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06 Feb 2024
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Can mechanistic constraints on recombination reestablishment explain the long-term maintenance of degenerate sex chromosomes?

New modelling results help understanding the evolution and maintenance of recombination suppression involving sex chromosomes

Recommended by based on reviews by 3 anonymous reviewers

Despite advances in genomic research, many views of genome evolution are still based on what we know from a handful of species, such as humans. This also applies to our knowledge of sex chromosomes. We've apparently been too much used to the situation in which a highly degenerate Y chromosome coexists with an almost normal X chromosome to be able to fully grasp all the questions implied by this situation. Lately, many more sex chromosomes have been studied in other organisms, such as in plants, and the view is changing radically: there is a large diversity of situations, ranging from young highly divergent sex chromosomes to old ones that are so similar that they're hard to detect. Undoubtedly inspired by these recent findings, a few theoretical studies have been published around 2 years ago that put an entirely new light on the evolution of sex chromosomes. The differences between these models have however remained somewhat difficult to appreciate by non-specialists. 

In particular, the models by Lenormand & Roze (2022) and by Jay et al. (2022) seemed quite similar. Indeed, both rely on the same mechanism for initial recombination suppression: a ``lucky'' inversion, i.e. one with less deleterious mutations than the population average, encompassing the sex-determination locus, is initially selected. However, as it doesn't recombine, it will quickly accumulate deleterious mutations lowering its fitness. And it's at this point the models diverge: according to Lenormand & Roze (2022), nascent dosage compensation not only limits the deleterious effects on fitness by the ongoing degeneration, but it actually opposes recombination restoration as this would lead gene expression away from the optimum that has been reached. On the other hand, in the model by Jay et al. (2022), no additional ingredient is required: they argue that once an inversion had been fixed, reversions that restore recombination are extremely unlikely.

This is what Lenormand & Roze (2024) now call a ``constraint'': in Jay et al.'s model, recombination restoration is impossible for mechanistic reasons. Lenormand & Roze (2024) argue such constraints cannot explain long-term recombination suppression. Instead, a mechanism should evolve to limit the negative fitness effects of recombination arrest, otherwise recombination is either restored, or the population goes extinct due to a dramatic drop in the fitness of the heterogametic sex. These two arguments work together: given the huge fitness cost of the lack of ongoing degeneration of the non-recombining Y, in the absence of compensatory mechanisms, there is a very strong selection for the restoration of recombination, so that even when restoration a priori is orders of magnitude less likely than inversion (leading to recombination suppression), it will eventually happen. 

One way the negative fitness effects of recombination suppression can be limited, is the way the authors propose in their own model: dosage compensation evolves through regulatory evolution right at the start of recombination suppression. This changes our classical, simplistic view that dosage compensation evolves in response to degeneration: rather, Lenormand & Roze (2024) argue, that degeneration can only happen when dosage compensation is effective.

The reasoning is convincing and exposes the difference between the models to readers without a firm background in mathematical modelling. Although Lenormand & Roze (2024) target the "constraint theory", it seems likely that other theories for the maintenance of recombination suppression that don't imply the compensation of early degeneration are subject to the same criticism. Indeed, they mention the widely-cited "sexual antagonism" theory, in which mutations with a positive effect in males but a negative in females will select for recombination suppression that will link them to the sex-determining gene on the Y. However, once degeneration starts, the sexually-antagonistic benefits should be huge to overcome the negative effects of degeneration, and it's unlikely they'll be large enough.

A convincing argument by Lenormand & Roze (2024) is that there are many ways recombination could be restored, allowing to circumvent the possible constraints that might be associated with reverting an inversion. First, reversions don't have to be exact to restore recombination. Second, the sex-determining locus can be transposed to another chromosome pair, or an entirely new sex-determining locus might evolve, leading to sex-chromosome turnover which has effectively been observed in several groups.

These modelling studies raise important questions that need to be addressed with both theoretical and empirical work. First, is the regulatory hypothesis proposed by Lenormand & Roze (2022) the only plausible mechanism for the maintenance of long-term recombination suppression? The female- and male-specific trans regulators of gene expression that are required for this model, are they readily available or do they need to evolve first? Both theoretical work and empirical studies of nascent sex chromosomes will help to answer these questions. However, nascent sex chromosomes are difficult to detect and dosage compensation is difficult to reveal.

Second, how many species today actually have "stable" recombination suppression? Maybe many species are in a transient phase, with different populations having different inversions that are either on their way to being fixed or starting to get counterselected. The models have now shown us some possibilities qualitatively but can they actually be quantified to be able to fit the data and to predict whether an observed case of recombination suppression is transient or stable? 

The debate will continue, and we need the active contribution of theoretical biologists to help clarify the underlying hypotheses of the proposed mechanisms. 

Conflict of interest statement: I did co-author a manuscript with D. Roze in 2023, but do not consider this a conflict of interest. The manuscript is the product of discussions that have taken place in a large consortium mainly in 2019. It furthermore deals with an entirely different topic of evolutionary biology.

References

Jay P, Tezenas E, Véber A, and Giraud T. (2022) Sheltering of deleterious mutations explains the stepwise extension of recombination suppression on sex chromosomes and other supergenes. PLoS Biol.;20:e3001698. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001698
 
Lenormand T and Roze D. (2022) Y recombination arrest and degeneration in the absence of sexual dimorphism. Science;375:663-6. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abj1813
 
Lenormand T and Roze D. (2024) Can mechanistic constraints on recombination reestablishment explain the long-term maintenance of degenerate sex chromosomes? bioRxiv, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.02.17.528909

Can mechanistic constraints on recombination reestablishment explain the long-term maintenance of degenerate sex chromosomes?Thomas Lenormand, Denis Roze<p style="text-align: justify;">Y and W chromosomes often stop recombining and degenerate. Most work on recombination suppression has focused on the mechanisms favoring recombination arrest in the short term. Yet, the long-term maintenance of reco...Evolutionary Theory, Genome Evolution, Population Genetics / Genomics, Reproduction and SexJos Käfer2023-10-27 21:52:06 View
02 Feb 2024
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Community structure of heritable viruses in a Drosophila-parasitoids complex

The virome of a Drosophilidae-parasitoid community

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 3 anonymous reviewers

Understanding the factors that shape the virome of a host is key to understanding virus ecology and evolution (Obbard, 2018; French & Holmes, 2020). There is still much to learn about the diversity and distribution of viruses in a host community (Wille et al., 2019; Chen et al., 2023). The viruses of parasitoid wasps are well studied, and their viruses, or integrated viral genes, are known to suppress their insect host’s immune response to enhance parasitoid survival (Herniou et al., 2013; Coffman et al., 2022). Likewise, the insect virome is being increasingly well studied (Shi et al., 2016), with the virome of Drosophila species being particularly well characterised over the best part of the last century (L'Heritier & Teissier, 1937; L'Heritier, 1970; Brun & Plus, 1980; Longdon et al., 2010; Longdon et al., 2011; Longdon et al., 2012; Webster et al., 2015; Webster et al., 2016; Medd et al., 2018; Wallace et al., 2021). However, the viromes of parasitoids and their insect host communities have been less well studied (Leigh et al., 2018; Caldas-Garcia et al., 2023), and the inherent connectivity between parasitoids and their hosts provides an interesting system to study virus host range and cross-species transmission.

