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23 Feb 2024
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Exploring the effects of ecological parameters on the spatial structure of genetic tree sequences

Disentangling the impact of mating and competition on dispersal patterns

Recommended by based on reviews by Anthony Wilder Wohns, Christian Huber and 2 anonymous reviewers

Spatial population genetics is a field that studies how different evolutionary processes shape geographical patterns of genetic variation. This field is currently hampered by the lack of a deep understanding of the impact of different evolutionary processes shaping the genetic diversity observed across a continuous space (Bradburd and Ralph 2019). Luckily, the recent development of slendr (Petr et al. 2023), which uses the simulator SLiM (Haller and Messer 2023), provides a powerful tool to perform simulations to analyze the impact of different evolutionary parameters on spatial patterns of genetic variation. Here, Ianni-Ravn, Petr, and Racimo 2023 present a series of well-designed simulations to study how three evolutionary factors (dispersal distance, competition distance, and mate choice distance) shape the geographical structure of genealogies.

The authors model the dispersal distance between parents and their offspring using five different distributions. Then, the authors perform simulations and they contrast the correspondence between the distribution of observed parent-offspring distances (called DD in the paper) and the distribution used in the simulations (called DF). The authors observe a reasonable correspondence between DF and DD. The authors then show that the competition distance, which decreases the fitness of individuals due to competition for resources if the individuals are close to each other, has small effects on the differences between DD and DF. In contrast, the mate choice distance (which specifies how far away can a parent go to choose a mate) causes discrepancies between DD and DF. When the mate choice distance is small, the individuals tend to cluster close to each other. Overall, these results show that the observed distances between parents and offspring are dependent on the three parameters inspected (dispersal distance, competition distance, and mate choice distance) and make the case that further ecological knowledge of each of these parameters is important to determine the processes driving the dispersal of individuals across geographical space. Based on these results, the authors argue that an “effective dispersal distance” parameter, which takes into account the impact of mate choice distance and dispersal distance, is more prone to be inferred from genetic data.

The authors also assess our ability to estimate the dispersal distance using genealogical data in a scenario where the mating distance has small effects on the dispersal distance. Interestingly, the authors show that accurate estimates of the dispersal distance can be obtained when using information from all the parents and offspring going from the present back to the coalescence of all the individuals to the most recent common ancestor. On the other hand, the estimates of the dispersal distance are underestimated when less information from the parent-offspring relationships is used to estimate the dispersal distance.

This paper shows the importance of considering mating patterns and the competition for resources when analyzing the dispersal of individuals. The analysis performed by the authors backs up this claim with carefully designed simulations. I recommend this preprint because it makes a strong case for the consideration of ecological factors when analyzing the structure of genealogies and the dispersal of individuals. Hopefully more studies in the future will continue to use simulations and to develop analytical theory to understand the importance of various ecological processes driving spatial genetic variation changes.


Bradburd, Gideon S., and Peter L. Ralph. 2019. “Spatial Population Genetics: It’s About Time.” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 50 (1): 427–49.

Haller, Benjamin C., and Philipp W. Messer. 2023. “SLiM 4: Multispecies Eco-Evolutionary Modeling.” The American Naturalist 201 (5): E127–39.

Ianni-Ravn, Mariadaria K., Martin Petr, and Fernando Racimo. 2023. “Exploring the Effects of Ecological Parameters on the Spatial Structure of Genealogies.” bioRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Petr, Martin, Benjamin C. Haller, Peter L. Ralph, and Fernando Racimo. 2023. “Slendr: A Framework for Spatio-Temporal Population Genomic Simulations on Geographic Landscapes.” Peer Community Journal 3 (e121).

Exploring the effects of ecological parameters on the spatial structure of genetic tree sequencesMariadaria K. Ianni-Ravn, Martin Petr, Fernando Racimo<p>Geographic space is a fundamental dimension of evolutionary change, determining how individuals disperse and interact with each other. Consequently, space has an important influence on the structure of genealogies and the distribution of geneti...Phylogeography & Biogeography, Population Genetics / GenomicsDiego Ortega-Del Vecchyo2023-03-31 18:21:02 View
05 Jan 2023
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Promoting extinction or minimizing growth? The impact of treatment on trait trajectories in evolving populations

Trait trajectories in evolving populations: insights from mathematical models

Recommended by based on reviews by Rob Noble and 3 anonymous reviewers

The evolution of cells within organisms can be an important determinant of disease. This is especially clear in the emergence of tumors and cancers from the underlying healthy tissue. In the healthy state, homeostasis is maintained through complex regulatory processes that ensure a relatively constant population size of cells, which is required for tissue function. Tumor cells escape this homeostasis, resulting in uncontrolled growth and consequent disease. Disease progression is driven by further evolutionary processes within the tumor, and so is the response of tumors to therapies. Therefore, evolutionary biology is an important component required for a better understanding of carcinogenesis and the treatment of cancers. In particular, evolutionary theory helps define the principles of mutant evolution and thus to obtain a clearer picture of the determinants of tumor emergence and therapy responses.     

The study by Raatz and Traulsen [1] makes an important contribution in this respect. They use mathematical and computational models to investigate trait evolution in the context of evolutionary rescue, motivated by the dynamics of cancer, and also bacterial infections. This study views the establishment of tumors as cell dynamics in harsh environments, where the population is prone to extinction unless mutants emerge that increase evolutionary fitness, allowing them to expand (evolutionary rescue). The core processes of the model include growth, death, and mutations. Random mutations are assumed to give rise to cell lineages with different trait combinations, where the birth and death rates of cells can change.  The resulting evolutionary trajectories are investigated in the models, and interesting new results were obtained. For example, the turnover of the population was identified as an important determinant of trait evolution. Turnover is defined as the balance between birth and death, with large rates corresponding to fast turnover and small rates to slow turnover. It was found that for fast cell turnover, a given adaptive step in the trait space results in a smaller increase in survival probability than for cell populations with slower turnover. In other words, evolutionary rescue is more difficult to achieve for fast compared to slow turnover populations. While more mutants can be produced for faster cell turnover rates, the analysis showed that this is not sufficient to overcome the barrier to the evolutionary rescue. This result implies that aggressive tumors with fast cell birth and death rates are less likely to persist and progress than tumors with lower turnover rates. This work emphasizes the importance of measuring the turnover rate in different tumors to advance our understanding of the determinants of tumor initiation and progression. The authors discuss that the well-documented heterogeneity in tumors likely also applies to cellular turnover. If a tumor consists of sub-populations with faster and slower turnover, it is possible that a slower turnover cell clone (e.g. characterized by a degree of dormancy) would enjoy a selective advantage. Another source of heterogeneity in turnover could be given by the hierarchical organization of tumors. Similar to the underlying healthy tissue, many tumors are thought to be maintained by a population of cancer stem cells, while the tumor bulk is made up of more differentiated cells. Tissue stem cells tend to be characterized by a lower turnover than progenitor or transit-amplifying cells. Depending on the assumptions about the self-renewal capacity of these different cell populations, the potential for evolutionary rescue could be different depending on the cell compartment in which the mutant emerges. This might be interesting to explore in the future.

