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01 Sep 2021
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Connectivity and selfing drives population genetic structure in a patchy landscape: a comparative approach of four co-occurring freshwater snail species

Determinants of population genetic structure in co-occurring freshwater snails

Recommended by and based on reviews by 3 anonymous reviewers

Genetic diversity is a key aspect of biodiversity and has important implications for evolutionary potential and thereby the persistence of species. Improving our understanding of the factors that drive genetic structure within and between populations is, therefore, a long-standing goal in evolutionary biology. However, this is a major challenge, because of the complex interplay between genetic drift, migration, and extinction/colonization dynamics on the one hand, and the biology and ecology of species on the other hand (Romiguier et al. 2014, Ellegren and Galtier 2016, Charlesworth 2003). 

Jarne et al. (2021) studied whether environmental and demographic factors affect the population genetic structure of four species of hermaphroditic freshwater snails in a similar way, using comparative analyses of neutral genetic microsatellite markers. 

Specifically, they investigated microsatellite variability of Hygrophila in almost 280 sites in Guadeloupe, Lesser Antilles, as part of a long-term survey experiment (Lamy et al. 2013). They then modelled the influence of the mating system, local environmental characteristics and demographic factors on population genetic diversity.

Consistent with theoretical predictions (Charlesworth 2003), they detected higher genetic variation in two outcrossing species than in two selfing species, emphasizing the importance of the mating system in maintaining genetic diversity. The study further identified an important role of site connectivity, through its influences on effective population size and extinction/colonisation events. Finally, the study detects an influence of interspecific interactions caused by an ongoing invasion by one of the studied species on genetic structure, highlighting the indirect effect of changes in community composition and demography on population genetics.

Jarne et al. (2021) could address the extent to which genetic structure is determined by demographic and environmental factors in multiple species given the remarkable sampling available. Additionally, the study system is extremely suitable to address this hypothesis as species’ habitats are defined and delineated. Whilst the authors did attempt to test for across-species correlations, further investigations on this matter are required. Moreover, the effect of interactions between factors should be appropriately considered in any modelling between genetic structure and local environmental or demographic features.

The findings in this study contribute to improving our understanding of factors influencing population genetic diversity, and highlights the complexity of interacting factors, therefore also emphasizing the challenges of drawing general implications, additionally hampered by the relatively limited number of species studied. Jarne et al. (2021) provide an excellent showcase of an empirical framework to test determinants of genetic structure in natural populations. As such, this study can be an example for further attempts of comparative analysis of genetic diversity.


Charlesworth, D. (2003) Effects of inbreeding on the genetic diversity of populations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 358, 1051-1070. doi:

Ellegren, H. and Galtier, N. (2016) Determinants of genetic diversity. Nature Reviews Genetics, 17, 422-433. doi:

Jarne, P., Lozano del Campo, A., Lamy, T., Chapuis, E., Dubart, M., Segard, A., Canard, E., Pointier, J.-P. and David, P. (2021) Connectivity and selfing drives population genetic structure in a patchy landscape: a comparative approach of four co-occurring freshwater snail species. HAL, hal-03295242, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Lamy, T., Gimenez, O., Pointier, J. P., Jarne, P. and David, P. (2013). Metapopulation dynamics of species with cryptic life stages. The American Naturalist, 181, 479-491. doi:

Romiguier, J., Gayral, P., Ballenghien, M. et al. (2014) Comparative population genomics in animals uncovers the determinants of genetic diversity. Nature, 515, 261-263. doi:

Connectivity and selfing drives population genetic structure in a patchy landscape: a comparative approach of four co-occurring freshwater snail speciesJarne P., Lozano del Campo A., Lamy T., Chapuis E., Dubart M., Segard A., Canard E., Pointier J.-P., David P.<p style="text-align: justify;">The distribution of neutral genetic variation in subdivided populations is driven by the interplay between genetic drift, migration, local extinction and colonization. The influence of environmental and demographic ...Adaptation, Evolutionary Dynamics, Population Genetics / Genomics, Reproduction and Sex, Species interactionsTrine Bilde2021-02-11 19:57:51 View
11 Apr 2023
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Facultative parthenogenesis: a transient state in transitions between sex and obligate asexuality in stick insects?

