Submit a preprint

Latest recommendationsrsstwitter

IdTitleAuthorsAbstractPictureThematic fieldsRecommenderReviewersSubmission date
20 Dec 2017
article picture

Renewed diversification following Miocene landscape turnover in a Neotropical butterfly radiation

The influence of environmental change over geological time on the tempo and mode of biological diversification, revealed by Neotropical butterflies

Recommended by based on reviews by Delano Lewis and 1 anonymous reviewer

The influence of environmental change over geological time on the tempo and mode of biological diversification is a hot topic in biogeography. Of central interest are questions about where, when, and how fast lineages proliferated, suffered extinction, and migrated in response to tectonic events, the waxing and waning of dominant biomes, etc. In this context, the dynamic conditions of the Miocene have received much attention, from studies of many clades and biogeographic regions. Here, Chazot et al. [1] present an exemplary analysis of butterflies (tribe Ithomiini) in the Neotropics, examining their diversification across the Andes and Amazon. They infer sharp contrasts between these regions in the late Miocene: accelerated diversification during orogeny of the Andes, and greater extinction in the Amazon associated during the Pebas system, with interchange and local diversification increasing following the Pebas during the Pliocene.
Two features of this study stand out. First is the impressive taxon sampling (340 out of 393 extant species). Second is the use of ancestral range reconstructions to compute per-lineage rates of colonization between regions, and rates of speciation within regions, through time. The latter allows for relatively fine-grained comparisons across the 2 fundamental dimensions of historical biogeography, space and time, and is key to the main results. The method resonated with me because I performed a similar analysis in a study showing evidence for uplift-driven diversification in the Hengduan Mountains of China [2]. This analysis is complemented by a variety of other comparative methods for inferring variable diversification across clades, through time, and in response to external factors. Overall, it represents a very nice contribution to our understanding of the effects of Miocene/Pliocene environmental change on the evolution of Neotropical biodiversity.


[1] Chazot N, Willmott KR, Lamas G, Freitas AVL, Piron-Prunier F, Arias CF, Mallet J, De-Silva DL and Elias M. 2017. Renewed diversification following Miocene landscape turnover in a Neotropical butterfly radiation. BioRxiv 148189, ver 4 of 19th December 2017. doi: 10.1101/148189

[2] Xing Y, and Ree RH. 2017. Uplift-driven diversification in the Hengduan Mountains, a temperate biodiversity hotspot. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114: E3444-E3451. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1616063114

Renewed diversification following Miocene landscape turnover in a Neotropical butterfly radiationNicolas Chazot, Keith R. Willmott, Gerardo Lamas, André V.L. Freitas, Florence Piron-Prunier, Carlos F. Arias, James Mallet, Donna Lisa De-Silva, Marianne EliasThe Neotropical region has experienced a dynamic landscape evolution throughout the Miocene, with the large wetland Pebas occupying western Amazonia until 11-8 my ago and continuous uplift of the Andes mountains along the western edge of South Ame...Macroevolution, Phylogenetics / Phylogenomics, Phylogeography & BiogeographyRichard H Ree2017-06-12 11:55:14 View
18 Dec 2017
article picture

Co-evolution of virulence and immunosuppression in multiple infections

Two parasites, virulence and immunosuppression: how does the whole thing evolve?