There are also implications for treatment. Two types of treatment were investigated: density-affecting treatments in which the density of cells is reduced without altering their trait parameters, and trait-affecting treatments in which the birth and/or death rates are altered. Both types of treatment were found to change the trajectories of trait adaptation, which has potentially important practical implications. Interestingly, it was found that competitive release during treatment can result in situations where after treatment cessation, the non-extinct populations recover to reach sizes that were higher than in the absence of treatment. This points towards the potential of adaptive therapy approaches, where sensitive cells are maintained to some extent to suppress resistant clones [2] competitively. In this context, it is interesting that the success of such approaches might also depend on the turnover of the tumor cell population, as shown by a recent mathematical modeling study [3]. In particular, it was found that adaptive therapy is less likely to work for slow compared to fast turnover tumors. Yet, the current study by Raatz and Traulsen [1] suggests that tumors are more likely to evolve in a slow turnover setting.

While there is strong relevance of this analysis for tumor evolution, the results generated in this study have more general relevance. Besides tumors, the paper discusses applications to bacterial disease dynamics in some detail, which is also interesting to compare and contrast to evolutionary processes in cancer. Overall, this study provides insights into the dynamics of evolutionary rescue that represent valuable additions to evolutionary theory.  


[1] Raatz M, Traulsen A (2023) Promoting extinction or minimizing growth? The impact of treatment on trait trajectories in evolving populations. bioRxiv, 2022.06.17.496570, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

[2] Gatenby RA, Silva AS, Gillies RJ, Frieden BR (2009) Adaptive Therapy. Cancer Research, 69, 4894–4903.

[3] Strobl MAR, West J, Viossat Y, Damaghi M, Robertson-Tessi M, Brown JS, Gatenby RA, Maini PK, Anderson ARA (2021) Turnover Modulates the Need for a Cost of Resistance in Adaptive Therapy. Cancer Research, 81, 1135–1147.

Promoting extinction or minimizing growth? The impact of treatment on trait trajectories in evolving populationsMichael Raatz, Arne Traulsen<p style="text-align: justify;">When cancers or bacterial infections establish, small populations of cells have to free themselves from homoeostatic regulations that prevent their expansion. Trait evolution allows these populations to evade this r...Evolutionary Dynamics, Evolutionary Ecology, Evolutionary TheoryDominik Wodarz2022-06-18 08:44:37 View
12 Jun 2018
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Transgenerational cues about local mate competition affect offspring sex ratios in the spider mite Tetranychus urticae

Maternal effects in sex-ratio adjustment

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Optimal sex ratios have been topic of extensive studies so far. Fisherian 1:1 proportions of males and females are known to be optimal in most (diploid) organisms, but many deviations from this golden rule are observed. These deviations not only attract a lot of attention from evolutionary biologists but also from population ecologists as they eventually determine long-term population growth. Because sex ratios are tightly linked to fitness, they can be under strong selection or plastic in response to changing demographic conditions. Hamilton [1] pointed out that an equality of the sex ratio breaks down when there is local competition for mates. Competition for mates can be considered as a special case of local resource competition. In short, this theory predicts females to adjust their offspring sex ratio conditional on cues indicating the level of local mate competition that their sons will experience. When cues indicate high levels of LMC mothers should invest more resources in the production of daughters to maximise their fitness, while offspring sex ratios should be closer to 50:50 when cues indicate low levels of LMC.
In isolated populations, Macke et al. [2] found sex ratio to evolve fast in response to changes in population sex-structure in the spider mite Tetranychus urticae. Spider mites are becoming top-models in evolutionary biology because of their easy housekeeping, fast generation times and well-studied genome [3]. The species is known to respond fast to changes in relatedness and kin-structure by changing its mating strategy [4], but also dispersal [5]. Sex ratio adjustments are likely mediated by differential investments in egg size, with small eggs possibly experiencing lower chances of fertilization, and thus to develop in haploid males [4].
Alison Duncan and colleagues [6] asked the question whether sex ratios change plastically in response to changes in the local population structure. They additionally questioned whether maternal effects could drive changes in sex-allocation of spider mite mothers. Indeed, theory predicts that if environmental changes are predictable across generations, intergenerational plasticity might be more adaptive than intragenerational plasticity [7]. Especially in spatially structured and highly dynamics populations, female spider mites may experience highly variable demographic conditions from one generation to another. During range expansions, spatial variation in local relatedness and inbreeding are documented to change and to impact eco-evolutionary trajectories as well (e.g. [8]).
Duncan et al. [6] specifically investigate whether the offspring sex ratio of T. urticae females changes in response to 1) the current number of females in the same patch, 2) the number of females in the patches of their mothers and 3) their relatedness to their mate. They surprisingly find the maternal environment to be more important than the actual experienced sex-ratio conditions. These insights thus show the maternal environment to be a reliable predictor of LMC experienced by grand-children. Maternal effects have been found to impact many traits, but this study is the first to convincingly demonstrate maternal effects in sex allocation. It therefore provides an alternative explanation of the apparent fast evolved responses under constant demographic conditions [2], and adds evidence to the importance of non-genetic trait changes for adaptation towards changing demographic and environmental conditions.


[1] Hamilton, W. D. (1967). Extraordinary Sex Ratios. Science, 156(3774), 477–488. doi: 10.1126/science.156.3774.477
[2] Macke, E., Magalhães, S., Bach, F., & Olivieri, I. (2011). Experimental evolution of reduced sex ratio adjustment under local mate competition. Science, 334(6059), 1127–1129. doi: 10.1126/science.1212177
[3] Grbić, M., Van Leeuwen, T., Clark, R. M., et al. (2011). The genome of Tetranychus urticae reveals herbivorous pest adaptations. Nature, 479(7374), 487–492. doi: 10.1038/nature10640
[4] Macke, E., Magalhães, S., Bach, F., & Olivieri, I. (2012). Sex-ratio adjustment in response to local mate competition is achieved through an alteration of egg size in a haplodiploid spider mite. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1747), 4634–4642. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1598
[5] Bitume, E. V., Bonte, D., Ronce, O., Bach, F., Flaven, E., Olivieri, I., & Nieberding, C. M. (2013). Density and genetic relatedness increase dispersal distance in a subsocial organism. Ecology Letters, 16(4), 430–437. doi: 10.1111/ele.12057
[6] Duncan, A., Marinosci, C., Devaux, C., Lefèvre, S., Magalhães, S., Griffin, J., Valente, A., Ronce, O., Olivieri, I. (2018). Transgenerational cues about local mate competition affect offspring sex ratios in the spider mite Tetranychus urticae. BioRxiv, 240127, ver. 3. doi: 10.1101/240127
[7] Petegem, K. V., Moerman, F., Dahirel, M., Fronhofer, E. A., Vandegehuchte, M. L., Leeuwen, T. V., Wybouw, N., Stoks, R., Bonte, D. (2018). Kin competition accelerates experimental range expansion in an arthropod herbivore. Ecology Letters, 21(2), 225–234. doi: 10.1111/ele.12887
[8] Marshall, D. J., & Uller, T. (2007). When is a maternal effect adaptive? Oikos, 116(12), 1957–1963. doi: 10.1111/j.2007.0030-1299.16203.x