Facultative parthenogenesis and transitions from sexual to asexual reproduction

Recommended by based on reviews by 3 anonymous reviewers

Despite a vast array of ways in which organisms can reproduce (Bell, 1982), most animals engage in sexual reproduction (Otto & Lenormand, 2002). A fascinating alternative to sex is parthenogenesis, where offspring are produced asexually from a gamete, typically the egg, without receiving genetic material from another gamete (Simon, Delmotte, Rispe, & Crease, 2003). One of the long-standing questions in the field is why parthenogenesis is not more widespread, given the costs associated with sex (Otto & Lenormand, 2002).  Natural populations of most species appear to be reproducing either sexually or parthenogenetically, even if a species can employ both reproductive modes (Larose et al 2023). Larose et al (2023) highlight the conundrum in this pattern, as organisms that are capable of employing parthenogenesis facultatively would be able to gain the benefits of both modes of reproduction. Why then, is facultative parthenogenesis not more common?

Larose et al (2023) propose that constraints on being efficient in both sexual and asexual reproduction could cause a trade-off between reproductive modes that favours an obligate strategy of either sex or no sex. This would provide an explanation for why facultative parthenogenesis is rare. Timema stick insects provide an excellent system to investigate reproductive strategies, as some species have parthenogenetic females, while other species are sexual, and they show repeated transitions from sexual reproduction to obligate parthenogenesis (Schwander & Crespi, 2009). The authors performed comprehensive and complementary studies in a recently discovered species T. douglasi, in which populations show both modes of reproduction, with some populations consisting only of females and others showing equal proportions of males and females. The sex ratio varied significantly, with the proportion of females ranging between 43-100% across 29 populations. These populations form a monophyletic clade with clustering into three genetic lineages and only a few cases of admixture. Females from all populations were capable of producing unfertilized eggs, but the hatching success varied hugely among populations and lineages (3-100%). Parthenogenetically produced offspring were homozygous, showing that parthenogenesis causes a complete loss of heterozygosity in a single generation. After producing eggs as virgins, females were mated to assess the capacity to also reproduce sexually, and fertilization increased the hatching success of eggs in two lineages. In one lineage, in which the hatching success of unfertilized eggs is similar to that of other sexually reproducing Timema species, fertilization reduced egg-hatching success, indicating a trade-off between reproductive modes with parthenogenetic reproduction performing best. Approximately 58% of the offspring produced after mating were fertilized, demonstrating the capacity of females to reproduce parthenogenetically also after mating has occurred, however with huge variation among individuals.

This wonderful and meticulously performed study produces strong and complementary evidence for facultative parthenogenesis in T. douglasi populations. The study shows large variation in how reproductive mode is employed, supporting the existence of a trade-off between sexual and parthenogenetic reproduction. This might be an example of an ongoing transition from sexual to asexual reproduction, which indicates that obligate parthenogenesis may derive via transient facultative parthenogenesis. 


Bell, G. (1982) The Masterpiece of Nature: The Evolution and Genetics of Sexuality. University of California Press. 635 p.

Otto, S. P., & Lenormand, T. (2002). Resolving the paradox of sex and recombination. Nature Reviews Genetics, 3(4), 252-261.

Schwander, T., & Crespi, B. J. (2009). Multiple direct transitions from sexual reproduction to apomictic parthenogenesis in Timema stick insects. Evolution, 63(1), 84-103.

Simon, J.-C., Delmotte, F., Rispe, C., & Crease, T. (2003). Phylogenetic relationships between parthenogens and their sexual relatives: the possible routes to parthenogenesis in animals. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 79(1), 151-163.

Larose, C., Lavanchy,  G., Freitas, S., Parker, D.J., Schwander, T. (2023) Facultative parthenogenesis: a transient state in transitions between sex and obligate asexuality in stick insects? bioRxiv, 2022.03.25.485836, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Facultative parthenogenesis: a transient state in transitions between sex and obligate asexuality in stick insects?Chloé Larose, Guillaume Lavanchy, Susana Freitas, Darren J. Parker, Tanja Schwander<p>Transitions from obligate sex to obligate parthenogenesis have occurred repeatedly across the tree of life. Whether these transitions occur abruptly or via a transient phase of facultative parthenogenesis is rarely known. We discovered and char...Reproduction and SexTrine Bilde2022-05-20 10:41:13 View
22 Jul 2019
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Transgenerational plasticity of inducible defenses: combined effects of grand-parental, parental and current environments