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

How parasite virulence evolves is arguably the most important question in both the applied and fundamental study of host-parasite interactions. Typically, this research area has been progressing through the formalization of the problem via mathematical modelling. This is because the question is a complex one, as virulence is both affected and affects several aspects of the host-parasite interaction. Moreover, the evolution of virulence is a problem in which ecology (epidemiology) and evolution (changes in trait values through time) are tightly intertwined, generating what is now known as eco-evolutionary dynamics. Therefore, intuition is not sufficient to address how virulence may evolve.
In their classical model, Anderson and May [1] predict that the optimal virulence level results from a trade-off between increasing parasite load within hosts and promoting transmission between hosts. Although very useful and foundational, this model incurs into several simplifying assumptions. One of the most obvious is that it considers that hosts are infected by a single parasite strain/species. Some subsequent models have thus accounted for multiple infections, generally predicting that this will select for higher virulence, because it increases the strength of selection in the within-host compartment.
Usually, when attacked, hosts deploy defences to combat their parasites. In many systems, however, parasites can suppress the immune response of their hosts. This leads to prolonged infection, which is beneficial for the parasite. However, immunosuppressed hosts are also more prone to infection. Thus, multiple infections are more likely in a population of immunosuppressed hosts, leading to higher virulence, hence a shorter infection period. Thus, the consequences of immunosuppression for the evolution of virulence in a system allowing for multiple infections are not straightforward.
Kamiya et al.[2] embrace this challenge. They create an epidemiological model in which the probability of co-infection trades off with the rate of recovery from infection, via immunosuppression. They then use adaptive dynamics to study how either immunosuppression or virulence evolve in response to one another, to then establish what happens when they both coevolve. They find that when virulence only evolves, its evolutionary equilibrium increases as immunosuppression levels increase. In the reverse case, that is, when virulence is set to a fixed value, the evolutionarily stable immunosuppression varies non-linearly with virulence, with first a decrease, but then an increase at high levels of virulence. The initial decrease of immunosuppression may be due to (a) a decrease in infection duration and/or (b) a decrease in the proportion of double infections, caused by increased levels of virulence. However, as virulence increases, the probability of double infections decreases even in non-immunosuppressed hosts, hence increased immunosuppression is selected for.
The combination of both Evolutionary Stable Strategies (ESSs) yields intermediate levels of virulence and immunosuppression. The authors then address how this co-ESS varies with host mortality and with the shape of the trade-off between the probability of co-infection and the rate of recovery. They find that immunosuppression always decreases with increased host mortality, as it becomes not profitable to invest on this trait. In contrast, virulence peaks at intermediate values of host mortality, unlike the monotonical decrease that is found in absence of immunosuppression. Also, this relationship is predicted to vary with the shape of the trade-off underlying the costs and benefits of immunosuppression.
In sum, Kamiya et al. [2] provide a comprehensive analysis of an important problem in the evolution of host-parasite interactions. The model provides clear predictions, and thus can now be tested using the many systems in which immunosuppression has been detected, provided that the traits that compose the model can be measured.


[1] Anderson RM and May RM. 1982. Coevolution of hosts and parasites. Parasitology, 1982. 85: 411–426. doi: 10.1017/S0031182000055360

[2] Kamiya T, Mideo N and Alizon S. 2017. Coevolution of virulence and immunosuppression in multiple infections. bioRxiv, ver. 7 peer-reviewed by PCI Evol Biol, 149211. doi: 10.1101/139147

Co-evolution of virulence and immunosuppression in multiple infectionsTsukushi Kamiya, Nicole Mideo, Samuel AlizonMany components of the host-parasite interaction have been shown to affect the way virulence, that is parasite induced harm to the host, evolves. However, co-evolution of multiple traits is often neglected. We explore how an immunosuppressive mech...Evolutionary Applications, Evolutionary Dynamics, Evolutionary Ecology, Evolutionary Epidemiology, Evolutionary TheorySara Magalhaes2017-06-13 16:49:45 View
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
20 Nov 2017
article picture

Effects of partial selfing on the equilibrium genetic variance, mutation load and inbreeding depression under stabilizing selection