Transgenerational cues about local mate competition affect offspring sex ratios in the spider mite Tetranychus urticaeAlison B. Duncan, Cassandra Marinosci, Céline Devaux, Sophie Lefèvre, Sara Magalhães, Joanne Griffin, Adeline Valente, Ophélie Ronce, Isabelle Olivieri<p style="text-align: justify;">In structured populations, competition between closely related males for mates, termed Local Mate Competition (LMC), is expected to select for female-biased offspring sex ratios. However, the cues underlying sex all...Evolutionary Ecology, Life HistoryDries Bonte2017-12-29 16:10:32 View
05 May 2020
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Meta-population structure and the evolutionary transition to multicellularity

The ecology of evolutionary transitions to multicellularity

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

The evolutionary transition to multicellular life from free-living, single-celled ancestors has occurred independently in multiple lineages [1-5]. This evolutionary transition to cooperative group living can be difficult to explain given the fitness advantages enjoyed by the non-cooperative, single-celled organisms that still numerically dominate life on earth [1,6,7]. Although several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the transition to multicellularity, a common theme is the abatement of the efficacy of natural selection among the single cells during the free-living stage and the promotion of the efficacy of selection among groups of cells during the cooperative stage, an argument reminiscent of those from George Williams’ seminal book [8,9]. The evolution of life cycles appears to be a key step in the transition to multicellularity as it can align fitness advantages of the single-celled 'reproductive' stage with that of the cooperative 'organismal' stage [9-12]. That is, the evolution of life cycles allows natural selection to operate over timescales longer than that of the doubling time of the free-living cells [13]. Despite the importance of this issue, identifying the range of ecological conditions that reduce the importance of natural selection at the single-celled, free-living stage and increase the importance of selection among groups of cooperating cells has not been addressed empirically.
Rose et al [14] addressed this issue in a series of real time evolution experiments with bacteria in which they varied the intensity of between-group versus individual-level selection. Central to the experiment is an ecological scaffold that requires lineages to switch between free-living (reproductive) and group-living (organismal) life-stages. One ecological scenario severely limited natural selection at the single-celled, free-living stage by maintaining separation among the reproductive propagules originating from different organisms (groups of cells derived from a single ancestral cell). A second ecological scenario mixed the reproductive propagules from different organisms, leading to severe competition between single cells derived from both the same and other 'organisms'. These ecological scenarios lead to very different evolutionary outcomes. Limiting competition, and thus natural selection, at the reproductive propagule stage promoted traits that favored organismal fitness at the expense of cell division, while competition among single-cells favored traits that promote cell-level traits at the expense of group-level traits. The authors investigate a range of measures of cell and group-level performance in order to understand the mechanisms favoring organismal versus single-cell fitness. Importantly, an evolutionary trade-off between traits promoting organismal fitness and single-cell fitness appears to constrain maximizing fitness of both phases, especially when strong natural selection acts on the single-cell stage.
This article is incredibly thorough and utilizes multiple experiments and levels of argument in order to support the conclusions. The authors include considerable discussion of broader topics surrounding the immediate hypotheses throughout the article, which add both clarity and complexity. The complexity of the experiments, results, and the topic itself lead to a thought-heavy article in a throwback to the monographs of old; expect to read each section multiple times.


[1] Maynard Smith, J. and Szathmáry, E. (1995). The Major Transitions in Evolution. Oxford, UK: Freeman. p 346.
[2] Bonner, J. T. (1998). The origins of multicellularity. Integrative Biology: Issues, News, and Reviews: Published in Association with The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, 1(1), 27-36. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6602(1998)1:1<27::AID-INBI4>3.0.CO;2-6
[3] Kaiser, D. (2001). Building a multicellular organism. Annual review of genetics, 35(1), 103-123. doi: 10.1146/annurev.genet.35.102401.090145
[4] Medina, M., Collins, A. G., Taylor, J. W., Valentine, J. W., Lipps, J. H., Amaral-Zettler, L., and Sogin, M. L. (2003). Phylogeny of Opisthokonta and the evolution of multicellularity and complexity in Fungi and Metazoa. International Journal of Astrobiology, 2(3), 203-211. doi: 10.1017/S1473550403001551
[5] King, N. (2004). The unicellular ancestry of animal development. Developmental cell, 7(3), 313-325. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2004.08.010
[6] Michod R. E. (1999). Darwinian Dynamics. Evolutionary Transitions in Fitness and Individuality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press. p 262.
[7] Lynch, M. (2007). The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(suppl 1), 8597-8604. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0702207104
[8] Williams, G. C. (1996). Adaptation and Natural Selection, Reprint edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
[9] Grosberg, R. K., and Strathmann, R. R. (2007). The evolution of multicellularity: a minor major transition?. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst., 38, 621-654. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.36.102403.114735
[10] Buss, L. W. (1987). The Evolution of Individuality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
[11] Godfrey-Smith, P. (2009). Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection. Oxford University Press, USA.
[12] Van Gestel, J., and Tarnita, C. E. (2017). On the origin of biological construction, with a focus on multicellularity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(42), 11018-11026. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1704631114
[13] Black, A. J., Bourrat, P., and Rainey, P. B. (2020). Ecological scaffolding and the evolution of individuality. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 4(3), 426-436. doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-1086-9
[14] Rose, C. J., Hammerschmidt, K., Pichugin, Y. and Rainey, P. B. (2020). Meta-population structure and the evolutionary transition to multicellularity. bioRxiv, 407163, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/407163

Meta-population structure and the evolutionary transition to multicellularityCaroline J Rose, Katrin Hammerschmidt, Yuriy Pichugin and Paul B Rainey<p>The evolutionary transition to multicellularity has occurred on numerous occasions, but transitions to complex life forms are rare. While the reasons are unclear, relevant factors include the intensity of within- versus between-group selection ...Adaptation, Evolutionary Dynamics, Experimental EvolutionDustin Brisson2019-04-04 12:26:36 View
14 Apr 2021
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Parasitic success and venom composition evolve upon specialization of parasitoid wasps to different host species

