Submit a preprint

Latest recommendationsrsstwitter

IdTitleAuthorsAbstractPicture▲Thematic fieldsRecommenderReviewersSubmission date
05 Dec 2017
article picture

Reconstruction of body mass evolution in the Cetartiodactyla and mammals using phylogenomic data

Predicting small ancestors using contemporary genomes of large mammals

Recommended by based on reviews by Bruce Rannala and 1 anonymous reviewer

Recent methodological developments and increased genome sequencing efforts have introduced the tantalizing possibility of inferring ancestral phenotypes using DNA from contemporary species. One intriguing application of this idea is to exploit the apparent correlation between substitution rates and body size to infer ancestral species' body sizes using the inferred patterns of substitution rate variation among species lineages based on genomes of extant species [1].
The recommended paper by Figuet et al. [2] examines the utility of such approaches by analyzing the Cetartiodactyla, a clade of large mammals that have mostly well resolved phylogenetic relationships and a reasonably good fossil record. This combination of genomic data and fossils allows a direct comparison between body size predictions obtained from the genomic data and empirical evidence from the fossil record. If predictions seem good in groups such as the Cetartiodactyla, where there is independent evidence from the fossil record, this would increase the credibility of predictions made for species with less abundant fossils.
Figuet et al. [2] analyze transcriptome data for 41 species and report a significant effect of body mass on overall substitution rate, synonymous vs. non-synonymous rates, and the dynamics of GC-content, thus allowing a prediction of small ancestral body size in this group despite the fact that the extant species that were analyzed are nearly all large.
A comparative method based solely on morphology and phylogenetic relationships would be very unlikely to make such a prediction. There are many sources of uncertainty in the variables and parameters associated with these types of approaches: phylogenetic uncertainty (topology and branch lengths), uncertainty about inferred substitution rates, and so on. Although the authors do not account for all these sources of uncertainty the fact that their predicted body sizes appear sensible is encouraging and undoubtedly the methods will become more statistically sophisticated over time.


[1] Romiguier J, Ranwez V, Douzery EJP and Galtier N. 2013. Genomic evidence for large, long-lived ancestors to placental mammals. Molecular Biology and Evolution 30: 5–13. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss211

[2] Figuet E, Ballenghien M, Lartillot N and Galtier N. 2017. Reconstruction of body mass evolution in the Cetartiodactyla and mammals using phylogenomic data. bioRxiv, ver. 3 of 4th December 2017. 139147. doi: 10.1101/139147

Reconstruction of body mass evolution in the Cetartiodactyla and mammals using phylogenomic dataEmeric Figuet, Marion Ballenghien, Nicolas Lartillot, Nicolas Galtier<p>Reconstructing ancestral characters on a phylogeny is an arduous task because the observed states at the tips of the tree correspond to a single realization of the underlying evolutionary process. Recently, it was proposed that ancestral traits...Genome Evolution, Life History, Macroevolution, Molecular Evolution, Phylogenetics / PhylogenomicsBruce Rannala2017-05-18 15:28:58 View
03 Jun 2019
article picture

Transcriptomic response to divergent selection for flowering time in maize reveals convergence and key players of the underlying gene regulatory network

Early and late flowering gene expression patterns in maize

Recommended by based on reviews by Laura Shannon and 2 anonymous reviewers

Artificial selection experiments are key experiments in evolutionary biology. The demonstration that application of selective pressure across multiple generations results in heritable phenotypic changes is a tangible and reproducible proof of the evolution by natural selection.
Artificial selection experiments are used to evaluate the joint effects of selection on multiple traits, their genetic covariances and differences in responses in different environments. Most studies on artificial selection experiments report and base their analyses on phenotypic changes [1]. More recently, changes in allele frequency and other patterns of molecular genetic diversity have been used to identify genomic locations where selection has had an effect. However, so far the changes in gene expression have not been in the focus of artificial selection experiment studies (see [2] for an example though).
In plants, one of the most famous artificial selection experiments is the Illinois Corn Experiment where maize (Zea mays) is selected for oil and protein content [3], but in addition, similar experiments have been conducted also for other traits in maize. In Saclay divergent selection experiment [4] two maize inbred lines (F252 and MBS847) have been selected for early and late flowering for 13 generations, resulting in two week difference in flowering time.
In ”Transcriptomic response to divergent selection for flowering time in maize reveals convergence and key players of the underlying gene regulatory network ” [5] Maud Tenaillon and her coworkers study the gene expression differences among these two independently selected maize populations. Their experiments cover two years in field conditions and they use samples of shoot apical meristem at three different developmental stages: vegetative, transitioning and reproductive. They use RNA-seq transcriptome level differences and qRT-PCR for gene expression pattern investigation. The work is continuation to earlier genetic and phenotypic studies on the same material [4, 6].
The reviewers and I agree that dataset is unique and its major benefit is that it has been obtained from field conditions similar to those that species may face under natural setting during selection. Their tissue sampling is supported by flowering time phenotypic observations and covers the developmental transition stage, making a good effort to identify key transcriptional and phenotypic changes and their timing affected by selection.
Tenaillon et al. [5] identify more than 2000 genes that are differentially expressed among early and late flowering populations. Expectedly, they are enriched for known flowering time genes. As they point out, differential expression of thousands of genes does not mean that they all were independently affected by selection, but rather that the whole transcriptional network has shifted, possibly due to just few upstream or hub-genes. Also, the year-to-year variation had smaller effect in gene expression compared to developmental stage or genetic background, possibly indicating selection for stability across environmental fluctuation for such an important phenotype as flowering time.
Another noteworthy observation is that they find convergent patterns of transcriptional changes among the two selected lines. 115 genes expression patterns are shifted due to selection in both genetic backgrounds. This convergent pattern can be a result of either selection on standing variation or de novo mutations. The data does not allow testing which process is underlying the observed convergence. However, their results show that this is an interesting future question that can be addressed using genotype and gene expression data from the same ancestral and derived material and possibly their hybrids.