Understanding genetic variance, load, and inbreeding depression with selfing

Recommended by based on reviews by Frédéric Guillaume and 1 anonymous reviewer

A classic problem in evolutionary biology is to understand the genetic variance in fitness. The simplest hypothesis is that variation exists, even in well-adapted populations, as a result of the balance between mutational input and selective elimination. This variation causes a reduction in mean fitness, known as the mutation load. Though mutation load is difficult to quantify empirically, indirect evidence of segregating genetic variation in fitness is often readily obtained by comparing the fitness of inbred and outbred offspring, i.e., by measuring inbreeding depression. Mutation-selection balance models have been studied as a means of understanding the genetic variance in fitness, mutation load, and inbreeding depression. Since their inception, such models have increased in sophistication, allowing us to ask these questions under more realistic and varied scenarios. The new theoretical work by Abu Awad and Roze [1] is a substantial step forward in understanding how arbitrary levels of self-fertilization affect variation, load and inbreeding depression under mutation-selection balance.
It has never been entirely clear how selfing should affect these population genetic properties in a multi-locus model. From the single-locus perspective, selfing increases homozygosity, which allows for more efficient purging leading to a prediction of less variance and lower load. On the other hand, selfing directly and indirectly affects several types of multilocus associations, which tend to make selection less efficient. Though this is certainly not the first study to consider mutation-selection balance in species with selfing (e.g., [2-5]), it is perhaps the most biologically realistic. The authors consider a model where n traits are under stabilizing selection and where each locus affects an arbitrary subset of these traits. As others have argued [6-7], this type of fitness landscape model “naturally” gives rise to dominance and epistatic effects. Abu Awad and Roze [1] thoroughly investigate this model both with analytical approximations and stochastic simulations (incorporating the effects of drift).
Their analysis reveals three major parameter regimes. The first regime occurs under low mutation rates, when segregating deleterious alleles are sufficiently rare across the genome that multi-locus genetic associations (disequilibria) can be ignored. As expected, in this regime, increased selfing facilitates purging, thereby leading to less standing genetic variation, lower load and less inbreeding depression.
In the second regime, mutation rates are higher and segregating deleterious alleles are more common. Though the effects of multilocus genetic associations cannot be ignored, Abu Awad and Roze [1] show that a good approximation can be obtained by considering only two-locus associations (ignoring the multitude of higher order associations). This is where the sophistication of their analysis yields the greatest insights. Their analysis shows that two different types of interlocus associations are important. First, selfing directly generates identity disequilibrium (correlation in homozygosity between two loci) that occurs because individuals produced through outbreeding tend to be heterozygous across multiple loci whereas individuals produced by selfing tend to be homozygous across multiple loci. These correlations reduce the efficiency of selection when deleterious effects are partially recessive [5]. Second, selfing indirectly affects traditional linkage disequilibrium. Epistatic selection resulting from the fitness landscape generates negative linkage disequilibrium between alleles at different loci that cause the same direction of deviation in a trait from its optimum. Because selfing reduces the effective rate of recombination, linkage disequilibrium reaches higher levels. Because selection tends to generate compensatory combinations of alleles, partially masking their deleterious effects, these associations also make purging less efficient. Their analysis shows the strength of the effect from identity disequilibrium scales with U, the genome-wide rate of deleterious mutations, but the effect of linkage disequilibrium scales with U/n because with more traits (higher n) two randomly chosen alleles are less likely to affect the same trait and so be subject to epistatic selection. Together, the effects of multilocus associations increase the load and can, in some cases, cause the load to increase as selfing increase from moderate to high levels.
However, their analytical approximations become inaccurate under conditions when the number of epistatically interacting segregating mutations (proportional to U/n) becomes large relative to the effective recombination rate (dependent on outcrossing and recombination rates). In this third regime, higher order genetic associations become important. In the limit of no recombination, model behaves as if the whole genome is a single locus with a very large number of alleles, becoming equivalent to previous studies [2-3].
The study by Abu Awad and Roze [1] helps us better understand the “simplest” explanation for genetic variance in fitness—mutation-selection balance—in a model of considerable complexity involving multiple traits under stabilizing selection, which ‘naturally’ allows for pleiotropy and epistasis. Their model tends to confirm the classic prediction of lower variation in fitness, less load, and inbreeding depression in species with higher levels of selfing. However, their careful analysis provides a clearer picture of how (and by how much) epistasis and selfing affect key population genetic properties.


[1] Abu Awad D and Roze D. 2017. Effects of partial selfing on the equilibrium genetic variance, mutation load and inbreeding depression under stabilizing selection. bioRxiv, 180000, ver. 4 of 17th November 2017. doi: 10.1101/180000

[2] Lande R. 1977. The influence of the mating system on the maintenance of genetic variability in polygenic characters. Genetics 86: 485–498.

[3] Charlesworth D and Charlesworth B. 1987. Inbreeding depression and its evolutionary consequences. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. 18: 237–268. doi: 10.1111/10.1146/

[4] Lande R and Porcher E. 2015. Maintenance of quantitative genetic variance under partial self-fertilization, with implications for the evolution of selfing. Genetics 200: 891–906. doi: 10.1534/genetics.115.176693

[5] Roze D. 2015. Effects of interference between selected loci on the mutation load, inbreeding depression, and heterosis. Genetics 201: 745–757. doi: 10.1534/genetics.115.178533

[6] Martin G and Lenormand T. 2006. A general multivariate extension of Fisher's geometrical model and the distribution of mutation fitness effects across species. Evolution 60: 893–907. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2006.tb01169.x

[7] Martin G, Elena SF and Lenormand T. 2007. Distributions of epistasis in microbes fit predictions from a fitness landscape model. Nature Genetics 39: 555–560. doi: 10.1038/ng1998

Effects of partial selfing on the equilibrium genetic variance, mutation load and inbreeding depression under stabilizing selectionDiala Abu Awad and Denis RozeThe mating system of a species is expected to have important effects on its genetic diversity. In this paper, we explore the effects of partial selfing on the equilibrium genetic variance Vg, mutation load L and inbreeding depression δ under stabi...Evolutionary Theory, Population Genetics / Genomics, Quantitative Genetics, Reproduction and SexAneil F. Agrawal2017-08-26 09:29:20 View
17 Nov 2017
article picture

ABC random forests for Bayesian parameter inference

Machine learning methods are useful for Approximate Bayesian Computation in evolution and ecology

Recommended by Michael Blum based on reviews by Dennis Prangle and Michael Blum

It is my pleasure to recommend the paper by Raynal et al. [1] about using random forest for parameter inference. There are two reviews about the paper, one review written by Dennis Prangle and another review written by myself. Both reviews were positive and included comments that have been addressed in the current version of the preprint.