Here, Varaldi et al (Varaldi et al., 2024) have examined the viruses associated with a community of nine Drosophilidae hosts and six parasitoids. Using both RNA and DNA sequencing of insects reared for two generations, they selected viruses that are maintained in the lab either via vertical transmission or contamination of rearing medium. From 55 pools of insects they found 53 virus-like sequences, 37 of which were novel. Parasitoids were host to nearly twice as many viruses as their Drosophila hosts, although they note this could be due to differences in the rearing temperatures of the hosts.  

They next quantified if species, year, season, or location played a role in structuring the virome, finding only a significant effect of host species, which explained just over 50% of the variation in virus distribution. No evidence was found of related species sharing more similar virus communities. Although looking at a limited number of species, this suggests that these viruses are not co-speciating or preferentially host switching between closely related species.

Finally, they carried out crosses between lines of the parasitoid Leptopilina heterotoma that were infected and uninfected for a novel Iflavirus found in their sequencing data.  They found evidence of high levels of maternal transmission and lower level horizontal transmission between wasp larvae parasitising the same host. No evidence of changes in parasitoid-induced mortality, developmental success or the sex ratio was found in iflavirus-infected parasitoids. Interestingly individuals infected with this RNA virus also contained viral DNA, but this did not appear to be integrated into the wasp genome.

Overall, this work has taken the first steps in examining the community structure of the virome of parasitoids together with their Drosophilidae hosts. This work will not doubt stimulate follow-up studies to explore the evolution and ecology of these novel virus communities.

References

Brun G, Plus N (1980) The viruses of Drosophila. In: The genetics and biology of Drosophila eds Ashburner M & Wright TRF), pp. 625-702. Academic Press, New York.
 
Caldas-Garcia GB, Santos VC, Fonseca PLC, de Almeida JPP, Costa MA, Aguiar ERGR (2023) The Viromes of Six Ecosystem Service Provider Parasitoid Wasps. Viruses, 15. https://doi.org/10.3390/v15122448
 
Chen YM, Hu SJ, Lin XD, Tian JH, Lv JX, Wang MR, Luo XQ, Pei YY, Hu RX, Song ZG, Holmes EC, Zhang YZ (2023) Host traits shape virome composition and virus transmission in wild small mammals. Cell, 186, 4662-4675 e4612. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2023.08.029
 
Coffman KA, Hankinson QM, Burke GR (2022) A viral mutualist employs posthatch transmission for vertical and horizontal spread among parasitoid wasps. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2120048119
 
French RK, Holmes EC (2020) An Ecosystems Perspective on Virus Evolution and Emergence. Trends in Microbiology, 28, 165-175. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tim.2019.10.010
 
Herniou EA, Huguet E, Thézé J, Bézier A, Periquet G, Drezen JM (2013) When parasitic wasps hijacked viruses: genomic and functional evolution of polydnaviruses. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 368. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2013.0051
 
L'Heritier PH (1970) Drosophila viruses and their role as evolutionary factors. Evolutionary Biology, 4, 185-209
 
L'Heritier PH, Teissier G (1937) Une anomalie physiologique héréditaire chez la Drosophile. C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris, 231, 192-194
 
Leigh BA, Bordenstein SR, Brooks AW, Mikaelyan A, Bordenstein SR (2018) Finer-Scale Phylosymbiosis: Insights from Insect Viromes. Msystems, 3. https://doi.org/10.1128/mSystems.00131-18
 
Longdon B, Obbard DJ, Jiggins FM (2010) Sigma viruses from three species of Drosophila form a major new clade in the rhabdovirus phylogeny. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277, 35-44. 
https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2009.1472
 
Longdon B, Wilfert L, Jiggins FM (2012) The Sigma Viruses of Drosophila. Caister Academic Press, Norfolk, UK.
 
Longdon B, Wilfert L, Osei-Poku J, Cagney H, Obbard DJ, Jiggins FM (2011) Host switching by a vertically-transmitted rhabdovirus in Drosophila. Biology Letters, 7, 747-750. 
https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2011.0160
 
Medd NC, Fellous S, Waldron FM, Xuereb A, Nakai M, Cross JV, Obbard DJ (2018) The virome of Drosophila suzukii, an invasive pest of soft fruit. Virus Evol, 4, vey009. 
https://doi.org/10.1093/ve/vey009
 
Obbard DJ (2018) Expansion of the metazoan virosphere: progress, pitfalls, and prospects. Curr Opin Virol, 31, 17-23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.coviro.2018.08.008
 
Shi M, Lin XD, Tian JH, Chen LJ, Chen X, Li CX, Qin XC, Li J, Cao JP, Eden JS, Buchmann J, Wang W, Xu J, Holmes EC, Zhang YZ (2016) Redefining the invertebrate RNA virosphere. Nature. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature20167
 
Varaldi J, Lepetit D, Burlet N, Faber C, Baretje B, Allemand R (2024) Community structure of heritable viruses in a Drosophila-parasitoids complex. bioRxiv, 2023.2007.2029.551099, ver.3, peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.07.29.551099
 
Wallace MA, Coffman KA, Gilbert C, Ravindran S, Albery GF, Abbott J, Argyridou E, Bellosta P, Betancourt AJ, Colinet H, Eric K, Glaser-Schmitt A, Grath S, Jelic M, Kankare M, Kozeretska I, Loeschcke V, Montchamp-Moreau C, Ometto L, Onder BS, Orengo DJ, Parsch J, Pascual M, Patenkovic A, Puerma E, Ritchie MG, Rota-Stabelli O, Schou MF, Serga SV, Stamenkovic-Radak M, Tanaskovic M, Veselinovic MS, Vieira J, Vieira CP, Kapun M, Flatt T, Gonzalez J, Staubach F, Obbard DJ (2021) The discovery, distribution, and diversity of DNA viruses associated with Drosophila melanogaster in Europe. Virus Evol, 7, veab031. https://doi.org/10.1093/ve/veab031
 
Webster CL, Longdon B, Lewis SH, Obbard DJ (2016) Twenty-Five New Viruses Associated with the Drosophilidae (Diptera). Evol Bioinform Online, 12, 13-25. https://doi.org/10.4137/EBO.S39454
 