[1] Hill, W. G., & Caballero, A. (1992). Artificial selection experiments. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 23(1), 287-310. doi: 10.1146/
[2] Konczal, M., Babik, W., Radwan, J., Sadowska, E. T., & Koteja, P. (2015). Initial molecular-level response to artificial selection for increased aerobic metabolism occurs primarily through changes in gene expression. Molecular biology and evolution, 32(6), 1461-1473. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv038
[3] Moose, S. P., Dudley, J. W., & Rocheford, T. R. (2004). Maize selection passes the century mark: a unique resource for 21st century genomics. Trends in plant science, 9(7), 358-364. doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2004.05.005
[4] Durand, E., Tenaillon, M. I., Ridel, C., Coubriche, D., Jamin, P., Jouanne, S., Ressayre, A., Charcosset, A. and Dillmann, C. (2010). Standing variation and new mutations both contribute to a fast response to selection for flowering time in maize inbreds. BMC evolutionary biology, 10(1), 2. doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-10-2
[5] Tenaillon, M. I., Seddiki, K., Mollion, M., Le Guilloux, M., Marchadier, E., Ressayre, A. and Dillmann C. (2019). Transcriptomic response to divergent selection for flowering time in maize reveals convergence and key players of the underlying gene regulatory network. BioRxiv, 461947 ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/461947
[6] Durand, E., Tenaillon, M. I., Raffoux, X., Thépot, S., Falque, M., Jamin, P., Bourgais A., Ressayre, A. and Dillmann, C. (2015). Dearth of polymorphism associated with a sustained response to selection for flowering time in maize. BMC evolutionary biology, 15(1), 103. doi: 10.1186/s12862-015-0382-5

Transcriptomic response to divergent selection for flowering time in maize reveals convergence and key players of the underlying gene regulatory networkMaud Irène Tenaillon, Khawla Sedikki, Maeva Mollion, Martine Le Guilloux, Elodie Marchadier, Adrienne Ressayre, Christine Dillmann<p>Artificial selection experiments are designed to investigate phenotypic evolution of complex traits and its genetic basis. Here we focused on flowering time, a trait of key importance for plant adaptation and life-cycle shifts. We undertook div...Adaptation, Experimental Evolution, Expression Studies, Quantitative GeneticsTanja Pyhäjärvi2018-11-23 11:57:35 View
02 May 2023
article picture

Durable resistance or efficient disease control? Adult Plant Resistance (APR) at the heart of the dilemma

Plant resistance to pathogens: just you wait?

Recommended by based on reviews by Jean-Paul Soularue and 1 anonymous reviewer

In this preprint, Rimbaud et al. (2023) examine whether Adult Plant Resistance (APR), where plants delay their response to pathogens, is a viable alternative when the solution to evolve complete resistance from the seedling stage exists. At first glance, delaying resistance seems like a counter-intuitive strategy, unless it can result in a weaker selection of the pathogen, and therefore slow down its adaption to plant resistance.

The approach of Rimbaud et al. is to incorporate as much of the mechanisms as possible into a model. By accounting for explicit spatio-temporal dynamics, stochasticity, and the coupling between demography and population genetics, to simulate an agricultural landscape, they reach a nuanced conclusion.

Weaker and delayed activation of genes that confer APR does indeed reduce the selection pressure acting on the pathogen, at the cost of overall less effective protection. The alternative strategy of rapid or complete activation of these genes, although it results in better results in defending against the pathogen, is at risk of being overcome because it introduces a stronger selection pressure.

One important feature of this work is that it accounts for agricultural practices. The landscape that is simulated can account for monoculture, mosaic cultures, mixed cultures, and rotations of crops (with different strategies for resistance). This introduces an interesting element to the conclusion: that human practices will have an impact on the selection pressures acting within the system.

Perhaps the most striking result is that, for the plants, it might be more beneficial to bear the cost of a wild-type pathogen that can benefit from delayed activation of resistance, and therefore exclude the more virulent strains by simply being there first, and essentially buying the plant some time before it activates its resistance more completely. When the landscape is aggregated, even wild-type pathogens can cause severe epidemics; increasing fragmentation, because it enables connectivity between patches of plants with different strategies, allows pathogens to move across cultivars, and reduces the epidemic risk on susceptible plants.