Transgenerational plasticity through three generations

Recommended by based on reviews by Stewart Plaistow and 1 anonymous reviewer

Organisms very often display phenotypic plasticity, whereby the expression of trait (or suite of traits) changes in a consistent way as a function of some environmental variable. Sometimes this plastic response remains labile and so the trait continues to respond to the environment throughout an organism’s life, but there are also many examples in which environmental conditions during a critical developmental window irreversibly set the stage for how a trait will be expressed later in life.
Traditionally, most studies of phenotypic plasticity have considered how an organism’s phenotype is altered by the environment that it experiences (called within-generation plasticity) but there is growing interest in how an organism’s phenotype is altered by the environment experienced by its ancestors (called transgenerational plasticity) [1]. In the simplest cases an organism’s phenotype might be affected by the environmental conditions experienced by its parents. There are several examples of this phenomenon as well, including interesting cases where predator cues experiences by an organism’s parents dictate the extent to which it displays a defensive phenotype.
Tariel et al. [2] present a study that takes these ideas to the next logical step and examines transgenerational plasticity through three generations. They used a well-studied system of snails (Physa acuta) that display inducible defences in response to predator (crayfish) cues. The authors exposed three generations of snails to one of two treatments: the presence or absence of predator cues, and then examined a suite of behavioural and morphological traits associated with predator defence. This allowed them to determine if and how offspring, parental, and grandparental environment influence offspring phenotype.
Interestingly, their results do show that transgenerational plasticity can act across multiple generations. The patterns found were complex though and it is difficult at this stage to assess how likely it is that these responses are adaptive. For example, a behavioural trait appears to respond to grandparental but not parental environment, shell thickness responds to both, and snail weight and a composite index of morphology respond to neither. Exactly what this means in terms of an offspring’s fitness, however, is unclear. It is also not immediately clear from the study how predictive a grandparent’s environment is of the conditions likely to be faced by an individual. Further work will be needed on these issues to better interpret what this transgenerational plasticity means and to assess if it might be an evolved response to cope with varying predation pressure. It would also be useful to delve more deeply into the developmental mechanisms throughout which this plasticity occurs. Irrespective of these issues, however, the study does reveal that transgenerational plasticity across multiple generations can indeed occur and so cannot be ignored as a source of phenotypic variation.


[1] West-Eberhard, M. J. (2003). Developmental plasticity and evolution. Oxford University Press.
[2] Tariel, J., Plenet, S., and Luquet, E. (2019). Transgenerational plasticity of inducible defenses: combined effects of grand-parental, parental and current environments. bioRxiv, 589945, ver. 3, peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/589945

Transgenerational plasticity of inducible defenses: combined effects of grand-parental, parental and current environmentsJuliette Tariel; Sandrine Plénet; Emilien Luquet<p>While an increasing number of studies highlights that parental environment shapes offspring phenotype (transgenerational plasticity TGP), TGP beyond the parental generation has received less attention. Studies suggest that TGP impacts populatio...Adaptation, Evolutionary Ecology, Non Genetic Inheritance, Phenotypic PlasticityTroy Day2019-03-29 09:31:53 View
12 Jul 2017
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Despite reproductive interference, the net outcome of reproductive interactions among spider mite species is not necessarily costly

The pros and cons of mating with strangers

Recommended by based on reviews by Joël Meunier and Michael D Greenfield


Interspecific matings are by definition rare events in nature, but when they occur they can be very important, and not only because they might condition gene flow between species. Even when such matings have no genetic consequence, for instance if they do not yield any fertile hybrid offspring, they can still have an impact on the population dynamics of the species involved [1]. Such atypical pairings between heterospecific partners are usually regarded as detrimental or undesired; as they interfere with the occurrence or success of intraspecific matings, they are expected to cause a decline in absolute fitness.
The story is not always so simple however, and it might all depend on the timing of events and on the identity of the partners. Using the herbivorous mite Tetranychus urticae as a model, Clemente et al. [2] experimentally arranged matings with two other Tetranychus species that commonly share the same host plants as T. urticae. They carefully controlled the history of events: heterospecific matings could occur just before, just after, 24h before, or 24h after, a conspecific mating. Interestingly, the oviposition rate (total fecundity) of females was increased when mating with a heterospecific individual. This suggests that heterospecic sperm can stimulate oogenesis just as conspecific sperm does. Such a positive effect was observed for matings involving T. ludeni females and T. urticae males, but a negative effect is found in the interaction with T. evansi. Sex-ratio (fertilization success in those species) could also be impacted but, unlike fertilization, this occurred when the mating events were distant in time. This is is at odds with what is observed in conspecific matings, where sperm displacement occurs only if mating events are temporally close. Overall, the effects of heterospecific mating were quite variable and it is challenging to predict a single, general, effect of interspecific matings. The net effect will likely be context-dependent, depending on the relative frequency of the difference mating sequences and on how fecundity and sex-ratio contribute to overall fitness, both aspect strongly influenced by the population dynamics and structure.