The paper nicely shows that modern machine learning approaches are useful for Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC) and more generally for simulation-driven parameter inference in ecology and evolution.

The authors propose to consider the random forest approach, proposed by Meinshausen [2] to perform quantile regression. The numerical implementation of ABC with random forest, available in the abcrf package, is based on the RANGER R package that provides a fast implementation of random forest for high-dimensional data.

According to my reading of the manuscript, there are 3 main advantages when using random forest (RF) for parameter inference with ABC. The first advantage is that RF can handle many summary statistics and that dimension reduction is not needed when using RF.

The second advantage is very nicely displayed in Figure 5, which shows the main result of the paper. If correct, 95% posterior credibility intervals (C.I.) should contain 95% of the parameter values used in simulations. Figure 5 shows that posterior C.I. obtained with rejection are too large compared to other methods. By contrast, C.I. obtained with regression methods have been shrunken. However, the shrinkage can be excessive for the smallest tolerance rates, with coverage values that can be equal to 85% instead of the expected 95% value. The attractive property of RF is that C.I. have been shrunken but the coverage is of 100% resulting in a conservative decision about parameter values.

The last advantage is that no hyperparameter should be chosen. It is a parameter free approach, which is desirable because of the potential difficulty of choosing an appropriate acceptance rate.

The main drawback of the proposed approach concerns joint parameter inference. There are many settings where the joint parameter distribution is of interest and the proposed RF approach cannot handle that. In population genetics for example, estimation of the severity and of the duration of the bottleneck should be estimated jointly because of identifiability issues. The challenge of performing joint parameter inference with RF might constitute a useful research perspective.


[1] Raynal L, Marin J-M, Pudlo P, Ribatet M, Robert CP, Estoup A. 2017. ABC random forests for Bayesian parameter inference. arXiv 1605.05537v4,
[2] Meinshausen N. 2006. Quantile regression forests. Journal of Machine Learning Research 7: 983-999.

ABC random forests for Bayesian parameter inferenceLouis Raynal, Jean-Michel Marin, Pierre Pudlo, Mathieu Ribatet, Christian P. Robert, Arnaud EstoupThis preprint has been reviewed and recommended by Peer Community In Evolutionary Biology (http:// 10.24072/ pci.evolbiol.100036). Approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) has grown into a standard methodology that manages Bayesian infer...Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Evolutionary Applications, Other, Population Genetics / GenomicsNone2017-07-06 07:42:00 View
13 Nov 2017
article picture

Epidemiological trade-off between intra- and interannual scales in the evolution of aggressiveness in a local plant pathogen population

The pace of pathogens’ adaptation to their host plants

Recommended by based on reviews by Benoit Moury and 1 anonymous reviewer

Because of their shorter generation times and larger census population sizes, pathogens are usually ahead in the evolutionary race with their hosts. The risks linked to pathogen adaptation are still exacerbated in agronomy, where plant and animal populations are not freely evolving but depend on breeders and growers, and are usually highly genetically homogeneous. As a consequence, the speed of pathogen adaptation is crucial for agriculture sustainability. Unraveling the time scale required for pathogens’ adaptation to their hosts would notably greatly improve our estimation of the risks of pathogen emergence, the efficiency of disease control strategies and the design of epidemiological surveillance schemes. However, the temporal scale of pathogen evolution has received much less attention than its spatial scale [1]. In their study of a wheat fungal disease, Suffert et al. [2] reached contrasting conclusions about the pathogen adaptation depending on the time scale (intra- or inter-annual) and on the host genotype (sympatric or allopatric) considered, questioning the experimental assessment of this important problem.

Suffert et al. [2] sampled two pairs of Zymoseptoria tritici (the causal agent of septoria leaf blotch) sub-populations in a bread wheat field plot, representing (i) isolates collected at the beginning or at the end of an epidemic in a single growing season (2009-2010 intra-annual sampling scale) and (ii) isolates collected from plant debris at the end of growing seasons in 2009 and in 2015 (inter-annual sampling scale). Then, they measured in controlled conditions two aggressiveness traits of the isolates of these four Z. tritici sub-populations, the latent period and the lesion size on leaves, on two wheat cultivars. One of the cultivars was considered as "sympatric" because it was at the source of the studied isolates and was predominant in the growing area before the experiment, whereas the other cultivar was considered as "allopatric" since it replaced the previous one and became predominant in the growing area during the sampling period.