These results should encourage scaling up the perspective on APR, and indeed Rimbaud et al. adopt a landscape-scale perspective, to show that APR genes and genes conferring more complete resistance early on can have synergistic effects. This is, again, both an interesting result for evolutionary biologists, but also a useful way to prioritize different crop management strategies over large spatial scales.


Rimbaud, Loup, et al. Durable Resistance or Efficient Disease Control? Adult Plant Resistance (APR) at the Heart of the Dilemma. 2023. bioRxiv, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Durable resistance or efficient disease control? Adult Plant Resistance (APR) at the heart of the dilemmaLoup Rimbaud, Julien Papaïx, Jean-François Rey, Benoît Moury, Luke G. Barrett, Peter H. Thrall<p style="text-align: justify;">Adult plant resistance (APR) is an incomplete and delayed protection of plants against pathogens. At first glance, such resistance should be less efficient than classical major-effect resistance genes, which confer ...Adaptation, Evolutionary Applications, Evolutionary EpidemiologyTimothée Poisot2022-09-02 16:36:32 View
13 Dec 2018
article picture

Separate the wheat from the chaff: genomic analysis of local adaptation in the red coral Corallium rubrum

Pros and Cons of local adaptation scans

Recommended by based on reviews by Lucas Gonçalves da Silva and 1 anonymous reviewer

The preprint by Pratlong et al. [1] is a well thought quest for genomic regions involved in local adaptation to depth in a species a red coral living the Mediterranean Sea. It first describes a pattern of structuration and then attempts to find candidate genes involved in local adaptation by contrasting deep with shallow populations. Although the pattern of structuration is clear and meaningful, the candidate genomic regions involved in local adaptation remain to be confirmed. Two external reviewers and myself found this preprint particularly interesting regarding the right-mindedness of the authors in front of the difficulties they encounter during their experiments. The discussions on the pros and cons of the approach are very sound and can be easily exported to a large number of studies that hunt for local adaptation. In this sense, the lessons one can learn by reading this well documented manuscript are certainly valuable for a wide range of evolutionary biologists.
More precisely, the authors RAD-sequenced 6 pairs of 'shallow vs deep' samples located in 3 geographical sea areas (Banyuls, Corsica and Marseilles). They were hoping to detect genes involved in the adaptation to depth, if there were any. They start by assessing the patterns of structuration of the 6 samples using PCA and AMOVA [2] and also applied the STRUCTURE [3] assignment software. They show clearly that the samples were mostly differentiated between geographical areas and that only 1 out the 3 areas shows a pattern of isolation by depth (i.e. Marseille). They nevertheless went on and scanned for variants that are highly differentiated in the deep samples when compared to the shallow paired samples in Marseilles, using an Fst outliers approach [4] implemented in the BayeScEnv software [5]. No clear functional signal was in the end detected among the highly differentiated SNPs, leaving a list of candidates begging for complementary data.
The scan for local adaptation using signatures of highly divergent regions is a classical problem of population genetics. It has been applied on many species with various degrees of success. This study is a beautiful example of a well-designed study that did not give full satisfactory answers. Readers will especially appreciate the honesty and the in-depth discussions of the authors while exposing their results and their conclusions step by step.


[1] Pratlong, M., Haguenauer, A., Brener, K., Mitta, G., Toulza, E., Garrabou, J., Bensoussan, N., Pontarotti P., & Aurelle, D. (2018). Separate the wheat from the chaff: genomic scan for local adaptation in the red coral Corallium rubrum. bioRxiv, 306456, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. doi: 10.1101/306456
[2] Excoffier, L., Smouse, P. E. & Quattro, J. M. (1992). Analysis of molecular variance inferred from metric distances among DNA haplotypes: application to human mitochondrial DNA restriction data. Genetics, 131(2), 479-491.
[3] Pritchard, J. K., Stephens, M., & Donnelly, P. (2000). Inference of population structure using multilocus genotype data. Genetics, 155(2), 945-959.
[4] Lewontin, R. C., & Krakauer, J. (1973). Distribution of gene frequency as a test of the theory of the selective neutrality of polymorphisms. Genetics, 74(1), 175-195.
[5] de Villemereuil, P., & Gaggiotti, O. E. (2015). A new FST‐based method to uncover local adaptation using environmental variables. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 6(11), 1248-1258. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12418

Separate the wheat from the chaff: genomic analysis of local adaptation in the red coral Corallium rubrumPratlong M, Haguenauer A, Brener K, Mitta G, Toulza E, Garrabou J, Bensoussan N, Pontarotti P, Aurelle D<p>Genomic data allow an in-depth and renewed study of local adaptation. The red coral (Corallium rubrum, Cnidaria) is a highly genetically structured species and a promising model for the study of adaptive processes along an environmental gradien...Adaptation, Population Genetics / GenomicsGuillaume Achaz2018-04-24 11:27:40 View
25 Mar 2019
article picture

