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A major focus of ecology is to understand and predict ecosystem function across scales. Many ecosystem functions are only measured at local scales, while their effects occur at a landscape level. Here, we investigate how landscape-scale predictions of ecosystem function depend on intraspecific competition, a fine-scale process, by manipulating intraspecific density of shredding macroinvertebrates and examining effects on leaf litter decomposition, a key function in freshwater ecosystems. For two species, we found that per-capita leaf processing rates declined with increasing density following power functions with negative exponents, likely due to interference competition. To demonstrate consequences of this nonlinearity, we scaled up estimates of leaf litter processing from shredder abundance surveys in 10 replicated headwater streams. In accordance with Jensen’s inequality, applying density-dependent consumption rates reduced estimates of catchment-scale leaf consumption by an order of magnitude relative to density-independent rates. Density-dependent consumption estimates aligned closely with metabolic requirements in catchments with large, but not small, shredder populations. Importantly, shredder abundance was not limited by leaf litter availability and catchment-level leaf litter supply was much higher than estimated consumption. Thus leaf litter processing was not limited by resource supply. Our work highlights the need for scaling-up which accounts for intraspecific interactions.
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Species’ geographic range limits often result from maladaptation to the novel environments beyond the range margin. However, we rarely know which aspects of the n-dimensional environment are driving this maladaptation. Especially of interest is the influence of abiotic versus biotic factors in delimiting species’ distributions. We conducted a two-year reciprocal transplant experiment involving manipulations of the biotic environment to explore how spatio-temporal gradients in precipitation, fatal mammalian herbivory, and pollination affected lifetime fitness within and beyond the range of the California annual plant, Clarkia xantiana ssp. xantiana. In the first, drier year of the experiment, fitness outside the range edge was limited mainly by low precipitation, and there was some evidence for local adaptation within the range. In the second, wetter year, we did not observe abiotic limitations to plant fitness outside the range; instead biotic interactions, especially herbivory, limited fitness outside the range. Together, protection from herbivory and supplementation of pollen resulted in 3-7 fold increases in lifetime fitness outside the range margin in the abiotically benign year. Overall, our work demonstrates the importance of biotic interactions, particularly as they interact with the abiotic environment, in determining fitness beyond geographic range boundaries.
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Segmental, paired locomotory appendages are a characteristic feature of Panarthropoda — a diversified clade of moulting animals that includes onychophorans (velvet worms), tardigrades (water bears), and arthropods. While arthropods acquired a sclerotised exoskeleton and articulated limbs, onychophorans and tardigrades possess a soft body and unjointed limbs called lobopods, which they inherited from Cambrian lobopodians. To date, the origin and ancestral structure of the lobopods and their transformation into the jointed appendages are all poorly understood. We therefore combined high-resolution computed tomography with high-speed camera recordings to characterise the functional anatomy of a trunk lobopod from the onychophoran Euperipatoides rowelli. Three-dimensional reconstruction of the complete set of muscles and muscle fibres as well as non-muscular structures revealed the spatial relationship and relative volumes of the muscular, excretory, circulatory, and nervous systems within the leg. Locomotory movements of individual lobopods of E. rowelli proved far more diverse than previously thought and might be governed by a complex interplay of fifteen muscles, including one promotor, one remotor, one levator, one retractor, two depressors, two rotators, one flexor and two constrictors as well as muscles for stabilisation and haemolymph control. We discuss the implications of our findings for understanding the evolution of locomotion in panarthropods.
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Collective responses to threats occur throughout the animal kingdom but little is known about the cognitive processes underpinning them. Antipredator mobbing is one such response. Approaching a predator may be highly risky, but the individual risk declines and the likelihood of repelling the predator increases in larger mobbing groups. The ability to appraise the number of conspecifics involved in a mobbing event could therefore facilitate strategic decisions about whether to join. Mobs are commonly initiated by recruitment calls, which may provide valuable information to guide decision-making. We tested whether the number of wild jackdaws responding to recruitment calls was influenced by the number of callers. As predicted, playbacks simulating three or five callers tended to recruit more individuals than playbacks of one caller. Recruitment also substantially increased if recruits themselves produced calls. These results suggest that jackdaws use individual vocal discrimination to assess the number of conspecifics involved in initiating mobbing events, and use this information to guide their responses. Our results show support for the use of numerical assessment in antipredator mobbing responses and highlight the need for a greater understanding of the cognitive processes involved in collective behaviour.
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Social animals that live in domiciles constructed from biomaterials may facilitate microbial growth. Spider webs are one of the most conspicuous biomaterials in nature, yet almost nothing is known about the potential for webs to harbor microbes, even in social spiders that live in dense, long-term aggregations. Here, we tested whether the dominant bacteria present in social spider webs vary across sampling localities and whether the more permanent retreat web harbors compositionally distinct microbes from the more ephemeral capture webs in the desert social spider Stegodyphus dumicola. We also sampled spider cuticles and prey items in a subset of colonies. We found that spider colonies across large spatial scales harbored similar web-associated bacterial communities. We also found substantial overlap in bacterial community composition between spider cuticle, prey, and web samples. These data suggest that social spider webs can harbor characteristic microbial communities and potentially facilitate microbial transmission among individuals, and this study serves as the first step towards understanding the microbial ecology of these peculiar animal societies.