Webster CL, Waldron FM, Robertson S, Crowson D, Ferrai G, Quintana JF, Brouqui JM, Bayne EH, Longdon B, Buck AH, Lazzaro BP, Akorli J, Haddrill PR, Obbard DJ (2015) The discovery, distribution and evolution of viruses associated with Drosophila melanogaster. Plos Biology, 13(7): e1002210. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002210
 
Wille M, Shi M, Klaassen M, Hurt AC, Holmes EC (2019) Virome heterogeneity and connectivity in waterfowl and shorebird communities. ISME J, 13, 2603-2616. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-019-0458-0

Community structure of heritable viruses in a *Drosophila*-parasitoids complexJulien Varaldi, David Lepetit, Nelly Burlet, Camille Faber, Bérénice Baretje, Roland Allemand<p style="text-align: justify;">The diversity and phenotypic impacts related to the presence of heritable bacteria in insects have been extensively studied in the last decades. On the contrary, heritable viruses have been overlooked for several re...Evolutionary Ecology, Species interactionsBen Longdon2023-08-03 01:07:43 View
25 Jan 2024
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Sperm production and allocation in response to risk of sperm competition in the black soldier fly Hermetia illucens

Elevated sperm production and faster transfer: plastic responses to the risk of sperm competition in males of the black sodier fly Hermetia illuce

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Rebecca Boulton, Isabel Smallegange and 1 anonymous reviewer

In this paper (Manas et al., 2023), the authors investigate male responses to risk of sperm competition in the black soldier fly Hermetia illuce, a widespread insect that has gained recent attention for its potential to be farmed for sustainable food production (Tomberlin & van Huis, 2020).

Using an experimental approach that simulated low-risk (males were kept individually) and high-risk (males were kept in groups of 10) of sperm competition, they found that males reared in groups showed a significant increase in sperm production compared with males reared individually. This shows a response to the rearing environment in sperm production that is consistent with an increase in the perceived risk of sperm competition.

These males were then used in mating experiments to determine whether sperm allocation to females during mating was influenced by the perceived risk of sperm competition. Mating experiments were initiated in groups, since mating only occurs when more than one male and one female are present, indicating strong sexual selection in the wild. Once a copulation began, the pair was moved to a new environment with no competition, with male competitors, or with other females, to test how social environment and potentially the sex of surrounding individuals influenced sperm allocation during mating. Copulation duration and the number of sperm transferred were subsequently counted.

In these mating experiments, the number of sperm stored in the female spermathecae increased under immediate risk of sperm competition. Interestingly, this was not because males copulated for longer depending on the risk of sperm competition, indicating that males respond plastically to the risk of competition by elevating their investment in sperm production and speed of sperm transfer. There was no difference between competitive environments consisting of males or females respectively, suggesting that it is the presence of other flies per se that influence sperm allocation.

The study provides an interesting new example of how males alter reproductive investment in response to social context and sexual competition in their environment. In addition, it provides new insights into the reproductive biology of the black soldier fly Hermetia illucens, which may be relevant for optimizing farming conditions.

References

Manas F, Labrousse C, Bressac C (2023) Sperm production and allocation in response to risks of sperm competition in the black soldier fly Hermetia illucens. bioRxiv, 2023.06.20.544772, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.  https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.06.20.544772

Tomberlin JK, Van Huis A (2020) Black soldier fly from pest to ‘crown jewel’ of the insects as feed industry: an historical perspective. Journal of Insects as Food and Feed, 6, 1–4. https://doi.org/10.3920/JIFF2020.0003

Sperm production and allocation in response to risk of sperm competition in the black soldier fly Hermetia illucensFrédéric Manas, Carole Labrousse, Christophe Bressac<p style="text-align: justify;">In polyandrous species, competition between males for offspring paternity goes on after copulation through the competition of their ejaculates for the fertilisation of female's oocytes. Given that males allocating m...Reproduction and Sex, Sexual SelectionTrine Bilde2023-06-26 09:41:07 View
08 Jan 2024
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Genomic relationships among diploid and polyploid species of the genus Ludwigia L. section Jussiaea using a combination of molecular cytogenetic, morphological, and crossing investigations

Deciphering the genomic composition of tetraploid, hexaploid and decaploid Ludwigia L. species (section Jussiaea)

Recommended by based on reviews by Alex BAUMEL and Karol MARHOLD

Polyploidy, which results in the presence of more than two sets of homologous chromosomes represents a major feature of plant genomes that have undergone successive rounds of duplication followed by more or less rapid diploidization during their evolutionary history. Polyploid complexes containing diploid and derived polyploid taxa are excellent model systems for understanding the short-term consequences of whole genome duplication, and have been particularly well-explored in evolutionary ecology (Ramsey and Ramsey 2014, Rice et al. 2019). Many polyploids (especially when resulting from interspecific hybridization, i.e. allopolyploids) are successful invaders (te Beest et al. 2012) as a result of rapid genome dynamics, functional novelty, and trait evolution. The origin (parental legacy) and modes of formation of polyploids have a critical impact on the subsequent polyploid evolution. Thus, elucidation of the genomic composition of polyploids is fundamental to understanding trait evolution, and such knowledge is still lacking for many invasive species.

Genus Ludwigia is characterized by a complex taxonomy, with an underexplored evolutionary history. Species from section Jussieae form a polyploid complex with diploids, tetraploids, hexaploids, and decaploids that are notorious invaders in freshwater and riparian ecosystems (Thouvenot et al.2013).   Molecular phylogeny of the genus based on nuclear and chloroplast sequences (Liu et al. 2027) suggested some relationships between diploid and polyploid species, without fully resolving the question of the parentage of the polyploids. In their study, Barloy et al. (2023) have used a combination of molecular cytogenetics (Genomic In situ Hybridization), morphology and experimental crosses to elucidate the genomic compositions of the polyploid species, and show that the examined polyploids are of hybrid origin (allopolyploids). The tetraploid L. stolonifera derives from the diploids L. peploides subsp. montevidensis (AA genome) and L. helminthorhiza (BB genome). The tetraploid L. ascendens also share the BB genome combined with an undetermined different genome. The hexaploid L. grandiflora subsp. grandiflora has inherited the diploid AA genome combined with additional unidentified genomes. The decaploid L. grandiflora subsp. hexapetala has inherited the tetraploid L. stolonifera and the hexaploid L. grandiflora subsp. hexapetala genomes. As the authors point out, further work is needed, including additional related diploid (e.g. other subspecies of L. peploides) or tetraploid (L.  hookeri and L. peduncularis)  taxa that remain to be investigated, to address the nature of the undetermined parental genomes mentioned above. 

The presented work (Barloy et al.  2023) provides significant knowledge of this poorly investigated group with regard to genomic information and polyploid origin, and opens perspectives for future studies. The authors also detect additional diagnostic morphological traits of interest for in-situ discrimination of the taxa when monitoring invasive populations.  