The joint evolution of lifespan and self-fertilisation

Evolution of selfing & lifespan 2.0

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Flowering plants display a staggering diversity of both mating systems and life histories, ranging from almost exclusively selfers to obligate outcrossers, very short-lived annual herbs to super long lived trees. One pervasive pattern that has attracted considerable attention is the tight correlation that is found between mating systems and lifespan [1]. Until recently, theoretical explanations for these patterns have relied on static models exploring the consequences of several non-mutually exclusive important process: levels of inbreeding depression and ability to successfully were center stage. This make sense: successful colonization after long‐distance dispersal is far more likely to happen for self‐compatible than for self‐incompatible individuals in a sexually reproducing species. Furthermore, inbreeding depression (essentially a genetically driven phenomenon) and reproductive insurance are expected to shape the evolution of both mating system and lifespan.
But modelling jointly several processes and how their interplay to shape the evolution of a trait is challenging enough so models for the evolution of mating system tend invariably – for mathematical convenience and tractability – to fix lifespan [2].
However, comparative analysis of between species variations that map traits transitions among sister species in phylogenetic trees reveals a pervasive pattern: frequent transitions from a state outcrossing perennial to selfing annuals. This beg the question: is one transition triggering the other and if so, what comes first or are these transitions happening together? In this work, Lesaffre and Billiard use a very sophisticated machinery developed by Kirkpatrick et al. [3] and consider a general class of so-called modifiers models [4]. They study jointly the evolution of life span and mating system. They do so by using models where different life stages are tracked with life stage having some (fixed for once) amount of inbreeding depression. Their paper is technically demanding, mixing analytics and computer simulations, and along the way generates several important findings that are expected to stimulate further empirical and theoretical studies: (1) pure selfing versus pure outcrossing is the expected stable evolutionary outcomes (despite observation that mixed mating systems can be regularly met in nature), (2) increasing life-span drastically reduces the scope for the evolution of selfing, conversely (3) transition to selfing will also select for shorter life span as a way to mitigate the cumulative effects of inbreeding depression on adult life stages.
As usual there is room for future work, in particular the authors’ model assumes fixed inbreeding depression in the different life stages and this highlights the need for models that explore how inbreeding depression, a pivotal quantity in these models, can itself be molded by both mating system and lifespan. A third-generation of models should be “soon” on the way!

[1] Grossenbacher D, Briscoe Runquist R, Goldberg EE, and Brandvain Y. (2015) Geographic range size is predicted by plant mating system. Ecology Letters 18, 706–713. doi: 10.1111/ele.12449
[2] Morgan MT, Schoen DJ, and Bataillon T. (1997) The evolution of self-fertilization in perennials. The American Naturalist 150, 618–638. doi: 10.1086/286085
[3] Kirkpatrick M, Johnson T, and Barton N. (2002) General models of multilocus evolution. Genetics 161, 1727–1750.
[4] Lesaffre, T, and Billiard S. (2019) The joint evolution of lifespan and self-fertilisation. bioRxiv, 420877, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. doi: 10.1101/420877

The joint evolution of lifespan and self-fertilisationThomas Lesaffre, Sylvain Billiard<p>In Angiosperms, there exists a strong association between mating system and lifespan. Most self-fertilising species are short-lived and most predominant or obligate outcrossers are long-lived. This association is generally explained by the infl...Evolutionary Theory, Life History, Reproduction and SexThomas Bataillon2018-09-19 10:03:51 View
16 Dec 2016
article picture

Spatiotemporal microbial evolution on antibiotic landscapes

A poster child for experimental evolution

Recommended by and

Evolution is usually studied via two distinct approaches: by inferring evolutionary processes from relatedness patterns among living species or by observing evolution in action in the laboratory or field. A recent study by Baym and colleagues in Science [1] has now combined these approaches by taking advantage of the pattern left behind by spatially evolving bacterial populations.

Evolution is often considered too slow to see, and can only be inferred by studying patterns of relatedness using phylogenetic trees. Increasingly, however, researchers are moving nature into the lab and watching as evolution unfolds under their noses. The field of experimental evolution follows evolutionary change in the laboratory over 10s to 1000s of generations, yielding insights into bacterial, viral, plant, or fly evolution (among many other species) that are simply not possible in the field. Yet, as powerful as experimental evolution is, it lacks a posterchild. There is no Galapagos finch radiation, nor a stunning series of cichlids to showcase to our students to pique their interests. Let’s face it, E. coli is no stickleback! And while practitioners of experimental evolution can explain the virtues of examining 60,000 generations of bacterial evolution in action, appreciating this nevertheless requires a level of insight and imagination that often eludes students, who need to see “it” to get it.

Enter MEGA, an idea and a film that could become the new face of experimental evolution. It replaces big numbers of generations or images of scientists, with an actual picture of the scientific result. MEGA, or Microbial Evolution and Growth Arena, is essentially an enormous petri dish and is the brainchild of Michael Baym, Tami Leiberman and their colleagues in Roy Kishony’s lab at Technion Israel Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School. The idea of MEGA is to allow bacteria to swim over a spatially defined landscape while adapting to the local conditions, in this case antibiotics. When bacteria are inoculated onto one end of the plate they consume resources while swarming forward from the plate edge. In a few days, the bacteria grow into an area with antibiotics to which they are susceptible. This stops growth until a mutation arises that permits the bacteria to jump this hurdle, after which growth proceeds until the next hurdle of a 10-fold higher antibiotic concentration, and so on. By this simple approach, Baym et al. [1] evolved E. coli that were nearly 105-fold more resistant to two different antibiotics in just over 10 days. In addition, they identified the mutations that were required for these changes, showed that mutations conferring smaller benefits were required before bacteria could evolve maximal resistance, observed changes to the mutation rate, and demonstrated the importance of spatial structure in constraining adaptation.