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Background. The Plasmodium vivax Reticulocyte Binding Protein (PvRBP) family is involved in red blood cell recognition and members of this family are potential targets for antibodies that may block P. vivax invasion. To date, the acquisition of immunity against PvRBPs in low malaria transmission settings and in a broad age group of exposed individuals has not been investigated. Methodology/Principal Findings. Total IgG antibody levels to six members of the PvRBP family (PvRBP1a, PvRBP1b, PvRBP2a, PvRBP2b, a non-binding fragment of PvRBP2c (PvRBP2cNB) and PvRBP2-P2) were measured in samples collected from individuals living in two regions of low P. vivax endemicity in Brazil and Thailand. In both settings, levels of total IgG to PvRBP1a, PvRBP2b, PvRBP2cNB, and PvRBP2P-2 increased statistically significantly with age as shown by the correlation coefficient, denoted as rho (rho=0.17-0.49; P<0.001), and those to PvRBP1a, PvRBP2b and PvRBP2cNB were significantly higher in infected individuals than those in uninfected individuals by using Wilcoxon's signed-rank test (P<0.001). Of the six PvRBPs examined, only antibodies to PvRBP2b were associated with protection against clinical malaria in both settings (Hazard Ratio=0.45-0.50, P≤0.032). Conclusion/Significance. Our results indicate that PvRBP2b warrants further preclinical development as a blood-stage vaccine candidate against P. vivax. Total IgG responses to PvRBPs were also shown to be promising immunological markers of exposure to P. vivax infection.
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Crocodylomorpha, which includes living crocodylians and their extinct relatives, has a rich fossil record, extending back for more than 200 million years. Unlike modern semi-aquatic crocodylians, extinct crocodylomorphs exhibited more varied lifestyles, ranging from marine to fully terrestrial forms. This ecological diversity was mirrored by a remarkable morphological disparity, particularly in terms of cranial morphology, which seems to be closely associated with ecological roles in the group. Here, I use geometric morphometrics to comprehensively investigate cranial shape variation and disparity in Crocodylomorpha. I quantitatively assess the relationship between cranial shape and ecology (i.e. terrestrial, aquatic, and semi-aquatic lifestyles), as well as possible allometric shape changes. I also characterise patterns of cranial shape evolution and identify regime shifts. I found a strong link between shape and size, and a significant influence of ecology on the observed shape variation. Terrestrial taxa, particularly notosuchians, have significantly higher disparity, and shifts to more longirostrine regimes are associated with large-bodied aquatic or semi-aquatic species. This demonstrates an intricate relationship between cranial shape, body size and lifestyle in crocodylomorph evolutionary history. Additionally, disparity-through-time analyses were highly sensitive to different phylogenetic hypotheses, suggesting the description of overall patterns among distinct trees. For crocodylomorphs, most results agree in an early peak during the Early Jurassic and another in the middle of the Cretaceous, followed by nearly continuous decline until today. Since only crown-group members survived through the Cenozoic, this decrease in disparity was likely the result of habitat loss, which narrowed down the range of crocodylomorph lifestyles.
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Human and other animal cells deploy three closely related dioxygenases (PHD 1, 2 and 3) to signal oxygen levels by catalysing oxygen regulated prolyl hydroxylation of the transcription factor HIF. The discovery of the HIF prolyl-hydroxylase (PHD) enzymes as oxygen sensors raises a key question as to the existence and nature of non-HIF substrates, potentially transducing other biological responses to hypoxia. Over 20 such substrates are reported. We therefore sought to characterise their reactivity with recombinant PHD enzymes. Unexpectedly, we did not detect prolyl-hydroxylase activity on any reported non-HIF protein or peptide, using conditions supporting robust HIF-α hydroxylation. We cannot exclude PHD-catalysed prolyl hydroxylation occurring under conditions other than those we have examined. However, our findings using recombinant enzymes provide no support for the wide range of non-HIF PHD substrates that have been reported.
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Many animals with external armour, such as hedgehogs, isopods, and trilobites, curl into a protective ball when disturbed. However, in situations where predators would engulf an exposed animal whole, regardless of position, conglobation may provide limited added defence and the benefits were previously unclear. We show that polyplacophoran molluscs (chitons) are 3 times less likely to spend time curled into a ball in the presence of a predator. When the cue of a potential predator is present, animals instead spend significantly more time in active, high risk-high reward behaviours such as arching, balancing on the head and tail ends of their girdle and pushing the soft foot up into an exposed position. Arching increases vulnerability, but also can increase the likelihood of rapidly encountering new substratum that would allow the animal to right itself. In some other animals, the ability to roll into a ball is associated with rolling away from danger. Curling into a ball would improve mobility, to be rolled on to a safer position, but reattachment is the higher priority for chitons in the face of danger.
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Here we describe 31 fossil teeth, deposited in the paleontological collections of the Museo di Storia Naturale di Milano (MSNM), that come from the inland portion of the Mahajanga Basin, NW Madagascar, namely from the Sakahara Formation (classically known as Isalo IIIb subunit), which is dated back to the Middle Jurassic Bathonian stage. Based on detailed morphological characters, the eight morphotypes recognised herein are tentatively referred to four sauropod taxa: Archaeodontosaurus descouensi, ‘Bothriospondylus madagascariensis’, Lapparentosaurus madagascariensis, and an indeterminate specialised eusauropod, which may represent a new species, and the first evidence of a Bathonian diplodocoid in Madagascar. The identification of the teeth is corroborated by comparative examination of morphometric data. In this paper we provide evidence that Titanosauriformes were present in the Bathonian, on the basis of seven specimens referable to this clade. We also discuss in detail some dental characters that support the existence of a clear niche partitioning between the above mentioned taxa, that co–existed in the Malagasy Middle Jurassic terrestrial ecosystem. We finally hypothesise, for the first time, a direct correlation between the pattern drawn on the tooth crown by the enamel wrinkles and the feeding ecology of sauropod dinosaurs. The enamel wrinkles likely played a structural function: coarse wrinkles were associated to a diet composed mainly by hard foodstuff, whereas fainter wrinkles, which appeared in more derived morphologies, were associated to a diet composed by softer foodstuff.
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