What makes a parasite successful? Parasitoid wasp venoms evolve rapidly in a host-specific manner

Recommended by based on reviews by Simon Fellous, alexandre leitão and 1 anonymous reviewer

Parasitoid wasps have developed different mechanisms to increase their parasitic success, usually at the expense of host survival (Fellowes and Godfray, 2000). Eggs of these insects are deposited inside the juvenile stages of their hosts, which in turn deploy several immune response strategies to eliminate or disable them (Yang et al., 2020). Drosophila melanogaster protects itself against parasitoid attacks through the production of specific elongated haemocytes called lamellocytes which form a capsule around the invading parasite (Lavine and Strand, 2002; Rizki and Rizki, 1992) and the subsequent activation of the phenol-oxidase cascade leading to the release of toxic radicals (Nappi et al., 1995). On the parasitoid side, robust responses have evolved to evade host immune defenses as for example the Drosophila-specific endoparasite Leptopilina boulardi, which releases venom during oviposition that modifies host behaviour (Varaldi et al., 2006) and inhibits encapsulation (Gueguen et al., 2011; Martinez et al., 2012).
Studies have shown that the wasp parasitic capacity is correlated to venom presence and its content (Colinet et al., 2009; Poirié et al., 2014), including that evolution of venom protein composition is driven by different levels of host susceptibility to infection (Cavigliasso et al., 2019). However, it had not been determined to this day, if and how parasitic range can affect venom protein composition and to which extent host specialization requires broad-spectrum factors or a plethora of specialized components.
These outstanding questions are now approached in a study by Cavigliasso and colleagues (Cavigliasso et al., 2021), where they perform experimental evolution of L. boulardi for 9 generations exposing it to different Drosophila host species and genetic backgrounds (two strains of D. melanogaster, D. simulans and D. yakuba). The authors tested whether the parasitic success of each selection regime was host-specific and how they influenced venom composition in parasitoids. For the first part, infection outcomes were assayed for each selection regime when cross-infecting different hosts. To get a finer measurement of the mechanisms under selection, the authors differentiated three phenotypes: overall parasitic success, encapsulation inhibition and escape from capsule. Throughout the course of experimental evolution, only encapsulation inhibition did not show an improved response upon selection on any host. Importantly, the cross-infection scenario revealed a clear specificity to the selected host for each evolved resistance.
As for venom composition, a trend of differential evolution was detected between host species, although a significant part of that was due to a larger differentiation in the D. yakuba regime, which showed a completely different directionality. Importantly, the authors could identify some of the specific proteins targeted by the several selection regimes, whether selected or counter-selected for. Interestingly, the D. yakuba regime is the only case where the key parasitoid protein LbSPNy (Colinet et al., 2009) was not counter-selected and the only regime in which the overall venom composition did not evolve towards the Ism strain, one of the two ancestral strains of L. boulardi used in the study. It is possible that these two results are correlated, since LbSPNy has been described to inhibit activation of the phenoloxidase cascade in D. yakuba and is one of the most abundant proteins in the ISy venom, making it a good target for selection (Colinet et al., 2013). The authors also discuss the possibility that this difference is related to the geographical distribution of the strains of L. boulardi, since each coincide with either D. melanogaster or D. yakuba.
This methodologically broad work by Cavigliasso and colleagues constitutes an important experimental contribution towards the understanding of how parasitoid adaptation to specific hosts is achieved at different phenotypic and mechanistic levels. It provides compelling evidence that venom composition evolves differently in response to specific parasitic ranges, particularly considering the evolutionary difference between the selective hosts. In line with this result, it is also concluded that the majority of venom proteins selected are lineage-specific, although a few broad-spectrum factors could also be detected. 
The question of whether parasitic range can affect venom composition and parasitic success is still open to more contributions. A potentially interesting long-term direction will be to use a similar setup of experimental evolution on the generalist L. heterotoma (Schlenke et al., 2007) . On a more immediate horizon, comparing the venom evolution of both L. heterotoma and L. boulardi under selection with different hosts and under cross-infection scenarios could reveal interesting patterns. The recent sequencing of the L. boulardi genome together with the vast number of studies addressing mechanisms of Drosophila resistance to parasitoid infection, will enable the thorough characterization of the genetic basis of host-parasitoid interactions and the deeper understanding of these ubiquitous and economically-relevant relationships.
*This recommendation text has been co-written with Tânia F. Paulo who is not a recommender of PCI Evol Biol



Cavigliasso, F., Mathé-Hubert, H., Gatti, J.-L., Colinet, D. and Poirié, M. (2021) Parasitic success and venom composition evolve upon specialization of parasitoid wasps to different host species. bioRxiv, 2020.10.24.353417, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Cavigliasso, F., Mathé-Hubert, H., Kremmer, L., Rebuf, C., Gatti, J.-L., Malausa, T., Colinet, D., Poiré, M. and  Léne. (2019). Rapid and Differential Evolution of the Venom Composition of a Parasitoid Wasp Depending on the Host Strain. Toxins, 11(629).

Colinet, D., Deleury, E., Anselme, C., Cazes, D., Poulain, J., Azema-Dossat, C., Belghazi, M., Gatti, J. L. and  Poirié, M. (2013). Extensive inter- and intraspecific venom variation in closely related parasites targeting the same host: The case of Leptopilina parasitoids of Drosophila. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 43(7), 601–611.

Colinet, D., Dubuffet, A., Cazes, D., Moreau, S., Drezen, J. M. and  Poirié, M. (2009). A serpin from the parasitoid wasp Leptopilina boulardi targets the Drosophila phenoloxidase cascade. Developmental and Comparative Immunology, 33(5), 681–689.

Fellowes, M. D. E. and  Godfray, H. C. J. (2000). The evolutionary ecology of resistance to parasitoids by Drosophila. Heredity, 84(1), 1–8.

Gueguen, G., Rajwani, R., Paddibhatla, I., Morales, J. and  Govind, S. (2011). VLPs of Leptopilina boulardi share biogenesis and overall stellate morphology with VLPs of the heterotoma clade. Virus Research, 160(1–2), 159–165.

Lavine, M. D. and  Strand, M. R. (2002). Insect hemocytes and their role in immunity. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 32(10), 1295–1309.

Martinez, J., Duplouy, A., Woolfit, M., Vavre, F., O’Neill, S. L. and  Varaldi, J. (2012). Influence of the virus LbFV and of Wolbachia in a host-parasitoid interaction. PloS One, 7(4), e35081.

Nappi, A. J., Vass, E., Frey, F. and  Carton, Y. (1995). Superoxide anion generation in Drosophila during melanotic encapsulation of parasites. European Journal of Cell Biology, 68(4), 450–456.