For one thing, the rate of resistance evolution is impressive, and also quite scary given the mounting threat of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. However, MEGA also offers a uniquely visual insight into evolutionary change. By taking successive images of the MEGA plate, the group was able to watch the bacteria move, get trapped because of their susceptibility to the antibiotic, and then get past these traps as new mutations emerged that increased resistance. Each transition showcases evolution in real time. In addition, by leaving a spatial pattern of evolutionary steps behind, the MEGA plate offers unique opportunities to thoroughly investigate these steps when the experiment is finished. For instance, subsequent steps in mutational pathways can be characterized, but also their effects on fitness can be quantified in situ by measuring changes in survival and reproduction. This new method is undoubtedly a boon to the field of experimental evolution and offers endless opportunities for experimental elaboration. Perhaps of equal importance, MEGA is a tool that is portable to the classroom and to the public at large. Don’t believe in evolution? Watch this. You only have time for a short internship or lab practical? No problem. Don’t worry much about antibiotic resistance? Check this out. Like the best experimental tools, MEGA is simple but allows for complicated insights. And even if it is less charismatic than a finch, it still allows for the kinds of “gee-whiz” insights that will get students hooked on evolutionary biology.


[1] Baym M, Lieberman TD, Kelsic ED, Chait R, Gross R, Yelin I, Kishony R. 2016. Spatiotemporal microbial evolution on antibiotic landscapes. Science 353:1147-1151. doi: 10.1126/science.aag0822

Spatiotemporal microbial evolution on antibiotic landscapesBaym M, Lieberman TD, Kelsic ED, Chait R, Gross R, Yelin I, Kishony RA key aspect of bacterial survival is the ability to evolve while migrating across spatially varying environmental challenges. Laboratory experiments, however, often study evolution in well-mixed systems. Here, we introduce an experimental device,...Adaptation, Evolutionary Applications, Experimental EvolutionDaniel Rozen2016-12-14 14:26:06 View
19 Mar 2018
article picture

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
11 Apr 2023
article picture

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
21 Feb 2023
article picture

Wolbachia genomics reveals a potential for a nutrition-based symbiosis in blood-sucking Triatomine bugs

Nutritional symbioses in triatomines: who is playing?

Recommended by based on reviews by Alejandro Manzano Marín and Olivier Duron

Nearly 8 million people are suffering from Chagas disease in the Americas. The etiological agent, Trypanosoma cruzi, is mainly transmitted by triatomine bugs, also known as kissing or vampire bugs, which suck blood and transmit the parasite through their feces. Among these triatomine species, Rhodnius prolixus is considered the main vector, and many studies have focused on characterizing its biology, physiology, ecology and evolution. 

Interestingly, given that Rhodnius species feed almost exclusively on blood, their diet is unbalanced, and the insects can lack nutrients and vitamins that they cannot synthetize themself, such as B-vitamins. In all insects feeding exclusively on blood, symbioses with microbes producing B-vitamins (mainly biotin, riboflavin and folate) have been widely described (see review in Duron and Gottlieb 2020) and are critical for insect development and reproduction. These co-evolved relationships between blood feeders and nutritional symbionts could now be considered to develop new control methods, by targeting the ‘Achille’s heel’ of the symbiotic association (i.e., transfer of nutrient and / or control of nutritional symbiont density). But for this, it is necessary to better characterize the relationships between triatomines and their symbionts. 

R. prolixus is known to be associated with several symbionts. The extracellular gut symbiont Rhodococcus rhodnii, which reaches high bacterial densities and is almost fixed in R. prolixus populations, appears to be a nutritional symbiont under many blood sources. This symbiont can provide B-vitamins such as biotin (B7), niacin (B3), thiamin (B1), pyridoxin (B6) or riboflavin (B2) and can play an important role in the development and the reproduction of R. prolixus (Pachebat et al. (2013) and see review in Salcedo-Porras et al. (2020)). This symbiont is orally acquired through egg smearing, ensuring the fidelity of transmission of the symbiont from mother to offspring. However, as recently highlighted by Tobias et al. (2020) and Gilliland et al. (2022), other gut microbes could also participate to the provision of B-vitamins, and R. rhodnii could additionally provide metabolites (other than B-vitamins) increasing bug fitness. In the study from Filée et al., the authors focused on Wolbachia, an intracellular, maternally inherited bacterium, known to be a nutritional symbiont in other blood-sucking insects such as bedbugs (Nikoh et al. 2014), and its potential role in vitamin provision in triatomine bugs. 