[1] Gröning J. & Hochkirch A. 2008. Reproductive interference between animal species. The Quarterly Review of Biology 83: 257-282. doi: 10.1086/590510

[2] Clemente SH, Santos I, Ponce AR, Rodrigues LR, Varela SAM & Magalhaes S. 2017 Despite reproductive interference, the net outcome of reproductive interactions among spider mite species is not necessarily costly. bioRxiv 113274, ver. 4 of the 30th of June 2017. doi: 10.1101/113274

Despite reproductive interference, the net outcome of reproductive interactions among spider mite species is not necessarily costlySalomé H. Clemente, Inês Santos, Rita Ponce, Leonor R. Rodrigues, Susana A. M. Varela and Sara MagalhãesReproductive interference is considered a strong ecological force, potentially leading to species exclusion. This supposes that the net effect of reproductive interactions is strongly negative for one of the species involved. Testing this requires...Behavior & Social Evolution, Evolutionary Ecology, Species interactionsVincent Calcagno2017-03-06 11:48:08 View
25 Jan 2023
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Drivers of genomic landscapes of differentiation across Populus divergence gradient

Shedding light on genomic divergence along the speciation continuum

Recommended by based on reviews by Camille Roux, Steven van Belleghem and 1 anonymous reviewer

The article “Drivers of genomic landscapes of differentiation across Populus divergence gradient” by Shang et al. describes an amazing dataset where genomic variations among 21 pairs of diverging poplar species are compared. Such comparisons are still quite rare and are needed to shed light on the processes shaping genomic divergence along the speciation gradient. Relying on two hundred whole-genome resequenced samples from 8 species that diverged from 1.3 to 4.8 million years ago, the authors aim at identifying the key factors involved in the genomic differentiation between species. They carried out a wide range of robust statistical tests aiming at characterizing the genomic differentiation along the genome of these species pairs. They highlight in particular the role of linked selection and gene flow in shaping the divergence along the genomes of species pairs. They also confirm the significance of introgression among species with a net divergence larger than the upper boundaries of the grey zone of speciation previously documented in animals (da from 0.005 to 0.02, Roux et al. 2016). Because these findings pave the way to research about the genomic mechanisms associated with speciation in species with allopatric and parapatric distributions, I warmingly recommend this article.


Roux C, Fraïsse C, Romiguier J, Anciaux Y, Galtier N, Bierne N (2016) Shedding Light on the Grey Zone of Speciation along a Continuum of Genomic Divergence. PLOS Biology, 14, e2000234.

Shang H, Rendón-Anaya M, Paun O, Field DL, Hess J, Vogl C, Liu J, Ingvarsson PK, Lexer C, Leroy T (2023) Drivers of genomic landscapes of differentiation across Populus divergence gradient. bioRxiv, 2021.08.26.457771, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Drivers of genomic landscapes of differentiation across Populus divergence gradientHuiying Shang, Martha Rendón-Anaya, Ovidiu Paun, View David L Field, Jaqueline Hess, Claus Vogl, Jianquan Liu, Pär K. Ingvarsson, Christian Lexer, Thibault Leroy<p style="text-align: justify;">Speciation, the continuous process by which new species form, is often investigated by looking at the variation of nucleotide diversity and differentiation across the genome (hereafter genomic landscapes). A key cha...Population Genetics / Genomics, SpeciationViolaine Llaurens2021-09-06 14:12:27 View
22 May 2017
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Can Ebola Virus evolve to be less virulent in humans?

A new hypothesis to explain Ebola's high virulence

Recommended by and based on reviews by Virginie Ravigné and François Blanquart


The tragic 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak that resulted in more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths in West Africa [1] has been a surprise to the scientific community. Before 2013, the Ebola virus (EBOV) was known to produce recurrent outbreaks in remote villages near tropical rainforests in Central Africa, never exceeding a few hundred cases with very high virulence. Both EBOV’s ability to circulate for several months in large urban human populations and its important mutation rate suggest that EBOV’s virulence could evolve and to some extent adapt to human hosts [2]. Up to now, the high virulence of EBOV in humans was generally thought to be maladaptive, the virus being adapted to circulating in wild animal populations (e.g. fruit bats [3]). As a logical consequence, EBOV virulence could be expected to decrease during long epidemics in humans. The present paper by Sofonea et al. [4] challenges this view and explores how, given EBOV’s life cycle and known epidemiological parameters, virulence is expected to evolve in the human host during long epidemics. The main finding of the paper is that there is no chance that EBOV’s virulence decreases in the short and long terms. The main underlying mechanism is that EBOV is also transmitted by dead bodies, which limits the cost of virulence. In itself the idea that selection should select for higher virulence in diseases that are also transmitted after host death will sound intuitive for most evolutionary epidemiologists. The accomplishment of the paper is to make a very strong case that the parameter range where virulence could decrease is very small. The paper further provides scientifically grounded arguments in favor of the safe management of corpses. Safe burial of corpses is culturally difficult to impose. The present paper shows that in addition to instantaneously decreasing the spread of the virus, safe burial may limit virulence increase in the short term and favor of less virulent strains in the long term. Altogether these results make a timely and important contribution to the knowledge and understanding of EBOV.