On the sympatric host, at the intra-annual scale, they observed a marginally-significant decrease in latent period and a significant decrease of the between-isolate variance for this trait, which are consistent with a selection of pathogen variants with an enhanced aggressiveness. In contrast, at the inter-annual scale, no difference in the mean or variance of aggressiveness trait values was observed on the sympatric host, suggesting a lack of pathogen adaptation. They interpreted the contrast between observations at the two time scales as the consequence of a trade-off for the pathogen between a gain of aggressiveness after several generations of asexual reproduction at the intra-annual scale and a decrease of the probability to reproduce sexually and to be transmitted from one growing season to the next. Indeed, at the end of the growing season, the most aggressive isolates are located on the upper leaves of plants, where the pathogen density and hence probably also the probability to reproduce sexually, is lower. On the allopatric host, the conclusion about the pathogen stability at the inter-annual scale was somewhat different, since a significant increase in the mean lesion size was observed (isolates corresponding to the intra-annual scale were not checked on the allopatric host). This shows the possibility for the pathogen to evolve at the inter-annual scale, for a given aggressiveness trait and on a given host.

In conclusion, Suffert et al.’s [2] study emphasizes the importance of the experimental design in terms of sampling time scale and host genotype choice to analyze the pathogen adaptation to its host plants. It provides also an interesting scenario, at the crossroad of the pathogen’s reproduction regime, niche partitioning and epidemiological processes, to interpret these contrasted results. Pathogen adaptation to plant cultivars with major-effect resistance genes is usually fast, including in the wheat-Z. tritici system [3]. Therefore, this study will be of great help for future studies on pathogen adaptation to plant partial resistance genes and on strategies of deployment of such resistance at the landscape scale.

[1] Penczykowski RM, Laine A-L and Koskella B. 2016. Understanding the ecology and evolution of host–parasite interactions across scales. Evolutionary Applications, 9: 37–52. doi: 10.1111/eva.12294

[2] Suffert F, Goyeau H, Sache I, Carpentier F, Gelisse S, Morais D and Delestre G. 2017. Epidemiological trade-off between intra- and interannual scales in the evolution of aggressiveness in a local plant pathogen population. bioRxiv, 151068, ver. 3 of 12th November 2017. doi: 10.1101/151068

[3] Brown JKM, Chartrain L, Lasserre-Zuber P and Saintenac C. 2015. Genetics of resistance to Zymoseptoria tritici and applications to wheat breeding. Fungal Genetics and Biology, 79: 33–41. doi: 10.1016/j.fgb.2015.04.017

Epidemiological trade-off between intra- and interannual scales in the evolution of aggressiveness in a local plant pathogen populationFrederic Suffert, Henriette Goyeau, Ivan Sache, Florence Carpentier, Sandrine Gelisse, David Morais, Ghislain DelestreThe efficiency of plant resistance to fungal pathogen populations is expected to decrease over time, due to its evolution with an increase in the frequency of virulent or highly aggressive strains. This dynamics may differ depending on the scale i...Adaptation, Evolutionary Applications, Evolutionary EpidemiologyBenoit Moury2017-06-23 21:04:54 View
10 Nov 2017
article picture

Rates of Molecular Evolution Suggest Natural History of Life History Traits and a Post-K-Pg Nocturnal Bottleneck of Placentals

A new approach to DNA-aided ancestral trait reconstruction in mammals

Recommended by and

Reconstructing ancestral character states is an exciting but difficult problem. The fossil record carries a great deal of information, but it is incomplete and not always easy to connect to data from modern species. Alternatively, ancestral states can be estimated by modelling trait evolution across a phylogeny, and fitting to values observed in extant species. This approach, however, is heavily dependent on the underlying assumptions, and typically results in wide confidence intervals.

An alternative approach is to gain information on ancestral character states from DNA sequence data. This can be done directly when the trait of interest is known to be determined by a single, or a small number, of major effect genes. In some of these cases it can even be possible to investigate an ancestral trait of interest by inferring and resurrecting ancestral sequences in the laboratory. Examples where this has been successfully used to address evolutionary questions range from the nocturnality of early mammals [1], to the loss of functional uricases in primates, leading to high rates of gout, obesity and hypertension in present day humans [2]. Another possibility is to rely on correlations between species traits and the genome average substitution rate/process. For instance, it is well established that the ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitution rate, dN/dS, is generally higher in large than in small species of mammals, presumably due to a reduced effective population size in the former. By estimating ancestral dN/dS, one can therefore gain information on ancestral body mass (e.g. [3-4]).

The interesting paper by Wu et al. [5] further develops this second possibility of incorporating information on rate variation derived from genomic data in the estimation of ancestral traits. The authors analyse a large set of 1185 genes in 89 species of mammals, without any prior information on gene function. The substitution rate is estimated for each gene and each branch of the mammalian tree, and taken as an indicator of the selective constraint applying to a specific gene in a specific lineage – more constraint, slower evolution. Rate variation is modelled as resulting from a gene effect, a branch effect, and a gene X branch interaction effect, which captures lineage-specific peculiarities in the distribution of functional constraint across genes. The interaction term in terminal branches is regressed to observed trait values, and the relationship is used to predict ancestral traits from interaction terms in internal branches. The power and accuracy of the estimates are convincingly assessed via cross validation. Using this method, the authors were also able to use an unbiased approach to determine which genes were the main contributors to the evolution of the life-history traits they reconstructed.