Poirié, M., Colinet, D. and  Gatti, J. L. (2014). Insights into function and evolution of parasitoid wasp venoms. Current Opinion in Insect Science, 6, 52–60.

Rizki, T. M. and  Rizki, R. M. (1992). Lamellocyte differentiation in Drosophila larvae parasitized by Leptopilina. Developmental and Comparative Immunology, 16(2–3), 103–110.

Schlenke, T. A., Morales, J., Govind, S. and  Clark, A. G. (2007). Contrasting infection strategies in generalist and specialist wasp parasitoids of Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS Pathogens, 3(10), 1486–1501.

Varaldi, J., Petit, S., Boulétreau, M. and  Fleury, F. (2006). The virus infecting the parasitoid Leptopilina boulardi exerts a specific action on superparasitism behaviour. Parasitology, 132(Pt 6), 747–756.

Yang, L., Qiu, L., Fang, Q., Stanley, D. W. and  Gong‐Yin, Y. (2020). Cellular and humoral immune interactions between Drosophila and its parasitoids. Insect Science.


Parasitic success and venom composition evolve upon specialization of parasitoid wasps to different host speciesFanny Cavigliasso, Hugo Mathé-Hubert, Jean-Luc Gatti, Dominique Colinet, Marylène Poirié<p>Female endoparasitoid wasps usually inject venom into hosts to suppress their immune response and ensure offspring development. However, the parasitoid’s ability to evolve towards increased success on a given host simultaneously with the evolut...Experimental Evolution, Species interactionsÉlio Sucena2020-10-26 15:00:55 View
02 Nov 2020
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Experimental evolution of virulence and associated traits in a Drosophila melanogaster – Wolbachia symbiosis

Temperature effects on virulence evolution of wMelPop Wolbachia in Drosophila melanogaster

Recommended by based on reviews by Shira Houwenhuyse and 3 anonymous reviewers

Monnin et al. [1] here studied how Drosophila populations are affected when exposed to a high virulent endosymbiotic wMelPop Wolbachia strain and why virulent vertically transmitting endosymbionts persist in nature. This virulent wMelPop strain has been described to be a blocker of dengue and other arboviral infections in arthropod vector species, such as Aedes aegypti. Whereas it can thus function as a mutualistic symbiont, it here acts as an antagonist along the mutualism-antagonism continuum symbionts operate. The wMelPop strain is not a natural occurring strain in Drosophila melanogaster and thus the start of this experiment can be seen as a novel host-pathogen association. Through experimental evolution of 17 generations, the authors studied how high temperature affects wMelPop Wolbachia virulence and Drosophila melanogaster survival. The authors used Drosophila strains that were selected for late reproduction, given that this should favor evolution to a lower virulence. Assumptions for this hypothesis are not given in the manuscript here, but it can indeed be assumed that energy that is assimilated to symbiont tolerance instead of reproduction may lead to reduced virulence evolution. This has equally been suggested by Reyserhove et al. [2] in a dynamics energy budget model tailored to Daphnia magna virulence evolution upon a viral infection causing White fat Cell disease, reconstructing changing environments through time.
Contrary to their expectations for vertically transmitting symbionts, the authors did not find a reduction in wMelPop Wolbachia virulence during the course of the experimental evolution experiment under high temperature. Important is what this learns for virulence evolution, also for currently horizontal transmitting disease epidemics (such as COVID-19). It mainly reflects that evolution of virulence for new host-pathogen associations is difficult to predict and that it may take multiple generations before optimal levels of virulence are reached [3,4]. These optimal levels of virulence will depend on trade-offs with other life history traits of the symbiont, but also on host demography, host heterogeneity, amongst others [5,6]. Multiple microbial interactions may affect the outcome of virulence evolution [7]. Given that no germ-free individuals were used, it can be expected that other components of the Drosophila microbiome may have played a role in the virulence evolution. In most cases, microbiota have been described as defensive or protective for virulent symbionts [8], but they may also have stimulated the high levels of virulence. Especially, given that upon higher temperatures, Wolbachia growth may have been increased, host metabolic demands increased [9], host immune responses affected and microbial communities changed [10]. This may have resulted in increased competitive interactions to retrieve host resources, sustaining high virulence levels of the symbiont.
A nice asset of this study is that the phenotypic results obtained in the experimental evolution set-up were linked with wMelPop density measurement and octomom copy number quantifications. Octomom is a specific 8-n genes region of the Wolbachia genome responsible for wMelPop virulence, so there is a link between the phenotypic and molecular functions of the involved symbiont. The authors found that density, octomom copy number and virulence were correlated to each other. An important note the authors address in their discussion is that, to exclude the possibility that octomom copy number has an effect on density, and density on virulence, the effect of these variables should be assessed independently of temperature and age. The obtained results are a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on the relationship between wMelPop octomom copy number, density and virulence.


[1] Monnin, D., Kremer, N., Michaud, C., Villa, M., Henri, H., Desouhant, E. and Vavre, F. (2020) Experimental evolution of virulence and associated traits in a Drosophila melanogaster – Wolbachia symbiosis. bioRxiv, 2020.04.26.062265, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. doi:
[2] Reyserhove, L., Samaey, G., Muylaert, K., Coppé, V., Van Colen, W., and Decaestecker, E. (2017). A historical perspective of nutrient change impact on an infectious disease in Daphnia. Ecology, 98(11), 2784-2798. doi:
[3] Ebert, D., and Bull, J. J. (2003). Challenging the trade-off model for the evolution of virulence: is virulence management feasible?. Trends in microbiology, 11(1), 15-20. doi:
[4] Houwenhuyse, S., Macke, E., Reyserhove, L., Bulteel, L., and Decaestecker, E. (2018). Back to the future in a petri dish: Origin and impact of resurrected microbes in natural populations. Evolutionary Applications, 11(1), 29-41. doi:
[5] Day, T., and Gandon, S. (2007). Applying population‐genetic models in theoretical evolutionary epidemiology. Ecology Letters, 10(10), 876-888. doi:
[6] Alizon, S., Hurford, A., Mideo, N., and Van Baalen, M. (2009). Virulence evolution and the trade‐off hypothesis: history, current state of affairs and the future. Journal of evolutionary biology, 22(2), 245-259. doi:
[7] Alizon, S., de Roode, J. C., and Michalakis, Y. (2013). Multiple infections and the evolution of virulence. Ecology letters, 16(4), 556-567. doi:
[8] Decaestecker, E., and King, K. (2019). Red queen dynamics. Reference module in earth systems and environmental sciences, 3, 185-192. doi:
[9] Kirk, D., Jones, N., Peacock, S., Phillips, J., Molnár, P. K., Krkošek, M., and Luijckx, P. (2018). Empirical evidence that metabolic theory describes the temperature dependency of within-host parasite dynamics. PLoS biology, 16(2), e2004608. doi:
[10] Frankel-Bricker, J., Song, M. J., Benner, M. J., and Schaack, S. (2019). Variation in the microbiota associated with Daphnia magna across genotypes, populations, and temperature. Microbial ecology, 1-12. doi:

Experimental evolution of virulence and associated traits in a Drosophila melanogaster – Wolbachia symbiosisDavid Monnin, Natacha Kremer, Caroline Michaud, Manon Villa, Hélène Henri, Emmanuel Desouhant, Fabrice Vavre<p>Evolutionary theory predicts that vertically transmitted symbionts are selected for low virulence, as their fitness is directly correlated to that of their host. In contrast with this prediction, the Wolbachia strain wMelPop drastically reduces...Evolutionary Ecology, Experimental Evolution, Species interactionsEllen Decaestecker2020-04-29 19:16:56 View
06 Oct 2022
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Evolution of sperm morphology in a crustacean genus with fertilization inside an open brood pouch.