[1] World Health Organization. 2016. WHO: Ebola situation report - 10 June 2016.

[2] Kupferschmidt K. 2014. Imagining Ebola’s next move. Science 346: 151–152. doi: 10.1126/science.346.6206.151

[3] Leroy EM, Kumulungui B, Pourrut X, Rouquet P, Hassanin A, Yaba P, Délicat A, Paweska, Gonzalez JP and Swanepoel R. 2005. Fruit bats as reservoirs of Ebola virus. Nature 438: 575–576. doi: 10.1038/438575a

[4] Sofonea MT, Aldakak L, Boullosa LFVV and Alizon S. 2017. Can Ebola Virus evolve to be less virulent in humans? bioRxiv 108589, ver. 3 of 19th May 2017; doi: 10.1101/108589

Can Ebola Virus evolve to be less virulent in humans?Mircea T. Sofonea, Lafi Aldakak, Luis Fernando Boullosa, Samuel AlizonUnderstanding Ebola Virus (EBOV) virulence evolution is not only timely but also raises specific questions because it causes one pf the most virulent human infections and it is capable of transmission after the death of its host. Using a compartme...Evolutionary EpidemiologyVirginie Ravigné2017-02-15 13:25:58 View
19 Dec 2016
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Geographic body size variation in the periodical cicadas Magicicada: implications for life cycle divergence and local adaptation

Megacicadas show a temperature-mediated converse Bergmann cline in body size (larger in the warmer south) but no body size difference between 13- and 17-year species pairs

Recommended by and

Periodical cicadas are a very prominent insect group in North America that are known for their large size, good looks, and loud sounds. However, they are probably known best to evolutionary ecologists because of their long juvenile periods of 13 or 17 years (prime numbers!), which they spend in the ground. Multiple related species living in the same area are often coordinated in emerging as adults during the same year, thereby presumably swamping any predators specialized on eating them.
Life history differences between the 13yr and 17yr cicadas are a particular focus of interest. For example, as it takes time to grow large, one would expect 17yr cicadas to be larger than 13yr cicadas on average. Koyama et al. [1] investigate geographic body size clines for 7 species of periodical cicadas in eastern North America, whose phylogenetic relationships are resolved, in a life history context, using an impressively large number of populations (Fig. 1 of [1]). The authors report generally female-biased sexual body size dimorphism (SSD), and (however not for all species) a positive relationship of body size with habitat annual mean temperature taken from weather data and a negative correlation with latitude (Fig. 3 of [1]). The latter is consistent with a converse Bergmann cline. Crucially, body size of two at least partly sympatric 13y & 17y sister species pairs did not differ (by much), contrary to expectation because the 17y species have more time to grow larger. 13y cicadas must therefore generally grow faster (or 17y cicadas slower) to in the end acquire the same (optimal?) body size. The phylogenetically oldest 13y cicada species, however, is larger, suggesting that selection for large (optimal?) body size has relaxed over evolutionary time, for unknown reasons (about which the authors speculate). A mechanistic explanation for this phenomenon is suggested based on the hypothesis that 17y cicadas simply arrest or slow down growth early during their juvenile stage to delay emergence for 4 further years (Fig. 2 of [1]).
We think this is an impressive data set, and the life history question addressed in this prominent insect taxon should appeal to readers generally interested in whole-organism evolution despite being largely descriptive.


[1] Koyama T, Ito H, Kakishima S, Yoshimura J, Cooley JR, Simon C, Sota T. 2015. Geographic body size variation in the periodical cicadas Magicicada: implications for life cycle divergence and local adaptation. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 28:1270-1277. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12653

Geographic body size variation in the periodical cicadas Magicicada: implications for life cycle divergence and local adaptationKoyama T, Ito H, Kakishima S, Yoshimura J, Cooley JR, Simon C, Sota TSeven species in three species groups (Decim, Cassini and Decula) of periodical cicadas (*Magicicada*) occupy a wide latitudinal range in the eastern United States. To clarify how adult body size, a key trait affecting fitness, varies geographical...Adaptation, Evolutionary Ecology, Life History, Macroevolution, Phylogeography & Biogeography, SpeciationWolf Blanckenhorn2016-12-19 10:39:22 View
19 Mar 2018
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Natural selection on plasticity of thermal traits in a highly seasonal environment

Is thermal plasticity itself shaped by natural selection? An assessment with desert frogs

Recommended by based on reviews by Dries Bonte, Wolf Blanckenhorn and Nadia Aubin-Horth

It is well known that climatic factors – most notably temperature, season length, insolation and humidity – shape the thermal niche of organisms on earth through the action of natural selection. But how is this achieved precisely? Much of thermal tolerance is actually mediated by phenotypic plasticity (as opposed to genetic adaptation). A prominent expectation is that environments with greater (daily and/or annual) thermal variability select for greater plasticity, i.e. better acclimation capacity. Thus, plasticity might be selected per se.