References

Barloy D., Portillo-Lemus L., Krueger-Hadfield S.A., Huteau V., Coriton O. (2024). Genomic relationships among diploid and polyploid species of the genus Ludwigia L. section Jussiaea using a combination of molecular cytogenetic, morphological, and crossing investigations. BioRxiv, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended  by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.01.02.522458

te Beest M., Le Roux J.J., Richardson D.M., Brysting A.K., Suda J., Kubešová M., Pyšek P. (2012). The more the better? The role of polyploidy in facilitating plant invasions. Annals of Botany, Volume 109, Issue 1 Pages 19–45, https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcr277

Ramsey J. and Ramsey T. S. (2014). Ecological studies of polyploidy in the 100 years following its discovery Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B369 1–20  https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2013.0352  

Rice, A., Šmarda, P., Novosolov, M. et al. (2019). The global biogeography of polyploid plants. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 265–273. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0787-9

Thouvenot L, Haury J, Thiebaut G. (2013). A success story: Water primroses, aquatic plant pests. Aquat. Conserv. Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 23:790–803  https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.2387  

Genomic relationships among diploid and polyploid species of the genus *Ludwigia* L. section *Jussiaea* using a combination of molecular cytogenetic, morphological, and crossing investigationsD. Barloy, L. Portillo - Lemus, S. A. Krueger-Hadfield, V. Huteau, O. Coriton<p>ABSTRACTThe genus Ludwigia L. sectionJussiaeais composed of a polyploid species complex with 2x, 4x, 6x and 10x ploidy levels, suggesting possible hybrid origins. The aim of the present study is to understand the genomic relationships among dip...Hybridization / Introgression, Phylogenetics / PhylogenomicsMalika AINOUCHE2023-01-11 13:47:18 View
14 Dec 2023
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Genetic sex determination in three closely related hydrothermal vent gastropods, including one species with intersex individuals

A shared XY sex chromosome system with variable recombination rates

Recommended by based on reviews by Hugo Darras, Daniel Jeffries and 1 anonymous reviewer

Many species with separate sexes have evolved sex chromosomes, with the sex-limited chromosomes (i.e. the Y or W chromosomes) exhibiting a wide range of genetic divergences from their homologous X or Z chromosomes (Bachtrog et al., 2014). Variable divergences can result from the cessation of recombination between sex chromosomes that occurred at different time points, with the mechanisms of initiation and expansion of recombination suppression along sex chromosomes remaining poorly understood (Charlesworth, 2017). 

The study by Castel et al (2023) describes the serendipitous discovery of a shared XY sex chromosome system in three closely related hydrothermal vent gastropods. The X and Y chromosomes appear to still recombine but at variable rates across the three species. This variation makes the gastropod system a very promising focus for future research on sex chromosome evolution. 

An additional intriguing finding is that some females in one of three gastropod species contain male reproductive tissue in their gonads, providing a fascinating case of a mixed or transitory sexual system. Overall, the study by Castel et al (2023) offers the first insights into the reproduction and sex chromosome system of animals living in deep marine vents, which have remained poorly studied and open outstanding research perspectives on these creatures.

References

Bachtrog, D., J.E.Mank, C.L.Peichel, M.Kirkpatrick, S.P.Otto, T.L. Ashman, M.W.Hahn, J.Kitano, I.Mayrose, R.Ming, et al. 2014.Sex determination: why so many ways of doing it? PLoSBiol. 12:e1001899. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001899

Charlesworth, D. Young sex chromosomes in plants and animals. 2019. New Phytologist 224: 1095–1107. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.16002

Castel J, Pradillon F, Cueff V, Leger G, Daguin-Thiébaut C, Ruault S, Mary J, Hourdez S, Jollivet D, and Broquet T 2023. Genetic sex determination in three closely related hydrothermal vent gastropods, including one species with intersex individuals. bioRxiv, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.04.11.536409

Genetic sex determination in three closely related hydrothermal vent gastropods, including one species with intersex individualsCastel J, Pradillon F, Cueff V, Leger G, Daguin-Thiébaut C, Ruault S, Mary J, Hourdez S, Jollivet D, and Broquet T<p style="text-align: justify;">Molluscs have a wide variety of sexual systems and have undergone many transitions from separate sexes to hermaphroditism or vice versa, which is of interest for studying the evolution of sex determination and diffe...Population Genetics / Genomics, Reproduction and SexTanja Schwander2023-04-14 11:48:25 View
29 Nov 2023
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Individual differences in developmental trajectory leave a male polyphenic signature in bulb mite populations

What determines whether to scramble or fight in male bulb mites

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

A classic textbook example in evolutionary ecology for phenotypic plasticity—the expression of different phenotypes by a genotype under different environmental conditions—is on Daphnia (Dodson 1989). If various species of this small crustacean are exposed to predation risk or cues thereof, their offspring show induced defense phenotypes including helmets, neck teeth, or head- and tail-spines. These induced morphological changes lower the risk of being eaten by a predator. As in Daphnia, induction can span over generations, while other induced phenotypic plastic changes are almost instantaneous, including many responses in physiology and behaviour (Gabriel et al. 2005). 

Larvae male bulb mites also show plasticity in morphologies throughout development. They can develop into a costly adult fighter morphology or a less costly, but vulnerable, scrambler type. The question Deere and Smallegange (Deere & Smallegange 2023) address is whether male bulb mite larvae can anticipate which type will likely be adaptive once they become adult, or alternatively, whether the resource availability or population density they experience during their larvae phase determines frequencies of adult scrambler and fighter types. They explore this question through experimental evolution, by removing different fractions of developing intermediate larva types. They thereby manipulate the stage structure of populations and alter selective forces on these stages. The potential shift of fixed genetics, imposed by the experimental selection regimes, is evaluated by fitness assays in green garden experiments.

The exciting extension to classical experiments on phenotypic plasticity is that the authors aim at exploring eco-evolutionary feedbacks experimentally in a system that is a little more complex than basic host-parasite or predator-prey systems. The latter involve, for instance, rotifer-algae dynamics (Yoshida et al. 2003; Becks et al. 2012) or similar simple lab systems for which eco-evolutionary feedbacks have been demonstrated. The challenge for the exploration of more complex systems is revealed in the study by Deere and Smallegange. Their findings suggest that the frequencies of adult male morphotype is triggered by the environmental condition (nutrient availability) during the larval phase, i.e. a simple environmental induced plastic response. No fixed genetic shift in determining adult morphotype frequencies occurs. The trigger at the larva phase remains also not perfectly determined in their experiments, as population density and resource (food) availability are partly confounded. Additional complexity and selective aspects come into play in this system, as the targeted developmental stages that develop into fighter male morphs are also dispersal morphs. If selection on dispersal to avoid residing in food-limited environments is strong, triggering genetic shifts in fighter morphs by local population structure might be hard to experimentally achieve. Small sample sizes limit conclusions on complex interactions among duration of the experiment, population size, developmental stage types, and adult fighter frequencies. The presented study (Deere & Smallegange 2023) helps to bridge theoretical predictions and empirical evidence for eco-evolutionary feedbacks that goes beyond simple ecological-driven changes in population dynamics (Govaert et al. 2019).  