The ancestors to current placental mammals are predicted to have been insectivorous - meaning that the estimated distribution of selective constraint across genes in basal branches of the tree resembles that of extant insectivorous taxa - consistent with the mainstream palaeontological hypothesis. Another interesting result is the prediction that only nocturnal lineages have passed the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, so that the ancestors of current orders of placentals would all have been nocturnal. This suggests that the so-called "nocturnal bottleneck hypothesis" should probably be amended. Similar reconstructions are achieved for seasonality, sociality and monogamy – with variable levels of uncertainty.

The beauty of the approach is to analyse the variance, not only the mean, of substitution rate across genes, and their methods allow for the identification of the genes contributing to trait evolution without relying on functional annotations. This paper only analyses discrete traits, but the framework can probably be extended to continuous traits as well.


[1] Bickelmann C, Morrow JM, Du J, Schott RK, van Hazel I, Lim S, Müller J, Chang BSW, 2015. The molecular origin and evolution of dim-light vision in mammals. Evolution 69: 2995-3003. doi:

[2] Kratzer, JT, Lanaspa MA, Murphy MN, Cicerchi C, Graves CL, Tipton PA, Ortlund EA, Johnson RJ, Gaucher EA, 2014. Evolutionary history and metabolic insights of ancient mammalian uricases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA 111:3763-3768. doi:

[3] Lartillot N, Delsuc F. 2012. Joint reconstruction of divergence times and life-history evolution in placental mammals using a phylogenetic covariance model. Evolution 66:1773-1787. doi:

[4] Romiguier J, Ranwez V, Douzery EJ, Galtier N. 2013. Genomic evidence for large, long-lived ancestors to placental mammals. Molecular Biology and Evolution 30:5-13. doi:

[5] Wu J, Yonezawa T, Kishino H. 2016. Rates of Molecular Evolution Suggest Natural History of Life History Traits and a Post-K-Pg Nocturnal Bottleneck of Placentals. Current Biology 27: 3025-3033. doi:

Rates of Molecular Evolution Suggest Natural History of Life History Traits and a Post-K-Pg Nocturnal Bottleneck of PlacentalsWu J, Yonezawa T, Kishino H.Life history and behavioral traits are often difficult to discern from the fossil record, but evolutionary rates of genes and their changes over time can be inferred from extant genomic data. Under the neutral theory, molecular evolutionary rate i...Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Life History, Molecular Evolution, Paleontology, Phylogenetics / PhylogenomicsNicolas Galtier2017-11-10 14:52:26 View
07 Nov 2017
article picture

MaxTiC: Fast ranking of a phylogenetic tree by Maximum Time Consistency with lateral gene transfers

Dating nodes in a phylogeny using inferred horizontal gene transfers

Recommended by and based on reviews by Alexandros Stamatakis, Mukul Bansal and 2 anonymous reviewers

Dating nodes in a phylogeny is an important problem in evolution and is typically performed by using molecular clocks and fossil age estimates [1]. The manuscript by Chauve et al. [2] reports a novel method, which uses lateral gene transfers to help ordering nodes in a species tree. The idea is that a lateral gene transfer can only occur between two species living at the same time, which indirectly informs on node relative ages in a phylogeny: the donor species cannot be more recent than the recipient species. Horizontal gene transfers are increasingly recognized as frequent, even in eukaryotes, and especially in micro-organisms that have little fossil records [3-7]. Yet, such an important source of information has been very rarely used so far for inferring relative node ages in phylogenies. In this context, the method by Chauve et al. [2] represents an innovative and original approach to a difficult problem. An obvious limitation of the approach is that it relies on inferences of horizontal transfers, which detection is in itself a difficult problem. Incomplete taxon sampling, or the extinction of the true donor lineage may render patterns difficult to interpret in a temporary fashion. Yet, for clades with no fossils this may be the only piece of information we have at hand, and the growing amount of sequence data is likely to minimize issues derived from incomplete sampling.

The developed method, MaxTiC (for Maximal Time Consistency) [2], represents a very nice application of theoretical developments on the well-known « Feedback Arc Set » computer science problem to the evolutionary question of ordering nodes in a phylogeny. MaxTiC uses as input a species tree and a set of time constraints based on lateral gene transfers inferred using other softwares, and minimizes conflicts between node ordering and these time constraints. The application of MaxTiC on simulated datasets indicated that node ordering was fairly accurate [2]. MaxTiC is implemented in a freely available software, which represents original and relevant contribution to the field of evolutionary biology.