A Chilean group around Leonardo Bacigalupe assessed natural selection in the wild in one marginal (and extreme) population of the four-eyed frog Pleurodema thaul (Anura: Leptodactylidae) in an isolated oasis in the Atacama Desert, permitting estimation of mortality without much potential of confounding it with migration [1]. Several thermal traits were considered: CTmax – the critical maximal temperature; CTmin – the critical minimum temperature; Tpref – preferred temperature; Q10 – thermal sensitivity of metabolism; and body mass. Animals were captured in the wild and subsequently assessed for thermal traits in the laboratory at two acclimation temperatures (10° & 20°C), defining the plasticity in all traits as the difference between the traits at the two acclimation temperatures. Thereafter the animals were released again in their natural habitat and their survival was monitored over the subsequent 1.5 years, covering two breeding seasons, to estimate viability selection in the wild. The authors found and conclude that, aside from larger body size increasing survival (an unsurprising result), plasticity does not seem to be systematically selected directly, while some of the individual traits show weak signs of selection.

Despite limited sample size (ca. 80 frogs) investigated in only one marginal but very seasonal population, this study is interesting because selection on plasticity in physiological thermal traits, as opposed to selection on the thermal traits themselves, is rarely investigated. The study thus also addressed the old but important question of whether plasticity (i.e. CTmax-CTmin) is a trait by itself or an epiphenomenon defined by the actual traits (CTmax and CTmin) [2-5]. Given negative results, the main question could not be ultimately solved here, so more similar studies should be performed.


[1] Bacigalupe LD, Gaitan-Espitia, JD, Barria AM, Gonzalez-Mendez A, Ruiz-Aravena M, Trinder M & Sinervo B. 2018. Natural selection on plasticity of thermal traits in a highly seasonal environment. bioRxiv 191825, ver. 5 peer-reviewed by Peer Community In Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/191825
[2] Scheiner SM. 1993. Genetics and evolution of phenotypic plasticity. Annual Review in Ecology and Systematics 24: 35–68. doi: 10.1146/
[3] Scheiner SM. 1993. Plasticity as a selectable trait: Reply to Via. The American Naturalist. 142: 371–373. doi: 10.1086/285544
[4] Via S. 1993. Adaptive phenotypic plasticity - Target or by-product of selection in a variable environment? The American Naturalist. 142: 352–365. doi: 10.1086/285542
[5] Via S. 1993. Regulatory genes and reaction norms. The American Naturalist. 142: 374–378. doi: 10.1086/285542

Natural selection on plasticity of thermal traits in a highly seasonal environmentLeonardo Bacigalupe, Juan Diego Gaitan-Espitia, Aura M Barria, Avia Gonzalez-Mendez, Manuel Ruiz-Aravena, Mark Trinder, Barry Sinervo<p>For ectothermic species with broad geographical distributions, latitudinal/altitudinal variation in environmental temperatures (averages and extremes) are expected to shape the evolution of physiological tolerances and the acclimation capacity ...Adaptation, Evolutionary Ecology, Phenotypic PlasticityWolf Blanckenhorn2017-09-22 23:17:40 View
21 Nov 2019
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Environmental specificity in Drosophila-bacteria symbiosis affects host developmental plasticity

Nutrition-dependent effects of gut bacteria on growth plasticity in Drosophila melanogaster