Evolution of sperm morphology in Daphnia within a phyologenetic context

Recommended by based on reviews by Renate Matzke-Karasz and 1 anonymous reviewer

In this study sperm morphology is studied in 15 Daphnia species and the morphological data are mapped on a Daphnia phylogeny. The authors found that despite the internal fertilization mode, Daphnia have among the smallest sperm recorded, as would be expected with external fertilization. The authors also conclude that increase in sperm length has evolved twice, that sperm encapsulation has been lost in a clade, and that this clade has very polymorphic sperm with long, and often numerous, filopodia.

Daphnia is an interesting model to study sperm morphology because the biology of sexual reproduction is often ignored in (cyclical) parthenogenetic species. Daphnia is part of the very diverse and successful group of cladocerans with cyclical parthenogenetic reproduction. The success of this reproduction mode is reflected in the known 620 species that radiated within this order, this is more than half of the known Branchiopod species diversity and the estimated number of cladoceran species is even two to four times higher (Forró et al. 2008). Looking at this particular model with a good phylogeny and some particularity in the mode of fertilization/reproduction, has thus a large value. Most Daphnia species are cyclical parthenogenetic and switch between sexual and asexual reproduction depending on the environmental conditions. Within the genus Daphnia, evolution to obligate asexuality has evolved in at least four independent occasions by three different mechanisms: (i) obligate parthenogenesis through hybridisation with or without polyploidy, (ii) asexuality has been acquired de novo in some populations and (iii) in certain lineages females reproduce by obligate parthenogenesis, whereas the clonally propagated males produce functional haploid sperm that allows them to breed with sexual females of normal cyclically parthenogenetic lineages (more on this in Decaestecker et al. 2009).

This study is made in the context of a body of research on the evolution of one of the most fundamental and taxonomically diverse cell types. There is surprisingly little known about the adaptive value underlying their morphology because it is very difficult to test this experimentally.  Studying sperm morphology across species is interesting to study evolution itself because it is a "simple trait". As the authors state: The understanding of the adaptive value of sperm morphology, such as length and shape, remains largely incomplete (Lüpold & Pitnick, 2018). Based on phylogenetic analyses across the animal kingdom, the general rule seems to be that fertilization mode (i.e. whether eggs are fertilized within or outside the female) is a key predictor of sperm length (Kahrl et al., 2021). There is a trade-off between sperm number and length (Immler et al., 2011). This study reports on one of the smallest sperm recorded despite the fertilization being internal. The brood pouch in Daphnia is an interesting particularity as fertilisation occurs internally, but it is not disconnected from the environment. It is also remarkable that there are two independent evolution lines of sperm size in this group. It suggests that those traits have an adaptive value. 


Decaestecker E, De Meester L, Mergeay J (2009) Cyclical Parthenogenesis in Daphnia: Sexual Versus Asexual Reproduction. In: Lost Sex: The Evolutionary Biology of Parthenogenesis (eds Schön I, Martens K, Dijk P), pp. 295–316. Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht.

Duneau David, Möst M, Ebert D (2022) Evolution of sperm morphology in a crustacean genus with fertilization inside an open brood pouch. bioRxiv, 2020.01.31.929414, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Forró L, Korovchinsky NM, Kotov AA, Petrusek A (2008) Global diversity of cladocerans (Cladocera; Crustacea) in freshwater. Hydrobiologia, 595, 177–184.

Immler S, Pitnick S, Parker GA, Durrant KL, Lüpold S, Calhim S, Birkhead TR (2011) Resolving variation in the reproductive tradeoff between sperm size and number. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 5325–5330.

Kahrl AF, Snook RR, Fitzpatrick JL (2021) Fertilization mode drives sperm length evolution across the animal tree of life. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 5, 1153–1164.

Lüpold S, Pitnick S (2018) Sperm form and function: what do we know about the role of sexual selection? Reproduction, 155, R229–R243.

Evolution of sperm morphology in a crustacean genus with fertilization inside an open brood pouch.Duneau, David; Moest, Markus; Ebert, Dieter<p style="text-align: justify;">Sperm is the most fundamental male reproductive feature. It serves the fertilization of eggs and evolves under sexual selection. Two components of sperm are of particular interest, their number and their morphology....Evolutionary Ecology, Morphological Evolution, Reproduction and Sex, Sexual SelectionEllen Decaestecker2020-05-30 22:54:15 View
30 May 2023
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slendr: a framework for spatio-temporal population genomic simulations on geographic landscapes

A new powerful tool to easily encode the geo-spatial dimension in population genetics simulations

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Liisa Loog and 2 anonymous reviewers

Models explaining the evolutionary processes operating in living beings are often impossible to test in the real world. This is mainly because of the long time (i.e., the number of generations) which is necessary for evolution to unfold. In addition, any such experiment would require a large number of individuals and, more importantly, many replicates to account for the inherent variance of the evolutionary processes under investigation. Only organisms with fast generation times and favourable rearing conditions can be used to explicitly test for specific evolutionary hypotheses.

Computer simulations have filled this gap, revolutionising experimental testing in evolutionary biology by integrating genetic models into complex population dynamics, which can be run for (potentially) any length of time. Without going into an extensive description of the many available approaches for population genetics simulations (an exhaustive review can be found in Hoban et al 2012), three main aspects are, in my opinion, important for categorising and choosing one simulation approach over another. The first concerns the basic distinction between coalescent-based and individual-based simulators: the former being an efficient approach, which simulates back in time the coalescence events of a sample of homologous DNA fragments, while the latter is a more computationally intensive approach where all of the individuals (and their underlying genetic/genomic features) in the population are simulated forward-in-time, generation after generation. The second aspect concerns the simulation of natural selection. Although natural selection can be integrated into backward-in-time simulations, it is more realistically implemented as individual-based fitness in forward-in-time simulators. The third point, which has been often overlooked in evolutionary simulations, is about the possibility to design a simulation scenario where individuals and populations can exploit a physical (geographical) space.