[1] Donoghue P and Smith M, editors. 2003. Telling the evolutionary time. CRC press.

[2] Chauve C, Rafiey A, Davin AA, Scornavacca C, Veber P, Boussau B, Szöllősi GJ, Daubin V and Tannier E. 2017. MaxTiC: Fast ranking of a phylogenetic tree by Maximum Time Consistency with lateral gene transfers. bioRxiv 127548, ver. 6 of 6th November 2017. doi: 10.1101/127548

[3] Ropars J, Rodríguez de la Vega RC, Lopez-Villavicencio M, Gouzy J, Sallet E, Debuchy R, Dupont J, Branca A and Giraud T. 2015. Adaptive horizontal gene transfers between multiple cheese-associated fungi. Current Biology 19, 2562–2569. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.08.025

[4] Novo M, Bigey F, Beyne E, Galeote V, Gavory F, Mallet S, Cambon B, Legras JL, Wincker P, Casaregola S and Dequin S. 2009. Eukaryote-to-eukaryote gene transfer events revealed by the genome sequence of the wine yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae EC1118. Proceeding of the National Academy of Science USA, 106, 16333–16338. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0904673106

[5] Naranjo-Ortíz MA, Brock M, Brunke S, Hube B, Marcet-Houben M, Gabaldón T. 2016. Widespread inter- and intra-domain horizontal gene transfer of d-amino acid metabolism enzymes in Eukaryotes. Frontiers in Microbiology 7, 2001. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.02001

[6] Alexander WG, Wisecaver JH, Rokas A, Hittinger CT. 2016. Horizontally acquired genes in early-diverging pathogenic fungi enable the use of host nucleosides and nucleotides. Proceeding of the National Academy of Science USA. 113, 4116–4121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1517242113

[7] Marcet-Houben M, Gabaldón T. 2010. Acquisition of prokaryotic genes by fungal genomes. Trends in Genetics. 26, 5–8. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2009.11.007

MaxTiC: Fast ranking of a phylogenetic tree by Maximum Time Consistency with lateral gene transfersCédric Chauve, Akbar Rafiey, Adrian A. Davin, Celine Scornavacca, Philippe Veber, Bastien Boussau, Gergely J Szöllosi, Vincent Daubin, and Eric TannierLateral gene transfers (LGTs) between ancient species contain information about the relative timing of species diversification. Specifically, the ancestors of a donor species must have existed before the descendants of the recipient species. Hence...Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Evolutionary Dynamics, Genome Evolution, Life History, Molecular Evolution, Phylogenetics / PhylogenomicsTatiana Giraud2017-06-28 13:40:52 View
06 Oct 2017
article picture

Evolutionary analysis of candidate non-coding elements regulating neurodevelopmental genes in vertebrates

Combining molecular information on chromatin organisation with eQTLs and evolutionary conservation provides strong candidates for the evolution of gene regulation in mammalian brains

Recommended by based on reviews by Marc Robinson-Rechavi and Charles Danko

In this manuscript [1], Francisco J. Novo proposes candidate non-coding genomic elements regulating neurodevelopmental genes.

What is very nice about this study is the way in which public molecular data, including physical interaction data, is used to leverage recent advances in our understanding to molecular mechanisms of gene regulation in an evolutionary context. More specifically, evolutionarily conserved non coding sequences are combined with enhancers from the FANTOM5 project, DNAse hypersensitive sites, chromatin segmentation, ChIP-seq of transcription factors and of p300, gene expression and eQTLs from GTEx, and physical interactions from several Hi-C datasets. The candidate regulatory regions thus identified are linked to candidate regulated genes, and the author shows their potential implication in brain development.

While the results are focused on a small number of genes, this allows to verify features of these candidates in great detail. This study shows how functional genomics is increasingly allowing us to fulfill the promises of Evo-Devo: understanding the molecular mechanisms of conservation and differences in morphology.


[1] Novo, FJ. 2017. Evolutionary analysis of candidate non-coding elements regulating neurodevelopmental genes in vertebrates. bioRxiv, 150482, ver. 4 of Sept 29th, 2017. doi: 10.1101/150482

Evolutionary analysis of candidate non-coding elements regulating neurodevelopmental genes in vertebratesFrancisco J. Novo<p>Many non-coding regulatory elements conserved in vertebrates regulate the expression of genes involved in development and play an important role in the evolution of morphology through the rewiring of developmental gene networks. Available biolo...Genome EvolutionMarc Robinson-Rechavi Marc Robinson-Rechavi, Charles Danko2017-06-29 08:55:41 View
05 Oct 2017
article picture

Using Connectivity To Identify Climatic Drivers Of Local Adaptation

A new approach to identifying drivers of local adaptation

Recommended by based on reviews by Ruth Arabelle Hufbauer and Thomas Lenormand

Local adaptation, the higher fitness a population achieves in its local “home” environment relative to other environments is a crucial phase in the divergence of populations, and as such both generates and maintains diversity. Local adaptation is enhanced by selection and genetic variation in the relevant traits, and decreased by gene flow and genetic drift.