 

References

 

Becks, L., Ellner, S.P., Jones, L.E. & Hairston, N.G. (2012). The functional genomics of an eco-evolutionary feedback loop: linking gene expression, trait evolution, and community dynamics. Ecol. Lett., 15, 492-501.
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01763.x
 
Deere, J.A. & Smallegange, I.M. (2023). Individual differences in developmental trajectory leave a male polyphenic signature in bulb mite populations. bioRxiv, 2023.02.06.527265, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.
https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.02.06.527265
 
Dodson, S. (1989). Predator-induced Reaction Norms. Bioscience, 39, 447-452.
https://doi.org/10.2307/1311136
 
Gabriel, W., Luttbeg, B., Sih, A. & Tollrian, R. (2005). Environmental tolerance, heterogeneity, and the evolution of reversible plastic responses. Am. Nat., 166, 339-53.
https://doi.org/10.1086/432558
 
Govaert, L., Fronhofer, E.A., Lion, S., Eizaguirre, C., Bonte, D., Egas, M., et al. (2019). Eco-evolutionary feedbacks-Theoretical models and perspectives. Funct. Ecol., 33, 13-30.
https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.13241
 
Yoshida, T., Jones, L.E., Ellner, S.P., Fussmann, G.F. & Hairston, N.G. (2003). Rapid evolution drives ecological dynamics in a predator-prey system. Nat. 2003 4246946, 424, 303-306.
https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01767

Individual differences in developmental trajectory leave a male polyphenic signature in bulb mite populationsJacques A. Deere & Isabel M. Smallegange<p style="text-align: justify;">Developmental plasticity alters phenotypes and can in that way change the response to selection. When alternative phenotypes show different life history trajectories, developmental plasticity can also affect, and be...Evolutionary Ecology, Life History, Phenotypic Plasticity, Sexual SelectionUlrich Karl Steiner2023-02-07 12:14:33 View
29 Nov 2023
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Does sociality affect evolutionary speed?

On the evolutionary implications of being a social animal

Recommended by based on reviews by Rafael Lucas Rodriguez and 1 anonymous reviewer

What does it mean to be highly social?  Considering the so-called four ‘pinnacles’ of animal society (Wilson, 1975) – humans, cooperative breeding as found in some non-human mammals and birds, the social insects, and colonial marine invertebrates – having inter-individual relations extending beyond the sexual pair and the parent-offspring interaction is foremost.  In many cases being social implies a high local population density, interaction with the same group of individuals over an extended time period, and an overlapping of generations.  Additional features of social species may be a wide geographical range, perhaps associated with ecological and behavioral plasticity, the latter often facilitated by cultural transmission of traditions.  

Narrowing our perspective to the domain of PCI Evolutionary Biology, we might continue our question by asking whether being social predisposes one to a special evolutionary path toward the future.  Do social species evolve faster (or slower) than their more solitary relatives such that over time they are more unlike (or similar to) those relatives (anagenesis)?  And are evolutionary changes in social species more or less likely to be accompanied by lineage splitting (cladogenesis) and ultimately speciation?  The latter question is parallel to one first posed over 40 years ago (West-Eberhard, 1979; Lande, 1981) for sexually selected traits:  Do strong mating preferences and conspicuous courtship signals generate speciation via the Fisherian process or ecological divergence?  An extensive survey of birds had found little supporting evidence (Price, 1998), but a recent one that focused on plumage complexity in tanagers did reveal a relationship, albeit a weak one (Price-Waldman et al., 2020).  Because sexual selection has been viewed as a part of the broader process of social selection (West-Eberhard, 1979), it is thus fitting to extend our surveys to the evolutionary implications of being social.

Unlike the inquiry for a sexual selection - evolutionary change connection, a social behavior counterpart has remained relatively untreated.  Diverse logistical problems might account for this oversight.  What objective proxies can be used for social behavior, and for the rate of evolutionary change within a lineage?  How many empirical studies have generated data from which appropriate proxies could be extracted?  More intractable is the conundrum arising from the connectedness between socially- and sexually-selected traits.  For example, the elevated population density found in highly social species can greatly increase the mating advantage enjoyed by an attractive male.  If anagenesis is detected, did it result from social behavior or sexual selection?  And if social behavior leads to a group structure in which male-male competition is reduced, would a modest rate of evolutionary change be support for the sexual selection - evolutionary speed connection or evidence opposing the sociality - evolution one?

Against the above odds, several biologists have begun to explore the notion that social behavior just might favor evolutionary speed in either anagenesis or cladogenesis.  In a recent analysis relying on the comparative method, Lluís Socias-Martínez and Louise Rachel Peckre (2023) combed the scientific literature archives and identified those studies with specific data on the relationships between sexual selection or social behavior and evolutionary change, either anagenesis or cladogenesis.  The authors were careful to employ fairly conservative criteria for including studies, and the number eventually retained was small.  Nonetheless, some patterns emerge:  Many more studies report anagenesis than cladogenesis, and many more report correlations with sexually-selected traits than with non-sexual social behavior ones.  And, no study indicates a potential effect of social behavior on cladogenesis.  Is this latter observation authentic or an artifact of a paucity of data?  There are some a priori reasons why cladogenesis may seldom arise.  Whereas highly social behavior could lead to fission encompassing mutually isolated population clusters within a species, social behavior may also engender counterbalancing plasticity that allows and even promotes inter-cluster migration and fusion.  And briefly – and non-systematically, as the rate of lineage splitting would need to be measured – looking at one of the pinnacles of animal social behavior, the social insects, there is little indication that diversification has been accelerated.  There are fewer than 3000 described species of termites, only ca. 16,000 ants, and the vast majority of bees and wasps are solitary.                            

Lluís Socias-Martínez and Louise Rachel Peckre provide us with a very detailed discussion of these and a myriad of other complications.  I end with a common refrain, we need more consideration of the authors’ interesting question, and much more data and analysis.  One can thank Socias-Martínez and Peckre for pointing us in that direction.