Amongst the coalescent-based simulators, SPLATCHE (Currat et al 2004), and its derivatives, is one of the few simulation tools deploying the coalescence process in sub-demes which are all connected by migration, thus getting as close as possible to a spatially-explicit population. On the other hand, individual-based simulators, whose development followed the increasing power of computational machines, offer a great opportunity to include spatio-temporal dynamics within a genomic simulation model. One of the most realistic and efficient individual-based forward-in-time simulators available is SLiM (Haller and Messer 2017), which allows users to implement simulations in arbitrarily complex spaces. Here, the more challenging part is encoding the spatially-explicit scenarios using the SLiM-specific EIDOS language. 

The new R package slendr (Petr et al 2022) offers a practical solution to this issue. By wrapping different tools into a well-known scripting language, slendr allows the design of spatiotemporal simulation scenarios which can be directly executed in the individual-based SLiM simulator, and the output stored with modern tree-sequence analysis tools (tskit; Kellerer et al 2018). Alternatively, simulations of non-spatial models can be run using a coalescent-based algorithm (msprime; Baumdicker et al 2022). The main advantage of slendr is that the whole simulative experiment can be performed entirely in the R environment, taking advantage of the many libraries available for geospatial and genomic data analysis, statistics, and visualisation. The open-source nature of this package, whose main aim is to make complex population genomics modelling more accessible, and the vibrant community of SLiM and tskit users will very likely make slendr widely used amongst the molecular ecology and evolutionary biology communities. 

Slendr handles real Earth cartographic data where users can design realistic demographic processes which characterise natural populations (i.e., expansions, displacement of large populations, interactions among populations, migrations, population splits, etc.) by changing spatial population boundaries across time and space. All in all, slendr is a very flexible and scalable framework to test the accuracy of spatial models, hypotheses about demography and selection, and interactions between organisms across space and time. 


Baumdicker, F., Bisschop, G., Goldstein, D., Gower, G., Ragsdale, A. P., Tsambos, G., ... & Kelleher, J. (2022). Efficient ancestry and mutation simulation with msprime 1.0. Genetics, 220(3), iyab229.

Currat, M., Ray, N., & Excoffier, L. (2004). SPLATCHE: a program to simulate genetic diversity taking into account environmental heterogeneity. Molecular Ecology Notes, 4(1), 139-142.

Haller, B. C., & Messer, P. W. (2017). SLiM 2: flexible, interactive forward genetic simulations. Molecular biology and evolution, 34(1), 230-240.

Hoban, S., Bertorelle, G., & Gaggiotti, O. E. (2012). Computer simulations: tools for population and evolutionary genetics. Nature Reviews Genetics, 13(2), 110-122.

Kelleher, J., Thornton, K. R., Ashander, J., & Ralph, P. L. (2018). Efficient pedigree recording for fast population genetics simulation. PLoS computational biology, 14(11), e1006581.

Petr, M., Haller, B. C., Ralph, P. L., & Racimo, F. (2023). slendr: a framework for spatio-temporal population genomic simulations on geographic landscapes. bioRxiv, 2022.03.20.485041, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

slendr: a framework for spatio-temporal population genomic simulations on geographic landscapesMartin Petr, Benjamin C. Haller, Peter L. Ralph, Fernando Racimo<p style="text-align: justify;">One of the goals of population genetics is to understand how evolutionary forces shape patterns of genetic variation over time. However, because populations evolve across both time and space, most evolutionary proce...Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Evolutionary Theory, Phylogeography & Biogeography, Population Genetics / GenomicsEmiliano Trucchi2022-09-14 12:57:56 View
02 Nov 2022
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Evolution of immune genes in island birds: reduction in population sizes can explain island syndrome

Demographic effects may affect adaptation to islands

Recommended by based on reviews by Steven Fiddaman and 3 anonymous reviewers

The unique challenges associated with living on an island often result in organisms displaying a specific suite of traits commonly referred to as “island syndrome” (Adler and Levins, 1994; Burns, 2019; Baeckens and Van Damme, 2020). Large phenotypic shifts such as changes in size (e.g. shifts to gigantism or dwarfism, Lomolino, 2005) or coloration (Doutrelant et al., 2016) abound in the literature. However, less obvious phenotypes may also play a key role in adaptation to islands.

One such trait, reduced immune function, has important implications for the future of island populations in the face of anthropogenic-induced changes. Due to lower parasite pressure caused by a less diverse and less virulent parasite population, island hosts may show a decrease in immune defenses (Beadell et al., 2006; Pérez‐Rodríguez et al., 2013). However, this hypothesis has been challenged, as many studies have found ambiguous or conflicting results (Matson, 2006; Illera et al., 2015).

While most previous work has examined various immunological parameters (e.g., antibody concentrations), here, Barthe et al. (2022) take the novel approach of examining molecular signatures of immune genes. Using comparative genomic data from 34 different species of birds the authors examine the ratio of synonymous substitutions (i.e., not changing an amino acid) to non-synonymous substitutions (i.e., changing an amino acid) in innate and acquired immune genes (Pn/Ps ratio). Because population sizes on islands are lower which will affect molecular evolution, they compare these results to data from 97 control genes.  Assuming relaxed selection on islands predicts that the difference between the Pn/Ps ratio of immune genes and of control genes (ΔPn/Ps) is greater in island species compared to mainland ones.

As with previous work the authors found that the results differ depending on the category of immune genes. Both forms of innate defense: beta-defensins and Toll-like receptors did not show higher ΔPn/Ps for island populations. As these genes still have a higher Pn/Ps than control genes, the authors argue these results are in line with these genes being under purifying selection but lacking an “island effect”. Instead, the authors argue that demographic effects (i.e., reductions in Ne) may lead to the decreased immunity documented in other studies. In contrast, there was a reduction in Pn/Ps in MHC II genes, known to be under balancing selection. This reduction was stronger in island species and thus the authors argue that this is the only class of genes where a role for relaxed selection can be invoked. 

Together these results demonstrate that the changes in immunity experienced by island species are complex and that different categories of immune genes can experience different selective pressures. By including control genes in their study, they particularly highlight the importance of accounting for shifts in Ne when examining patterns of island species evolution. Hopefully, this kind of framework will be applied to other taxa to determine if these results are widespread or more specific to birds. 


Adler GH, Levins R (1994) The Island Syndrome in Rodent Populations. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 69, 473–490.

Baeckens S, Van Damme R (2020) The island syndrome. Current Biology, 30, R338–R339.