Recommended by based on reviews by Pedro Simões and 1 anonymous reviewer

It is well known that the rearing environment has strong effects on life history and fitness traits of organisms. Microbes are part of every environment and as such likely contribute to such environmental effects. Gut bacteria are a special type of microbe that most animals harbor, and as such they are part of most animals’ environment. Such microbial symbionts therefore likely contribute to local adaptation [1]. The main question underlying the laboratory study by Guilhot et al. [2] was: How much do particular gut bacteria affect the organismal phenotype, in terms of life history and larval foraging traits, of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, a common laboratory model species in biology?
To investigate the above question, the authors isolated 4 taxa of bacteria from the gut of a (randomly picked) Drosophila melanogaster lab strain, and subsequently let Drosophila melanogaster eggs and larvae (stemming from their own, different lab strain) develop both in the typical artificial laboratory medium as well as in grapes, a natural “new” habitat for Drosophila larvae, inoculated with theses bacteria, singly and in combination, also including a bacteria-free control. By investigating various relevant developmental and size traits, the authors found that adding particularly Enterobacteria had some visible effects on several traits, both upward (indicting improvement) and downward (being detrimental) (with three other types of bacteria showing only minor or even no effects). In general, the grape medium reduced performance relative to the standard lab medium. Strongest interactive effects occurred for development time and body size, together making up growth plasticity [3], with lesser such effects on some related behavioral (feeding) traits (Figs. 2,3).
The study premise is interesting, its general objectives are clearly laid out, and the practical work was conducted correctly as far as I can evaluate. The study remains largely descriptive in that no particular a priori hypotheses or predictions in relation to the specific bacteria isolated were formulated, not least because the bacteria were necessarily somewhat arbitrarily chosen and there were apparently no prior studies from which to derive concrete predictions. Overall, the results of this study should be of interest to the community of evolutionary ecologists, especially those working on nutritional and microbiome effects on animal life histories. I consider this work to be primarily ecological, with limited evolutionary content (e.g. no genetics) though some evolutionary implications, as mentioned in the paper’s Conclusions. So this paper would best fit in a microbial or physiological ecology outlet/journal.
The inclusion of a natural medium (grapes) must be commended because this permits inferences and conclusions for at least one natural environment, whereas inferences drawn from laboratory studies in the artificial medium that most Drosophila researchers seem to use are typically limited. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the study showed that Drosophila melanogaster fared generally better in the artificial than the chosen natural medium (grape). Crucially, however, the bacterial symbionts modified both media differentially. Although common bacterial taxa were chosen, the particular bacteria isolated and used remain arbitrary, as there are many. I note that the main and strongest interactive effects between medium and bacterial type are apparent for the Enterobacteria, and they probably also strongly, if not exclusively, mediate the overall effect of the bacterial mixture.
While these specific data are novel, they are not very surprising. If we grow animals in different environments we can expect some detectable effects of these environments, including the bacterial (microbiome) environment, on the hosts life history. The standard and predicted [4] life history response of Drosophila melanogaster (but not all insects [3]) facing stressful nutritional environments, as apparently created by the Enterobacteria, is to extend development but come out smaller in the end. This is what happened here for the laboratory medium ([2]: Fig. 5). The biological interpretation is that individuals have more trouble ingesting and/or digesting the nutrients available (thus prolonging their foraging period and development), yet cannot convert the nutrients effectively into body size increments (hence emerging smaller). This is what the authors here refer to as developmental plasticity, which is ultimately nutritionally mediated. However, interestingly, a signal in the opposite direction was indicated for the bacterial mixture in the grape medium (flies emerging larger after accelerated development: Fig. 5), suggesting some positive effects on growth rate of the natural medium, perhaps related to grapes being a limited resource that needs to be escaped quickly [3]? The reversal of sexual size dimorphism across bacterial treatments in the grape environment detectable in Fig. 4 is interesting, too, though I don’t understand why this happens, and this is not discussed.
In general, more encompassing and increased questions in this context to be researched in the future could be: 1) are these effects predictable (not (yet) at this point, or so it seems); and 2) how strong are these environmental bacterial effects relative to other, more standard effects (e.g. relative to genetic variation, population variation, etc., or relative to other types of environmental effects like, say, temperature)? (3) It could further be asked why not natural but laboratory populations of Drosophila were used for this experiment, if the aim was to draw inferences for the wild situation. (4) Although Genotype x Environment effects are invoked in the Discussion, they were not tested here, lacking genetically different Drosophila families or populations. From an evolutionary standpoint, I consider this the greatest weakness of the study. I was also not too thrilled by the particular statistical analyses employed, though this ultimately does not negate the results. Nevertheless, this work is a good start in this huge field investigating the microbiome. In conclusion, I can recommend this paper after review by PCI Evol Biol.