References

Lande, R. (1981). Models of speciation by sexual selection on polygenic traits. Proc. Natn. Acad. Sci. USA 78, 3721-3725. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.78.6.3721

Price, T. (1998). Sexual selection and natural selection in bird speciation. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B, 353, 251-260.  https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.1998.0207  

Price‐Waldman, R. M., Shultz, A. J., & Burns, K. J. (2020). Speciation rates are correlated with changes in plumage color complexity in the largest family of songbirds. Evolution, 74(6), 1155–1169. https://doi.org/10.1111/evo.13982

Socias-Martínez and Peckre. (2023). Does sociality affect evolutionary speed? Zenodo, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10086186

West-Eberhard, M. J. (1979). Sexual selection, social competition, and evolution. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 123(4), 222–234. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2828804

Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology. The New Synthesis. Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard University

Does sociality affect evolutionary speed?Lluís Socias-Martínez, Louise Rachel Peckre<p>An overlooked source of variation in evolvability resides in the social lives of animals. In trying to foster research in this direction, we offer a critical review of previous work on the link between evolutionary speed and sociality. A first ...Behavior & Social Evolution, Evolutionary Dynamics, Evolutionary Theory, Genome Evolution, Macroevolution, Molecular Evolution, Population Genetics / Genomics, Sexual Selection, SpeciationMichael D Greenfield2023-03-03 00:10:49 View
20 Nov 2023
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Phenotypic stasis with genetic divergence

Phenotypic stasis despite genetic divergence and differentiation in Caenorhabditis elegans.

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Benoit Pujol and Pedro Simões

Explaining long periods of evolutionary stasis, the absence of change in trait means over geological times, despite the existence of abundant genetic variation in most traits has challenged evolutionary theory since Darwin's theory of evolution by gradual modification (Estes & Arnold 2007). Stasis observed in contemporary populations is even more daunting since ample genetic variation is usually coupled with the detection of selection differentials (Kruuk et al. 2002, Morrissey et al. 2010). Moreover, rapid adaptation to environmental changes in contemporary populations, fuelled by standing genetic variation provides evidence that populations can quickly respond to an adaptive challenge. Explanations for evolutionary stasis usually invoke stabilizing selection as a main actor, whereby optimal trait values remain roughly constant over long periods of time despite small-scale environmental fluctuations. Genetic correlation among traits may also play a significant role in constraining evolutionary changes over long timescales (Schluter 1996). Yet, genetic constraints are rarely so strong as to completely annihilate genetic changes, and they may evolve. Patterns of genetic correlations among traits, as captured in estimates of the G-matrix of additive genetic co-variation, are subject to changes over generations under the action of drift, migration, or selection, among other causes (Arnold et al. 2008). Therefore, under the assumption of stabilizing selection on a set of traits, phenotypic stasis and genetic divergence in patterns of trait correlations may both be observed when selection on trait correlations is weak relative to its effect on trait means.

Mallard et al. (2023) set out to test whether selection or drift may explain the divergence in genetic correlation among traits in experimental lines of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and whether stabilizing selection may be a driver of phenotypic stasis. To do so, they analyzed the evolution of locomotion behavior traits over 100 generations of lab evolution in a constant and homogeneous environment after 140 generations of domestication from a largely differentiated set of founder populations. The locomotion traits were transition rates between movement states and direction (still, forward or backward movement). They could estimate the traits' broad-sense G-matrix in three populations at two generations (50 and 100), and in the ancestral mixed population. Similarly, they estimated the shape of the selection surface by regressing locomotion behavior on fertility. Armed with both G-matrix and surface estimates, they could test whether the G's orientation matched selection's orientation and whether changes in G were constrained by selection. They found stasis in trait mean over 100 generations but divergence in the amount and orientation of the genetic variation of the traits relative to the ancestral population. The selected populations changed orientation of their G-matrices and lost genetic variation during the experiment in agreement with a model of genetic drift on quantitative traits. Their estimates of selection also point to mostly stabilizing selection on trait combinations with weak evidence of disruptive selection, suggesting a saddle-shaped selection surface. The evolutionary responses of the experimental populations were mostly consistent with small differentiation in the shape of G-matrices during the 100 generations of stabilizing selection.

Mallard et al. (2023) conclude that phenotypic stasis was maintained by stabilizing selection and drift in their experiment. They argue that their findings are consistent with a "table-top mountain" model of stabilizing selection, whereby the population is allowed some wiggle room around the trait optimum, leaving space for random fluctuations of trait variation, and especially trait co-variation. The model is an interesting solution that might explain how stasis can be maintained over contemporary times while allowing for random differentiation of trait genetic co-variation. Whether such differentiation can then lead to future evolutionary divergence once replicated populations adapt to a new environment is an interesting idea to follow.

References

Arnold, S. J., Bürger, R., Hohenlohe, P. A., Ajie, B. C. and Jones, A. G. 2008. Understanding the evolution and stability of the G-matrix. Evolution 62(10): 2451-2461. 
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00472.x
 
Estes, S. and Arnold, S. J. 2007. Resolving the Paradox of Stasis: Models with Stabilizing Selection Explain Evolutionary Divergence on All Timescales.. Am. Nat. 169(2): 227-244.
https://doi.org/10.1086/510633
 
Kruuk, L. E. B., Slate, J., Pemberton, J. M., Brotherstone, S., Guinness, F. and Clutton-Brock, T. 2002. Antler size in red deer: Heritability and selection but no evolution. Evolution 56(8): 1683-1695.
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0014-3820.2002.tb01480.x
 
Mallard, F., Noble, L., Guzella, T., Afonso, B., Baer, C. F., Teotónio, H. 2023. Phenotypic stasis with genetic divergence. bioRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology.
https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.05.28.493856
 
Morrissey, M. B., Kruuk, L. E. B. and Wilson, A. J. 2010. The danger of applying the breeder's equation in observational studies of natural populations. J Evolution Biol 23(11): 2277-2288. 
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02084.x
 
Schluter, D. 1996. Adaptive radiation along genetic lines of least resistance. Evolution 50(5): 1766-1774. 
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1558-5646.1996.tb03563.x

Phenotypic stasis with genetic divergenceFrançois Mallard, Luke Noble, Thiago Guzella, Bruno Afonso, Charles F. Baer, Henrique Teotónio<p style="text-align: justify;">Whether or not genetic divergence in the short-term of tens to hundreds of generations is compatible with phenotypic stasis remains a relatively unexplored problem. We evolved predominantly outcrossing, genetically ...Adaptation, Behavior & Social Evolution, Experimental Evolution, Quantitative GeneticsFrédéric Guillaume2022-09-01 14:32:53 View
13 Nov 2023
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Color polymorphism and conspicuousness do not increase speciation rates in Lacertids

Colour polymorphism does not increase diversification rates in lizards

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

The striking differences in species richness among lineages in the Tree of Life have long attracted much research interest. In particular, researchers have asked whether certain traits are associated with greater diversification, with a particular focus on traits under sexual selection given their direct link to mating isolation.