Barthe M, Doutrelant C, Covas R, Melo M, Illera JC, Tilak M-K, Colombier C, Leroy T, Loiseau C, Nabholz B (2022) Evolution of immune genes in island birds: reduction in population sizes can explain island syndrome. bioRxiv, 2021.11.21.469450, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Beadell JS, Ishtiaq F, Covas R, Melo M, Warren BH, Atkinson CT, Bensch S, Graves GR, Jhala YV, Peirce MA, Rahmani AR, Fonseca DM, Fleischer RC (2006) Global phylogeographic limits of Hawaii’s avian malaria. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 273, 2935–2944.

Burns KC (2019) Evolution in Isolation: The Search for an Island Syndrome in Plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Doutrelant C, Paquet M, Renoult JP, Grégoire A, Crochet P-A, Covas R (2016) Worldwide patterns of bird colouration on islands. Ecology Letters, 19, 537–545.

Illera JC, Fernández-Álvarez Á, Hernández-Flores CN, Foronda P (2015) Unforeseen biogeographical patterns in a multiple parasite system in Macaronesia. Journal of Biogeography, 42, 1858–1870.

Lomolino MV (2005) Body size evolution in insular vertebrates: generality of the island rule. Journal of Biogeography, 32, 1683–1699.

Matson KD (2006) Are there differences in immune function between continental and insular birds? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 273, 2267–2274.

Pérez-Rodríguez A, Ramírez Á, Richardson DS, Pérez-Tris J (2013) Evolution of parasite island syndromes without long-term host population isolation: parasite dynamics in Macaronesian blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 22, 1272–1281.

Evolution of immune genes in island birds: reduction in population sizes can explain island syndromeMathilde BARTHE, Claire DOUTRELANT, Rita COVAS, Martim MELO, Juan Carlos ILLERA, Marie-Ka TILAK, Constance COLOMBIER, Thibault LEROY , Claire LOISEAU , Benoit NABHOLZ<p style="text-align: justify;">Shared ecological conditions encountered by species that colonize islands often lead to the evolution of convergent phenotypes, commonly referred to as “island syndrome”. Reduced immune functions have been previousl...Adaptation, Molecular Evolution, Population Genetics / GenomicsEmma Berdan2021-11-28 11:01:31 View
13 Dec 2016
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Repeated replacements of an intrabacterial symbiont in the tripartite nested mealybug symbiosis

Obligate dependence does not preclude changing partners in a Russian dolls symbiotic system

Recommended by and

Symbiotic associations with bacterial partners have facilitated important evolutionary transitions in the life histories of eukaryotes. For instance, many insects have established long-term interactions with intracellular bacteria that provide them with essential nutrients lacking in their diet. However, despite the high level of interdependency among organisms involved in endosymbiotic systems, examples of symbiont replacements along the evolutionary history of insect hosts are numerous. In their paper, Husnik and McCutcheon [1] test the stability of symbiotic systems in a particularly imbricated Russian-doll type interaction, where one bacterium lives insides another bacterium, which itself lives inside insect cells. For their study, they chose representative species of mealybugs (Pseudococcidae), a species rich group of sap-feeding insects that hosts diverse and complex symbiotic systems. In species of the subfamily Pseudococcinae, data published so far suggest that the primary symbiont, a ß-proteobacterium named Tremblaya princeps, is supplemented by a second bacterial symbiont (a ϒ-proteobaterium) that lives within its cytoplasm; both participate to the metabolic pathways that provide essential amino acids and vitamins to their hosts. Here, Husnik and McCutcheon generate host and endosymbiont genome data for five phylogenetically divergent species of Pseudococcinae in order to better understand: 1) the evolutionary history of the symbiotic associations; 2) the metabolic roles of each partner, 3) the timing and origin of Horizontal Gene Transfers (HGT) between the hosts and their symbionts.
Their results show that all species harbour the primary and at least one secondary symbiont, whose intra-bacterial localization was verified using fluorescence in situ hybridization. In one species (Pseudococcus longispinus), Tremblaya even hosts two intracellular bacteria each with a large genome (even though it is not entirely clear whether these two symbionts are indeed found within Tremblaya). The obligate presence of an intra-bacterial symbiont is best explained by the loss in Tremblaya princeps of critical genes for translation that require “intracellular complementation”.
The most striking result concerns the identity of the intra-bacterial symbiont: genome sizes and structures of the “secondary” (intra-Tremblaya) symbionts vary drastically according to the host species. Phylogenetic analyses based on 80 conserved proteins, place all these ϒ-proteoacteria (except one of the P. longispinus symbionts) in a Sodalis allied clade. However, their relationships do not mirror the one of their hosts, and some of them show signs of very recent acquisition. Altogether these results provide strong evidence for several independent acquisitions of these highly intra-bacterial integrated symbionts. Scenarios for the history of the symbiosis are clearly laid out and discussed by the authors, and the scenario involving several independent replacements of a the intra-Tremblaya symbiont by diverse Sodalis-like bacteria appears the most likely given the data presented here. Selected biosynthetic functions are then mapped onto the host and symbiont genomes, showing the high level of interdependency of the partners for the synthesis of essential amino acids and vitamin. These maps also identify genes in the host genome that might have been acquired through HGT from bacteria and show that many of them are shared by all mealybug species sequenced so far. HGT events have thus predated the acquisitions of the current “intra-Tremblaya“ symbionts and have probably been acquired from previous symbiont infections.
Overall, this is a thorough study, using a diverse set of data and meticulous analyses that present convincing evidence that replacements of symbionts occurred repeatedly even in an imbricated symbiotic system. The phylogenetic analyses inferring the timing of HGTs also depict a highly dynamic history of gene losses and retentions in both host and symbiont genomes. Altogether these results demonstrate how the chimeric nature of individuals allows shuffling at different levels of organisation: organisms like symbionts can be replaced, genes can be exchanged among the partners of the chimera. The surprise is that constraints arising from interdependencies do not impede these exchanges. In the discussion, the authors present a very interesting parallel with the evolution of organelles: if the story presented here mirrors the one of mitochondria, it supports a gradualist view where mitochondria arrived late in the evolution of eukaryotic cells that already contained many bacterial genes resulting from HGT from previous symbionts.


[1] Husnik F., McCutcheon JP. 2016. Repeated replacements of an intrabacterial symbiont in the tripartite nested mealybug symbiosis. PNAS 113: E5416-E5424. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1603910113

Repeated replacements of an intrabacterial symbiont in the tripartite nested mealybug symbiosisHusnik F, McCutcheon JPStable endosymbiosis of a bacterium into a host cell promotes cellular and genomic complexity. The mealybug *Planococcus citri* has two bacterial endosymbionts with an unusual nested arrangement: the γ-proteobacterium *Moranella endobia* lives in ...Phylogenetics / Phylogenomics, Species interactionsEmmanuelle Jousselin2016-12-13 14:27:09 View