investigations of host-ant-dependent oviposition in this and other Maculinea species have, however, shown equivocal results, leading to a long-term controversy over support for this hypothesis. We therefore conducted a controlled field experiment to study the egg-laying behaviour of M. alcon. Matched potted Gentiana plants were set out close to host-ant nests and non-host-ant nests, and the number and position of eggs attached were assessed. Our results show no evidence for host-ant-based oviposition in M. alcon, but support an oviposition strategy based on plant characteristics. This suggests that careful management of host-ant distribution is necessary for conservation of this endangered butterfly.
ant-dependent oviposition; egg-laying; Myrmica; controlled experiment
The symposium and workshop ‘Organisms on the move: ecology and evolution of dispersal’, held in Ghent (Belgium), 14–18 September 2009, brought together a wide range of researchers using empirical and modelling approaches to examine the dispersal process. This meeting provided an opportunity to assess how much cross-fertilization there has been between empiricists and theoreticians, to present novel insights on dispersal patterns in plants, animals and micro-organisms and to measure the progress made in examining the causes and consequences of dispersal.
dispersal; condition dependent; costs; information; movement ecology
Severe heat waves have occasionally led to catastrophic avian mortality in hot desert environments. Climate change models predict increases in the intensity, frequency and duration of heat waves. A model of avian evaporative water requirements and survival times during the hottest part of day reveals that the predicted increases in maximum air temperatures will result in large fractional increases in water requirements (in small birds, equivalent to 150–200 % of current values), which will severely reduce survival times during extremely hot weather. By the 2080s, desert birds will experience reduced survival times much more frequently during mid-summer, increasing the frequency of catastrophic mortality events.
dehydration; desert; evaporative water loss; thermoregulation
Aphid species within the genus Tuberculatus exhibit a variety of interactions with ants, ranging from close associations to non-attendance. An ant-attended species, Tuberculatus quercicola, and two non-attended species, Tuberculatus japonicus and Tuberculatus paiki, are sympatric and hosted by the tree species Quercus dentata (Fagaceae). An undescribed ant-attended species of Tuberculatus (sp. A) and several non-attended Tuberculatus species are found on Quercus crispula trees. The population genetic structure was examined for the species sympatric on 11 Q. dentata trees and on 11 Q. crispula trees using five microsatellite loci. To determine the extent to which ant-attended or non-attended species migrate between subpopulations, flight intercept traps were placed in the study sites. Ant-attended species exhibited lower allelic richness and showed increased genetic differentiation between subpopulations compared with those of non-attended species. The number of non-attended species caught in traps increased with seasonal abundance; however, few ant-attended species were trapped, despite their abundance. These results suggest that populations of ant-attended aphids are composed of fragmented local subpopulations that are connected by low dispersal rates, leading to considerable population differentiation.
mutualism; flight traps; Quercus