Polymorphism, defined as the presence of co-occurring, heritable morphs within a population, has been proposed to influence diversification rates although the effect has been proposed as both promoting or alternatively impeding speciation. The effect of polymorphism may be positive, that is facilitating speciation if polymorphism allows to broaden the ecological niche, thus enabling range expansion, or enabling maintenance of populations in variable environments. Specialized ectomorphs have been observed in several species (e.g. Kusche et al. 2015, Lattanzio and Miles 2016, Whitney et al. 2018, Scali et al. 2016). Polymorphism may also facilitate speciation if a morph is lost during the colonization of a novel area or niche, resulting in rapid divergence of the remaining morphs and reproductive isolation from the ancestral population, known as the morph speciation hypothesis (West-Eberhard 1986, Corl et al. 2010). On the other hand, polymorphism may hamper speciation through disassortative maintaining by morph, which may maintain the polymorphism through the speciation process (Jamie and Meier 2020). An example of such a process is Heliconius numata where disassortative mate preferences based on color hampers ecological speciation (Chouteau et al. 2017). Previous evidence in birds and lizards suggests polymorphism favors diversification (Corl et al. 2010b, 2012, Hugall and Stuart-Fox 2012, Brock et al. 2021).

Here, de Solan et al. (2023) test the effect of polymorphism on diversification in Lacertidae, a family of lizards containing more than 300 species distributed across Europe, Africa and Asia. The group offers a good model system to test the effect of polymorphism on speciation as it contains several species with colour polymorphism, sometimes present in both sexes but restricted to males when present in the flank. Using coloration data from the literature as well as photographs of live specimens for 295 species the authors tested whether the presence of polymorphism is associated with higher diversification rates.

While undertaking their project, another group independently tackled the same question (Brock et al. 2021), using the same model system but coming to very different conclusions. Therefore, de Solan et al. (2023) decided to also contrast their results with those of Brock et al. (2021) to determine the factors responsible for the contrasting results of both studies. The latter I consider one of the strengths of the work, given the careful re-analyses to determine the causes of the discrepancies between both studies. De Solan et al. (2023) found no association between the presence of polymorphism and diversification rates, even though they used different analytical approaches. Thus, this study is interesting as it provides results that do not support a positive effect of polymorphism on species richness. The use of a phylogeny with more limited species sampling (García-Porta et al. 2019) implied that the authors had to manually add 75 species, of which 17 were added to the tree based on information from previously published trees and 68 were added at random locations within the genus. To control for potential biases the authors repeated the analyses using a sample of trees with the imputed taxa, results were broadly concordant across the set of trees. The careful re-analysis contrasting Brock et al. (2021) and de Solan et al. (2023) results suggests the difference is mainly due to a difference in how species were coded as presenting polymorphism, which differed between the two studies, as well as a difference in the package version used to run the state-dependent diversification models. Interestingly non-parametric analyses yielded similar results across both datasets. 
 
References
 
Brock, K.M., McTavish, E.J., Edwards, D.L. 2021. Colour polymorphism is a driver of diversification in the lizard family Lacertidae. Systematic Biology. 71: 24-39. https://doi.org/10.1093/sysbio/syab046
 
Chouteau, M., Llaurens, V., Piron-Prunier, F., Joron, M. 2017. Polymorphism at a mimicry supergene maintained by opposing frequency-dependent selection pressures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114: 8325-8329. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1702482114
 
Corl, A., Davis, A.R., Kuchta, S.R., Comendant, T., Sinervo, B. 2010a. Alternative mating strategies and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in the side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana: a population-level comparative analysis. Evolution. 64: 79-96. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00791.x 
 
Corl, A., Davis, A.R., Kuchta, S.R., Sinervo, B. 2010b. Selective loss of polymorphic mating types is associated with rapid phenotypic evolution during morphic speciation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107: 4254-4259. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0909480107
 
Corl, A., Lancaster, L.T., Sinervo, B. 2012. Rapid formation of reproductive isolation between two populations of side-blotched lizards, Uta stansburiana. Copeia. 2012: 593-602. https://doi.org/10.1643/CH-11-166

Garcia-Porta, J., Irisarri, I., Kirchner, M. et al. 2019. Environmental temperatures shape thermal physiology as well as diversification and genome-wide substitution rates in lizards. Nature Communications. 10: 4077. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-11943-x
 
Hugall, A.F., Stuart-Fox, D. 2012. Accelerated speciation in colour-polymorphic birds. Nature. 485: 631-634. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11050
 
Jamie, G.A. and Meier, J.I. 2020. The persistence of polymorphisms across species radiations. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 35: 795-808. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2020.04.007
 
Kusche, H., Elmer, K.R., Meyer, A. 2015. Sympatric ecological divergence associated with a colour polymorphism. BMC Biology, 13: 82. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12915-015-0192-7
 
Lattanzio, M.S. and Miles, D.B. 2016. Trophic niche divergence among colour morphs that exhibit alternative mating tactics. Royal Society Open Science. 3: 150531. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.150531
 
Scali, S., Sacchi, R., Mangiacotti, M., Pupin, F., Gentilli, A., Zucchi, C. Scannolo, M., Pavesi, M., Zuffi, M.A.L. 2016. Does a polymorphic species have a ‘polymorphic’ diet? A case study from a lacertid lizard. Biologcial Journal of the Linnean Society. 117: 492-502. https://doi.org/10.1111/bij.12652

de Solan T, Sinervo B, Geniez P, David P, Crochet P-A (2023) Colour polymorphism and conspicuousness do not increase speciation rates in Lacertids. bioRxiv, 2023.02.15.528678, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.02.15.528678

West-Eberhard, M.J. 1986. Alternative adaptations, speciation, and phylogeny (A review). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 83: 1388-1392. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.83.5.1388
 
Whitney, J.L., Donahue, M.J., Karl, S.A. 2018. Niche divergence along a fine-scale ecological gradient in sympatric colour morphs of a coral reef fish. Ecosphere. 9: e02015. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2015

Color polymorphism and conspicuousness do not increase speciation rates in LacertidsThomas de Solan, Barry Sinervo, Philippe Geniez, Patrice David, Pierre-André Crochet<p style="text-align: justify;">Conspicuous body colors and color polymorphism have been hypothesized to increase rates of speciation. Conspicuous colors are evolutionary labile, and often involved in intraspecific sexual signaling and thus may pr...Evolutionary Ecology, Macroevolution, SpeciationAlejandro Gonzalez Voyer2023-02-22 10:05:03 View
30 Oct 2023
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Telomere length vary with sex, hatching rank and year of birth in little owls, Athene noctua

Deciphering the relative contribution of environmental and biological factors driving telomere length in nestlings

Recommended by based on reviews by Florentin Remot and 1 anonymous reviewer

The search for physiological markers of health and survival in wild animal populations is attracting a great deal of interest. At present, there is no (and may never be) consensus on such a single, robust marker but of all the proposed physiological markers, telomere length is undoubtedly the most widely studied in the field of evolutionary ecology (Monaghan et al., 2022). 