[1] Kawecki, T. J. and Ebert, D. (2004) Conceptual issues in local adaptation. Ecology Letters 7: 1225-1241. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2004.00684.x
[2] Guilhot, R., Rombaut, A., Xuéreb, A., Howell, K. and Fellous, S. (2019). Environmental specificity in Drosophila-bacteria symbiosis affects host developmental plasticity. BioRxiv, 717702, v3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/717702
[3] Blanckenhorn, W.U. (1999) Different growth responses to temperature and resource limitation in three fly species with similar life histories. Evolutionary Ecology 13: 395-409. doi: 10.1023/A:1006741222586
[4] Stearns, S. C. and Koella, J. (1986) The evolution of phenotypic plasticity in life history traits: predictions of reaction norms for age and size at maturity. Evolution 40: 893-914. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.1986.tb00560.x

Environmental specificity in Drosophila-bacteria symbiosis affects host developmental plasticityRobin Guilhot, Antoine Rombaut, Anne Xuéreb, Kate Howell, Simon Fellous<p>Environmentally acquired microbial symbionts could contribute to host adaptation to local conditions like vertically transmitted symbionts do. This scenario necessitates symbionts to have different effects in different environments. We investig...Adaptation, Evolutionary Ecology, Phenotypic Plasticity, Species interactionsWolf Blanckenhorn2019-02-13 15:22:23 View
24 Aug 2022
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Density dependent environments can select for extremes of body size

A population biological modeling approach for life history and body size evolution

Recommended by based on reviews by Frédéric Guillaume and 2 anonymous reviewers

Body size evolution is a central theme in evolutionary biology. Particularly the question of when and how smaller body sizes can evolve continues to interest evolutionary ecologists, because most life history models, and the empirical evidence, document that large body size is favoured by natural and sexual selection in most (even small) organisms and environments at most times. How, then, can such a large range of body size and life history syndromes evolve and coexist in nature?

The paper by Coulson et al. lifts this question to the level of the population, a relatively novel approach using so-called integral projection (simulation) models (IPMs) (as opposed to individual-based or game theoretical models). As is well outlined by (anonymous) Reviewer 1, and following earlier papers spearheading this approach in other life history contexts, the authors use the well-known carrying capacity (K) of population biology as the ultimate fitness parameter to be maximized or optimized (rather than body size per se), to ultimately identify factors and conditions promoting the evolution of extreme body sizes in nature. They vary (individual or population) size-structured growth trajectories to observe age and size at maturity, surivorship and fecundity/fertility schedules upon evaluating K (see their Fig. 1). Importantly, trade-offs are introduced via density-dependence, either for adult reproduction or for juvenile survival, in two (of several conceivable) basic scenarios (see their Table 2). All other relevant standard life history variables (see their Table 1) are assumed density-independent, held constant or zero (as e.g. the heritability of body size).

The authors obtain evidence for disruptive selection on body size in both scenarios, with small size and a fast life history evolving below a threshold size at maturity (at the lowest K) and large size and a slow life history beyond this threshold (see their Fig. 2). Which strategy wins ultimately depends on the fitness benefits of delaying sexual maturity (at larger size and longer lifespan) at the adult stage relative to the preceeding juvenile mortality costs, in agreement with classic life history theory (Roff 1992, Stearns 1992). The modeling approach can be altered and refined to be applied to other key life history parameters and environments. These results can ultimately explain the evolution of smaller body sizes from large body sizes, or vice versa, and their corresponding life history syndromes, depending on the precise environmental circumstances.

All reviewers agreed that the approach taken is technically sound (as far as it could be evaluated), and that the results are interesting and worthy of publication. In a first round of reviews various clarifications of the manuscript were suggested by the reviewers. The new version was substantially changed by the authors in response, to the extent that it now is a quite different but much clearer paper with a clear message palatable for the general reader. The writing is now to the point, the paper's focus becomes clear in the Introduction, Methods & Results are much less technical, the Figures illustrative, and the descriptions and interpretations in the Discussion are easy to follow.

In general any reader may of course question the choice and realism of the scenarios and underlying assumptions chosen by the authors for simplicity and clarity, for instance no heritability of body size and no cost of reproduction (other than mortality). But this is always the case in modeling work, and the authors acknowledge and in fact suggest concrete extensions and expansions of their approach in the Discussion.


Coulson T., Felmy A., Potter T., Passoni G., Montgomery R.A., Gaillard J.-M., Hudson P.J., Travis J., Bassar R.D., Tuljapurkar S., Marshall D.J., Clegg S.M. (2022) Density-dependent environments can select for extremes of body size. bioRxiv, 2022.02.17.480952, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Density dependent environments can select for extremes of body sizeTim Coulson, Anja Felmy, Tomos Potter, Gioele Passoni, Robert A Montgomery, Jean-Michel Gaillard, Peter J Hudson, Joseph Travis, Ronald D Bassar, Shripad D Tuljapurkar, Dustin Marshall, Sonya M Clegg<p>Body size variation is an enigma. We do not understand why species achieve the sizes they do, and this means we also do not understand the circumstances under which gigantism or dwarfism is selected. We develop size-structured integral projecti...Evolutionary Dynamics, Evolutionary Ecology, Evolutionary Theory, Life HistoryWolf Blanckenhorn2022-02-21 07:59:04 View