After screening 17 different triatomine species from the 3 phylogenetic groups prolixus, pallescens and pictipes, they first show that Wolbachia symbionts are widely distributed in the different Rhodnius species. Contrary to R. rhodnii that were detected in all samples, Wolbachia prevalence was patchy and rarely fixed. The authors then sequenced, assembled, and compared 13 Wolbachia genomes from the infected Rhodnius species. They showed that all Wolbachia are phylogenetically positioned in the supergroup F that contains wCle (the Wolbachia from bedbugs). In addition, 8 Wolbachia strains (out of 12) encode a biotin operon under strong purifying selection, suggesting the preservation of the biological function and the metabolic potential of Wolbachia to supplement biotin in their Rhodnius host. From the study of insect genomes, the authors also evidenced several horizontal transfers of genes from Wolbachia to Rhodnius genomes, which suggests a complex evolutionary interplay between vampire bugs and their intracellular symbiont. 

This nice piece of work thus provides valuable information to the fields of multiple partners / nutritional symbioses and Wolbachia research. Dual symbioses described in insects feeding on unbalanced diets generally highlight a certain complementarity between symbionts that ensure the whole nutritional complementation. The study presented by Filée et al. leads rather to consider the impact of multiple symbionts with different lifestyles and transmission modes in the provision of a specific nutritional benefit (here, biotin). Because of the low prevalence of Wolbachia in certain species, a “ménage à trois” scenario would rather be replaced by an “open couple”, where the host relationship with new symbiotic partners (more or less stable at the evolutionary timescale) could provide benefits in certain ecological situations. The results also support the potential for Wolbachia to evolve rapidly along a continuum between parasitism and mutualism, by acquiring operons encoding critical pathways of vitamin biosynthesis.


Duron O. and Gottlieb Y. (2020) Convergence of Nutritional Symbioses in Obligate Blood Feeders. Trends in Parasitology 36(10):816-825.

Filée J., Agésilas-Lequeux K., Lacquehay L., Bérenger J.-M., Dupont L., Mendonça V., Aristeu da Rosa J. and Harry M. (2023) Wolbachia genomics reveals a potential for a nutrition-based symbiosis in blood-sucking Triatomine bugs. bioRxiv, 2022.09.06.506778, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.

Gilliland C.A. et al. (2022) Using axenic and gnotobiotic insects to examine the role of different microbes on the development and reproduction of the kissing bug Rhodnius prolixus (Hemiptera: Reduviidae). Molecular Ecology.

Nikoh et al. (2014) Evolutionary origin of insect–Wolbachia nutritional mutualism. PNAS. 111(28):10257-10262.

Pachebat, J.A. et al. (2013). Draft genome sequence of Rhodococcus rhodnii strain LMG5362, a symbiont of Rhodnius prolixus (Hemiptera, Reduviidae, Triatominae), the principle vector of Trypanosoma cruzi. Genome Announc. 1(3):e00329-13.

Salcedo-Porras N., et al. (2020). The role of bacterial symbionts in Triatomines: an evolutionary perspective. Microorganisms. 8:1438.

Tobias N.J., Eberhard F.E., Guarneri A.A. (2020) Enzymatic biosynthesis of B-complex vitamins is supplied by diverse microbiota in the Rhodnius prolixus anterior midgut following Trypanosoma cruzi infection. Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal. 3395-3401. 

Wolbachia genomics reveals a potential for a nutrition-based symbiosis in blood-sucking Triatomine bugsJonathan Filée, Kenny Agésilas-Lequeux, Laurie Lacquehay, Jean Michel Bérenger, Lise Dupont, Vagner Mendonça, João Aristeu da Rosa, Myriam Harry<p>The nutritional symbiosis promoted by bacteria is a key determinant for adaptation and evolution of many insect lineages. A complex form of nutritional mutualism that arose in blood-sucking insects critically depends on diverse bacterial symbio...Genome Evolution, Phylogenetics / Phylogenomics, Species interactionsNatacha Kremer Alejandro Manzano Marín2022-09-13 17:36:46 View
28 Mar 2019
article picture

Ancient tropical extinctions contributed to the latitudinal diversity gradient

One (more) step towards a dynamic view of the Latitudinal Diversity Gradient

Recommended by and based on reviews by Juan Arroyo, Joaquín Hortal, Arne Mooers, Joaquin Calatayud and 2 anonymous reviewers