Demonstrating local adaptation is laborious, and is typically done with a reciprocal transplant design [1], documenting repeated geographic clines [e.g. 2, 3] also provides strong evidence of local adaptation. Even when well documented, it is often unknown which aspects of the environment impose selection. Indeed, differences in environment between different sites that are measured during studies of local adaptation explain little of the variance in the degree of local adaptation [4]. This poses a problem to population management. Given climate change and habitat destruction, understanding the environmental drivers of local adaptation can be crucially important to conducting successful assisted migration or targeted gene flow.

In this manuscript, Macdonald et al. [5] propose a means of identifying which aspects of the environment select for local adaptation without conducting a reciprocal transplant experiment. The idea is that the strength of relationships between traits and environmental variables that are due to plastic responses to the environment will not be influenced by gene flow, but the strength of trait-environment relationships that are due to local adaptation should decrease with gene flow. This then can be used to reduce the somewhat arbitrary list of environmental variables on which data are available down to a targeted list more likely to drive local adaptation in specific traits. To perform such an analysis requires three things: 1) measurements of traits of interest in a species across locations, 2) an estimate of gene flow between locations, which can be replaced with a biologically meaningful estimate of how well connected those locations are from the point of view of the study species, and 3) data on climate and other environmental variables from across a species’ range, many of which are available on line.

Macdonald et al. [5] demonstrate their approach using a skink (Lampropholis coggeri). They collected morphological and physiological data on individuals from multiple populations. They estimated connectivity among those locations using information on habitat suitability and dispersal potential [6], and gleaned climatic data from available databases and the literature. They find that two physiological traits, the critical minimum and maximum temperatures, show the strongest signs of local adaptation, specifically local adaptation to annual mean precipitation, precipitation of the driest quarter, and minimum annual temperature. These are then aspects of skink phenotype and skink habitats that could be explored further, or could be used to provide background information if migration efforts, for example for genetic rescue [7] were initiated. The approach laid out has the potential to spark a novel genre of research on local adaptation. It its simplest form, knowing that local adaptation is eroded by gene flow, it is intuitive to consider that if connectivity reduces the strength of the relationship between an environmental variable and a trait, that the trait might be involved in local adaptation. The approach is less intuitive than that, however – it relies not connectivity per-se, but the interaction between connectivity and different environmental variables and how that interaction alters trait-environment relationships. The authors lay out a number of useful caveats and potential areas that could use further development. It will be interesting to see how the community of evolutionary biologists responds.


[1] Blanquart F, Kaltz O, Nuismer SL and Gandon S. 2013. A practical guide to measuring local adaptation. Ecology Letters, 16: 1195-1205. doi: 10.1111/ele.12150

[2] Huey RB, Gilchrist GW, Carlson ML, Berrigan D and Serra L. 2000. Rapid evolution of a geographic cline in size in an introduced fly. Science, 287: 308-309. doi: 10.1126/science.287.5451.308

[3] Milesi P, Lenormand T, Lagneau C, Weill M and Labbé P. 2016. Relating fitness to long-term environmental variations in natura. Molecular Ecology, 25: 5483-5499. doi: 10.1111/mec.13855

[4] Hereford, J. 2009. A quantitative survey of local adaptation and fitness trade-offs. The American Naturalist 173: 579-588. doi: 10.1086/597611

[5] Macdonald SL, Llewelyn J and Phillips BL. 2017. Using connectivity to identify climatic drivers of local adaptation. bioRxiv, ver. 4 of October 4, 2017. doi: 10.1101/145169

[6] Macdonald SL, Llewelyn J, Moritz C and Phillips BL. 2017. Peripheral isolates as sources of adaptive diversity under climate change. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 5:88. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2017.00088

[7] Whiteley AR, Fitzpatrick SW, Funk WC and Tallmon DA. 2015. Genetic rescue to the rescue. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 30: 42-49. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2014.10.009

Using Connectivity To Identify Climatic Drivers Of Local AdaptationStewart L. Macdonald, John Llewelyn, Ben PhillipsDespite being able to conclusively demonstrate local adaptation, we are still often unable to objectively determine the climatic drivers of local adaptation. Given the rapid rate of global change, understanding the climatic drivers of local adapta...Adaptation, Evolutionary ApplicationsRuth Arabelle Hufbauer Thomas Lenormand2017-06-06 13:06:54 View