- Impact of carnivory on human development and evolution revealed by a new unifying model of weaning in mammals (2012)
- Our large brain, long life span and high fertility are key elements of human evolutionary success and are often thought to have evolved in interplay with tool use, carnivory and hunting. However, the specific impact of carnivory on human evolution, life history and development remains controversial. Here we show in quantitative terms that dietary profile is a key factor influencing time to weaning across a wide taxonomic range of mammals, including humans. In a model encompassing a total of 67 species and genera from 12 mammalian orders, adult brain mass and two dichotomous variables reflecting species differences regarding limb biomechanics and dietary profile, accounted for 75.5%, 10.3% and 3.4% of variance in time to weaning, respectively, together capturing 89.2% of total variance. Crucially, carnivory predicted the time point of early weaning in humans with remarkable precision, yielding a prediction error of less than 5% with a sample of forty-six human natural fertility societies as reference. Hence, carnivory appears to provide both a necessary and sufficient explanation as to why humans wean so much earlier than the great apes. While early weaning is regarded as essentially differentiating the genus Homo from the great apes, its timing seems to be determined by the same limited set of factors in humans as in mammals in general, despite some 90 million years of evolution. Our analysis emphasizes the high degree of similarity of relative time scales in mammalian development and life history across 67 genera from 12 mammalian orders and shows that the impact of carnivory on time to weaning in humans is quantifiable, and critical. Since early weaning yields shorter interbirth intervals and higher rates of reproduction, with profound effects on population dynamics, our findings highlight the emergence of carnivory as a process fundamentally determining human evolution.
- Expansion of CORE-SINEs in the genome of the Tasmanian devil (2012)
- Background: The genome of the carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii, Order: Dasyuromorphia), was sequenced in the hopes of finding a cure for or gaining a better understanding of the contagious devil facial tumor disease that is threatening the species’ survival. To better understand the Tasmanian devil genome, we screened it for transposable elements and investigated the dynamics of short interspersed element (SINE) retroposons. Results: The temporal history of Tasmanian devil SINEs, elucidated using a transposition in transposition analysis, indicates that WSINE1, a CORE-SINE present in around 200,000 copies, is the most recently active element. Moreover, we discovered a new subtype of WSINE1 (WSINE1b) that comprises at least 90% of all Tasmanian devil WSINE1s. The frequencies of WSINE1 subtypes differ in the genomes of two of the other Australian marsupial orders. A co-segregation analysis indicated that at least 66 subfamilies of WSINE1 evolved during the evolution of Dasyuromorphia. Using a substitution rate derived from WSINE1 insertions, the ages of the subfamilies were estimated and correlated with a newly established phylogeny of Dasyuromorphia. Phylogenetic analyses and divergence time estimates of mitochondrial genome data indicate a rapid radiation of the Tasmanian devil and the closest relative the quolls (Dasyurus) around 14 million years ago. Conclusions: The radiation and abundance of CORE-SINEs in marsupial genomes indicates that they may be a major player in the evolution of marsupials. It is evident that the early phases of evolution of the carnivorous marsupial order Dasyuromorphia was characterized by a burst of SINE activity. A correlation between a speciation event and a major burst of retroposon activity is for the first time shown in a marsupial genome.
- A range-wide synthesis and timeline for phylogeographic events in the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) (2013)
- Background: Many boreo-temperate mammals have a Pleistocene fossil record throughout Eurasia and North America, but only few have a contemporary distribution that spans this large area. Examples of Holarctic-distributed carnivores are the brown bear, grey wolf, and red fox, all three ecological generalists with large dispersal capacity and a high adaptive flexibility. While the two former have been examined extensively across their ranges, no phylogeographic study of the red fox has been conducted across its entire Holarctic range. Moreover, no study included samples from central Asia, leaving a large sampling gap in the middle of the Eurasian landmass. Results: Here we provide the first mitochondrial DNA sequence data of red foxes from central Asia (Siberia), and new sequences from several European populations. In a range-wide synthesis of 729 red fox mitochondrial control region sequences, including 677 previously published and 52 newly obtained sequences, this manuscript describes the pattern and timing of major phylogeographic events in red foxes, using a Bayesian coalescence approach with multiple fossil tip and root calibration points. In a 335 bp alignment we found in total 175 unique haplotypes. All newly sequenced individuals belonged to the previously described Holarctic lineage. Our analyses confirmed the presence of three Nearctic- and two Japan-restricted lineages that were formed since the Mid/Late Pleistocene. Conclusions: The phylogeographic history of red foxes is highly similar to that previously described for grey wolves and brown bears, indicating that climatic fluctuations and habitat changes since the Pleistocene had similar effects on these highly mobile generalist species. All three species originally diversified in Eurasia and later colonized North America and Japan. North American lineages persisted through the last glacial maximum south of the ice sheets, meeting more recent colonizers from Beringia during postglacial expansion into the northern Nearctic. Both brown bears and red foxes colonized Japan’s northern island Hokkaido at least three times, all lineages being most closely related to different mainland lineages. Red foxes, grey wolves, and brown bears thus represent an interesting case where species that occupy similar ecological niches also exhibit similar phylogeographic histories.