Broadly speaking, telomeres are non-coding DNA sequences located at the end of chromosomes in eukaryotes, protecting genomic DNA against oxidative stress and various detrimental processes (e.g. DNA end-joining) and thus maintaining genome stability (Blackburn et al., 2015). However, in most somatic cells from the vast majority of the species, telomere sequences are not replicated and telomere length progressively declines with increased age (Remot et al., 2022). This shortening of telomere length upon a critical level is causally linked to cellular senescence and has been invoked as one of the primary causes of the aging process (López-Otín et al., 2023). Studies performed in both captive and wild populations of animals have further demonstrated that short telomeres (or telomere sequences with a fast attrition rate) are to some extent associated with an increased risk of mortality, even if the magnitude of this association largely differs between species and populations (Wilbourn et al., 2018).

The repeated observations of associations between telomere length and mortality risk have called for studies seeking to identify the ecological and biological factors that – beyond chronological age – shape the between-individual variability in telomere length. A wide spectrum of environmental stressors such as the level of exposure to pathogens or the degree of human disturbances has been proposed as possible modulators of telomere dynamics (see Chatelain et al., 2019). However, within species, the relative contribution of various ecological and biological factors on telomere length has been rarely quantified. In that context, the study of Criscuolo and colleagues (2023) constitutes a timely attempt to decipher the relative contribution of environmental and biological factors driving telomere length in nestlings (i.e. when individuals are between 15 and 35 days of age) from a wild population of little owls, Athene noctua.

In addition to chronological age, Criscuolo and colleagues (2023) analysed the effects of two environmental variables (i.e. cohort and habitat quality) as well as three life history traits (i.e. hatching rank, sex and body condition). Among these traits, sex was found to impact nestling’s telomere length with females carrying longer telomeres than males. Traditionally, the among-individuals variability in telomere length during the juvenile period is interpreted as a direct consequence of differences in growth allocation. Fast-growing individuals are typically supposed to undergo more cell divisions and a higher exposure to oxidative stress, which ultimately shortens telomeres (Monaghan & Ozanne, 2018). Whether - despite a slightly female-biased sexual size dimorphism - male little owls display a condensed period of fast growth that could explain their shorter telomere is yet to be determined. Future studies should also explore the consequences of these sex differences in telomere length in terms of mortality risk. In birds, it has been observed that telomere length during early life can predict lifespan (see Heidinger et al., 2012 in zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata), suggesting that females little owls might live longer than their conspecific males. Yet, adult mortality is generally female-biased in birds (Liker & Székely, 2005) and whether little owls constitute an exception to this rule - possibly mediated by sex-specific telomere dynamics - remains to be explored.   

Quite surprisingly, the present study in little owls did not evidence any clear effect of environmental conditions on nestling’s telomere length, at both temporal and special scales. While a trend for a temporal effect was detected with telomere length being slightly shorter for nestling born the last year of the study (out of 4 years analysed), habitat quality (measured by the proportion of meadow and orchards in the nest environment) had absolutely no impact on nestling telomere length. Recently published studies in wild populations of vertebrates have highlighted the detrimental effects of harsh environmental conditions on telomere length (e.g. Dupoué et al., 2022 in common lizards, Zootoca vivipara), arguing for a key role of telomere dynamics in the emerging field of conservation physiology. While we can recognize the relevance of such an integrative approach, especially in the current context of climate change, the study by Criscuolo and colleagues (2023) reminds us that the relationships between environmental conditions and telomere dynamics are far from straightforward. Depending on the species and its life history, telomere length in early life could indeed capture very different environmental signals.

References

Blackburn, E. H., Epel, E. S., & Lin, J. (2015). Human telomere biology: A contributory and interactive factor in aging, disease risks, and protection. Science, 350(6265), 1193-1198. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aab3389
 
Chatelain, M., Drobniak, S. M., & Szulkin, M. (2019). The association between stressors and telomeres in non-human vertebrates: A meta-analysis. Ecology Letters, 23, 381-398. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13426
 
Criscuolo, F., Fache, I., Scaar, B., Zahn, S. & Bleu, J. (2023). Telomere length vary with sex, hatching rank and year of birth in little owls, Athene noctua. EcoEvoRxiv, ver.4, peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. https://doi.org/10.32942/X2BS3S
 
Dupoué, A., Blaimont, P., Angelier, F., Ribout, C., Rozen-Rechels, D., Richard, M., & Le Galliard, J. F. (2022). Lizards from warm and declining populations are born with extremely short telomeres. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(33), 2201371119. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2201371119
 
Heidinger, B. J., Blount, J. D., Boner, W., Griffiths, K., Metcalfe, N. B., & Monaghan, P. (2012). Telomere length in early life predicts lifespan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(5), 1743-1748. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1113306109
 
Liker, A., & Székely, T. (2005). Mortality costs of sexual selection and parental care in natural populations of birds. Evolution, 59(4), 890-897. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0014-3820.2005.tb01762.x
 
López-Otín, C., Blasco, M. A., Partridge, L., Serrano, M., & Kroemer, G. (2023). Hallmarks of aging: An expanding universe. Cell, 186(2), 243-278. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2022.11.001
 
Monaghan, P., Olsson, M., Richardson, D. S., Verhulst, S., & Rogers, S. M. (2022). Integrating telomere biology into the ecology and evolution of natural populations: Progress and prospects. Molecular Ecology, 31(23), 5909-5916. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.16768
 
Monaghan, P., & Ozanne, S. E. (2018). Somatic growth and telomere dynamics in vertebrates: Relationships, mechanisms and consequences. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 373(1741), 20160446. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0446
 
Remot, F., Ronget, V., Froy, H., Rey, B., Gaillard, J., Nussey, D. H., & Lemaitre, J. (2022). Decline in telomere length with increasing age across nonhuman vertebrates: A meta‐analysis. Molecular Ecology, 31(23), 5917-5932. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.16145
 
Wilbourn, R. V., Moatt, J. P., Froy, H., Walling, C. A., Nussey, D. H., & Boonekamp, J. J. (2018). The relationship between telomere length and mortality risk in non-model vertebrate systems: A meta-analysis. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 373(1741), 20160447. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0447

Telomere length vary with sex, hatching rank and year of birth in little owls, *Athene noctua*François Criscuolo, Inès Fache, Bertrand Scaar, Sandrine Zahn, Josefa Bleu<p>Telomeres are non-coding DNA sequences located at the end of linear chromosomes, protecting genome integrity. In numerous taxa, telomeres shorten with age and telomere length (TL) is positively correlated with longevity. Moreover, TL is also af...Evolutionary Ecology, Life HistoryJean-François Lemaitre2023-03-07 09:44:32 View