The Latitudinal Diversity Gradient (LDG) has fascinated natural historians, ecologists and evolutionary biologists ever since [1] described it about 200 years ago [2]. Despite such interest, agreement on the origin and nature of this gradient has been elusive. Several tens of hypotheses and models have been put forward as explanations for the LDG [2-3], that can be grouped in ecological, evolutionary and historical explanations [4] (see also [5]). These explanations can be reduced to no less than 26 hypotheses, which account for variations in ecological limits for the establishment of progressively larger assemblages, diversification rates, and time for species accumulation [5]. Besides that, although in general the tropics hold more species, different taxa show different shapes and rates of spatial variation [6], and a considerable number of groups show reverse patterns, with richer assemblages in cold temperate regions (see e.g. [7-9]).
Understanding such complexity needs integrating ecological and evolutionary research into the wide temporal and spatial perspectives provided by the burgeoning field of biogeography. This integrative discipline ¬–that traces back to Humboldt himself (e.g. [10])– seeks to put together historical and functional explanations to explain the complex dynamics of Earth’s biodiversity. Different to quantum physicists, biogeographers cannot pursue the ultimate principle behind the patterns we observe in nature due to the interplay of causes and effects, which in fact tell us that there is not such a single principle. Rather, they need to identify an array of basic principles coming from different perspectives, to then integrate them into models that provide realistic –but never simple– explanations to biodiversity gradients such as LDG (see, e.g., [5; 11]). That is, rather than searching for a sole explanation, research on the LDG must aim to identify as many signals hidden in the pattern as possible, and provide hypotheses or models that account for these signals. To later integrate them and, whenever possible, to validate them with empirical data on the organisms’ distribution, ecology and traits, phylogenies, fossils, etc.
Within this context, Meseguer & Condamine [12] provide a novel perspective to LDG research using phylogenetic and fossil evidence on the origin and extinction of taxa within the turtle, crocodile and lizard (i.e. squamate) lineages. By digging into deep time down to the Triassic (about 250 Myr ago) they are able to identify several episodes of flattening and steepening of the LDG for these three clades. Strikingly, their results show similar diversification rates in the northern hemisphere and in the equator during the over 100 Myr long global greenhouse period that extends from the late Jurassic to the Cretaceous and early Neogene. During this period, the LDG for these three groups would have appeared quite even across a mainly tropical Globe, although the equatorial regions were apparently much more evolutionarily dynamic. The equator shows much higher rates of origination and extinction of branches throughout the Cretaceous, but they counteract each other so net diversification is similar to that of the northern hemisphere in all three groups. The transition to a progressively colder Earth in the Paleogene (starting around 50 Myr ago) provokes a mass extinction in the three clades, which is compensated in the equator by the dispersal of many taxa from the areas that currently pertain to the Holarctic biogeographical realm. Finally, during the coldhouse Earth’s climatic conditions of the Neogene only squamates show significant positive diversification rates in extratropical areas, while the diversity of testudines remains, and crocodiles continue declining progressively towards oblivion in the whole world.
Meseguer & Condamine [12] attribute these temporal patterns to the so-called asymmetric gradient of extinction and dispersal (AGED) framework. Here, the dynamics of extinction-at and dispersal-from high latitudes during colder periods increase the steepness of the LDG. Whereas the gradient flattens when Earth warms up as a result of dispersal from the equator followed by increased diversification in extratropical regions. This idea in itself is not new, for the influence of climatic oscillations on diversification rates is well known, at least for the Pleistocene Ice Ages [13], as is the effect of niche conservatism on the LDG [14]. Nevertheless, Meseguer & Condamine’s AGED provides a synthetic verbal model that could allow integrating the three main types of processes behind the LDG into a single framework. To do this it would be necessary to combine AGED’s cycles of dispersal and diversification with realistic models of: (1) the ecological limits to host rich assemblages in the colder and less productive temperate climatic domains; (2) the variations in diversification rates with shifts in temperature and/or energy regimes; and (3) the geographical patterns of climatic oscillation through time that determine the time for species accumulation in each region.
Integrating these models may allow transposing Meseguer & Condamine’s [12] framework into the more mechanistic macroecological models advocated by Pontarp et al. [5]. This type of mechanistic models has been already used to understand the development of biodiversity gradients through the climatic oscillations of the Pleistocene and the Quaternary (e.g. [11]). So the challenge in this case would be to generate a realistic scenario of geographical dynamics that accounts for plate tectonics and long-term climatic oscillations. This is still a major gap and we would benefit from the integrated work by historical geologists and climatologists here. For instance, there is little doubt about the progressive cooling through the Cenozoic based in isotope recording in sea floor sediments [15]. Meseguer & Condamine [12] use this evidence for separating greenhouse, transition and coldhouse world scenarios, which should not be a problem for these rough classes. However, a detailed study of the evolutionary correlation of true climate variables across the tree of life is still pending, as temperature is inferred only for sea water in an ice-free ocean, say earlier half of the Cenozoic [15]. Precipitation regime is even less known. Such scenario would provide a scaffold upon which the temporal dynamics of several aspects of the generation and loss of biodiversity can be modelled. Additionally, one of the great advantages of selecting key clades to study the LDG would be to determine the functional basis of diversification. There are species traits that are well known to affect speciation and extinction probabilities, such as reproductive strategies or life histories (e.g. [16]). Whereas these traits might also be a somewhat redundant effect of climatic causes, they might foster (i.e. “extended reinforcement”, [17]) or slow diversification. Even so, it is unlikely that such a model would account for all the latitudinal variation in species richness. But it will at least provide a baseline for the main latitudinal variations in the diversity of the regional communities (sensu [18]) worldwide. Within this context the effects of recent ecological, evolutionary and historical processes, such as environmental heterogeneity, current diversification rates or glacial cycles, will only modify the general LDG pattern resulting from the main processes contained in Meseguer & Condamine’s AGED, thereby providing a more comprehensive understanding of the geographical gradients of diversity.

