• Conserved gene signalling and a derived patterning mechanism underlie the development of avian footpad scales

      Cooper, RL; Lloyd, VJ; Di-Pöi, N; Fletcher, AG; Barrett, PM; Fraser, GJ (BioMed Central, 2019-08-13)
      Background: Vertebrates possess a diverse range of integumentary epithelial appendages, including scales, feathers and hair. These structures share extensive early developmental homology, as they mostly originate from a conserved anatomical placode. In the context of avian epithelial appendages, feathers and scutate scales are known to develop from an anatomical placode. However, our understanding of avian reticulate (footpad) scale development remains unclear. Results: Here, we demonstrate that reticulate scales develop from restricted circular domains of thickened epithelium, with localised conserved gene expression in both the epithelium and underlying mesenchyme. These domains constitute either anatomical placodes, or circular initiatory fields (comparable to the avian feather tract). Subsequent patterning of reticulate scales is consistent with reaction–diffusion (RD) simulation, whereby this primary domain subdivides into smaller secondary units, which produce individual scales. In contrast, the footpad scales of a squamate model (the bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps) develop synchronously across the ventral footpad surface. Conclusions: Widely conserved gene signalling underlies the initial development of avian reticulate scales. However, their subsequent patterning is distinct from the footpad scale patterning of a squamate model, and the feather and scutate scale patterning of birds. Therefore, we suggest reticulate scales are a comparatively derived epithelial appendage, patterned through a modified RD system.
    • Cryptic variation in an ecological indicator organism: mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data confirm distinct lineages of Baetis harrisoni Barnard (Ephemeroptera: Baetidae) in southern Africa

      Pereira-da-Conceicoa, LL; Price, BW; Barber-James, HM; Barker, NP; de Moor, FC; Villet, MH (BioMed Central, 2012)
      Background: Baetis harrisoni Barnard is a mayfly frequently encountered in river studies across Africa, but the external morphological features used for identifying nymphs have been observed to vary subtly between different geographic locations. It has been associated with a wide range of ecological conditions, including pH extremes of pH 2.9–10.0 in polluted waters. We present a molecular study of the genetic variation within B. harrisoni across 21 rivers in its distribution range in southern Africa. Results: Four gene regions were examined, two mitochondrial (cytochrome c oxidase subunit I [COI] and small subunit ribosomal 16S rDNA [16S]) and two nuclear (elongation factor 1 alpha [EF1α] and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase [PEPCK]). Bayesian and parsimony approaches to phylogeny reconstruction resulted in five wellsupported major lineages, which were confirmed using a general mixed Yule-coalescent (GMYC) model. Results from the EF1α gene were significantly incongruent with both mitochondrial and nuclear (PEPCK) results, possibly due to incomplete lineage sorting of the EF1α gene. Mean between-clade distance estimated using the COI and PEPCK data was found to be an order of magnitude greater than the within-clade distance and comparable to that previously reported for other recognised Baetis species. Analysis of the Isolation by Distance (IBD) between all samples showed a small but significant effect of IBD. Within each lineage the contribution of IBD was minimal. Tentative dating analyses using an uncorrelated log-normal relaxed clock and two published estimates of COI mutation rates suggest that diversification within the group occurred throughout the Pliocene and mid-Miocene (~2.4–11.5 mya). Conclusions: The distinct lineages of B. harrisoni correspond to categorical environmental variation, with two lineages comprising samples from streams that flow through acidic Table Mountain Sandstone and three lineages with samples from neutral-to-alkaline streams found within eastern South Africa, Malawi and Zambia. The results of this study suggest that B. harrisoni as it is currently recognised is not a single species with a wide geographic range and pH-tolerance, but may comprise up to five species under the phylogenetic species concept, each with limited pH-tolerances, and that the B. harrisoni species group is thus in need of taxonomic review.
    • Phylogenomics resolves major relationships and reveals significant diversification rate shifts in the evolution of silk moths and relatives

      Hamilton, CA; St Laurent, RA; Dexter, K; Kitching, I; Breinholt, JW; Zwick, A; Timmermans, MJTN; Barber, JR; Kawahara, AY (BioMed Central, 2019-09-18)
      Background: Silkmoths and their relatives constitute the ecologically and taxonomically diverse superfamily Bombycoidea, which includes some of the most charismatic species of Lepidoptera. Despite displaying spectacular forms and diverse ecological traits, relatively little attention has been given to understanding their evolution and drivers of their diversity. To begin to address this problem, we created a new Bombycoidea-specific Anchored Hybrid Enrichment (AHE) probe set and sampled up to 571 loci for 117 taxa across all major lineages of the Bombycoidea, with a newly developed DNA extraction protocol that allows Lepidoptera specimens to be readily sequenced from pinned natural history collections. Results: The well-supported tree was overall consistent with prior morphological and molecular studies, although some taxa were misplaced. The bombycid Arotros Schaus was formally transferred to Apatelodidae. We identified important evolutionary patterns (e.g., morphology, biogeography, and differences in speciation and extinction), and our analysis of diversification rates highlights the stark increases that exist within the Sphingidae (hawkmoths) and Saturniidae (wild silkmoths). Conclusions: Our study establishes a backbone for future evolutionary, comparative, and taxonomic studies of Bombycoidea. We postulate that the rate shifts identified are due to the well-documented bat-moth “arms race”. Our research highlights the flexibility of AHE to generate genomic data from a wide range of museum specimens, both age and preservation method, and will allow researchers to tap into the wealth of biological data residing in natural history collections around the globe.
    • Using the “Natural History Large Hadron Collider” to tell us about plant diversity

      Knapp, S (BioMed Central, 2017-03-07)
      A study published today in BMC Biology uses the RAINBIO dataset, a database of herbarium specimens, to analyze African plant diversity. In this blog we invited Sandra Knapp, a plant taxonomist at the Natural History Museum in London, to talk about the study and the importance of herbaria, which she regards as the “CERN of natural history”.