[1] Humboldt, A. v. (1808). Ansichten der Natur, mit wissenschaftlichen Erläuterungen. J. G. Cotta, Tübingen.
[2] Hawkins, B. A. (2001). Ecology's oldest pattern? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 16, 470. doi: 10.1016/S0169-5347(01)02197-8
[3] Lomolino, M. V., Riddle, B. R. & Whittaker, R. J. (2017). Biogeography. Fifth Edition. Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, Massachussets.
[4] Mittelbach, G. G., Schemske, D. W., Cornell, H. V., Allen, A. P., Brown, J. M., Bush, M. B., Harrison, S. P., Hurlbert, A. H., Knowlton, N., Lessios, H. A., McCain, C. M., McCune, A. R., McDade, L. A., McPeek, M. A., Near, T. J., Price, T. D., Ricklefs, R. E., Roy, K., Sax, D. F., Schluter, D., Sobel, J. M. & Turelli, M. (2007). Evolution and the latitudinal diversity gradient: speciation, extinction and biogeography. Ecology Letters, 10, 315-331. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2007.01020.x
[5] Pontarp, M., Bunnefeld L., Cabral, J. S., Etienne, R. S., Fritz, S. A., Gillespie, R. Graham, C. H., Hagen, O., Hartig, F., Huang, S., Jansson, R., Maliet, O., Münkemüller, T., Pellissier, L., Rangel, T. F., Storch, D., Wiegand, T. & Hurlbert, A. H. (2019). The latitudinal diversity gradient: novel understanding through mechanistic eco-evolutionary models. Trends in ecology & evolution, 34, 211-223. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2018.11.009
[6] Hillebrand, H. (2004). On the generality of the latitudinal diversity gradient. The American Naturalist, 163, 192-211. doi: 10.1086/381004
[7] Santos, A. M. C. & Quicke, D. L. J. (2011). Large-scale diversity patterns of parasitoid insects. Entomological Science, 14, 371-382. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-8298.2011.00481.x
[8] Morinière, J., Van Dam, M. H., Hawlitschek, O., Bergsten, J., Michat, M. C., Hendrich, L., Ribera, I., Toussaint, E. F. A. & Balke, M. (2016). Phylogenetic niche conservatism explains an inverse latitudinal diversity gradient in freshwater arthropods. Scientific Reports, 6, 26340. doi: 10.1038/srep26340
[9] Weiser, M. D., Swenson, N. G., Enquist, B. J., Michaletz, S. T., Waide, R. B., Zhou, J. & Kaspari, M. (2018). Taxonomic decomposition of the latitudinal gradient in species diversity of North American floras. Journal of Biogeography, 45, 418-428. doi: 10.1111/jbi.13131
[10] Humboldt, A. v. (1805). Essai sur la geographie des plantes; accompagné d'un tableau physique des régions equinoxiales. Levrault, Paris.
[11] Rangel, T. F., Edwards, N. R., Holden, P. B., Diniz-Filho, J. A. F., Gosling, W. D., Coelho, M. T. P., Cassemiro, F. A. S., Rahbek, C. & Colwell, R. K. (2018). Modeling the ecology and evolution of biodiversity: Biogeographical cradles, museums, and graves. Science, 361, eaar5452. doi: 10.1126/science.aar5452
[12] Meseguer, A. S. & Condamine, F. L. (2019). Ancient tropical extinctions contributed to the latitudinal diversity gradient. bioRxiv, 236646, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. doi: 10.1101/236646
[13] Jansson, R., & Dynesius, M. (2002). The fate of clades in a world of recurrent climatic change: Milankovitch oscillations and evolution. Annual review of ecology and systematics, 33(1), 741-777. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.33.010802.150520
[14] Wiens, J. J., & Donoghue, M. J. (2004). Historical biogeography, ecology and species richness. Trends in ecology & evolution, 19, 639-644. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2004.09.011
[15] Zachos, J. C., Dickens, G. R., & Zeebe, R. E. (2008). An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics. Nature, 451, 279-283. doi: 10.1038/nature06588
[16] Zúñiga-Vega, J. J., Fuentes-G, J. A., Ossip-Drahos, A. G., & Martins, E. P. (2016). Repeated evolution of viviparity in phrynosomatid lizards constrained interspecific diversification in some life-history traits. Biology letters, 12, 20160653. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0653
[17] Butlin, R. K., & Smadja, C. M. (2018). Coupling, reinforcement, and speciation. The American Naturalist, 191, 155-172. doi: 10.1086/695136
[18] Ricklefs, R. E. (2015). Intrinsic dynamics of the regional community. Ecology letters, 18, 497-503. doi: 10.1111/ele.12431

Ancient tropical extinctions contributed to the latitudinal diversity gradientAndrea S. Meseguer, Fabien Condamine<p>Biodiversity currently peaks at the equator, decreasing toward the poles. Growing fossil evidence suggest that this hump-shaped latitudinal diversity gradient (LDG) has not been persistent through time, with similar species diversity across lat...Evolutionary Dynamics, Evolutionary Ecology, Macroevolution, Paleontology, Phylogenetics / Phylogenomics, Phylogeography & BiogeographyJoaquín Hortal2017-12-20 14:58:01 View