- Coalescent-based genome analyses resolve the early branches of the euarchontoglires (2013)
- Despite numerous large-scale phylogenomic studies, certain parts of the mammalian tree are extraordinarily difficult to resolve. We used the coding regions from 19 completely sequenced genomes to study the relationships within the super-clade Euarchontoglires (Primates, Rodentia, Lagomorpha, Dermoptera and Scandentia) because the placement of Scandentia within this clade is controversial. The difficulty in resolving this issue is due to the short time spans between the early divergences of Euarchontoglires, which may cause incongruent gene trees. The conflict in the data can be depicted by network analyses and the contentious relationships are best reconstructed by coalescent-based analyses. This method is expected to be superior to analyses of concatenated data in reconstructing a species tree from numerous gene trees. The total concatenated dataset used to study the relationships in this group comprises 5,875 protein-coding genes (9,799,170 nucleotides) from all orders except Dermoptera (flying lemurs). Reconstruction of the species tree from 1,006 gene trees using coalescent models placed Scandentia as sister group to the primates, which is in agreement with maximum likelihood analyses of concatenated nucleotide sequence data. Additionally, both analytical approaches favoured the Tarsier to be sister taxon to Anthropoidea, thus belonging to the Haplorrhine clade. When divergence times are short such as in radiations over periods of a few million years, even genome scale analyses struggle to resolve phylogenetic relationships. On these short branches processes such as incomplete lineage sorting and possibly hybridization occur and make it preferable to base phylogenomic analyses on coalescent methods.
- A genomic approach to examine the complex evolution of laurasiatherian mammals (2011)
- Recent phylogenomic studies have failed to conclusively resolve certain branches of the placental mammalian tree, despite the evolutionary analysis of genomic data from 32 species. Previous analyses of single genes and retroposon insertion data yielded support for different phylogenetic scenarios for the most basal divergences. The results indicated that some mammalian divergences were best interpreted not as a single bifurcating tree, but as an evolutionary network. In these studies the relationships among some orders of the super-clade Laurasiatheria were poorly supported, albeit not studied in detail. Therefore, 4775 protein-coding genes (6,196,263 nucleotides) were collected and aligned in order to analyze the evolution of this clade. Additionally, over 200,000 introns were screened in silico, resulting in 32 phylogenetically informative long interspersed nuclear elements (LINE) insertion events. The present study shows that the genome evolution of Laurasiatheria may best be understood as an evolutionary network. Thus, contrary to the common expectation to resolve major evolutionary events as a bifurcating tree, genome analyses unveil complex speciation processes even in deep mammalian divergences. We exemplify this on a subset of 1159 suitable genes that have individual histories, most likely due to incomplete lineage sorting or introgression, processes that can make the genealogy of mammalian genomes complex. These unexpected results have major implications for the understanding of evolution in general, because the evolution of even some higher level taxa such as mammalian orders may sometimes not be interpreted as a simple bifurcating pattern.
- Mammalian evolution may not be strictly bifurcating (2010)
- The massive amount of genomic sequence data that is now available for analyzing evolutionary relationships among 31 placental mammals reduces the stochastic error in phylogenetic analyses to virtually zero. One would expect that this would make it possible to finally resolve controversial branches in the placental mammalian tree. We analyzed a 2,863,797 nucleotide-long alignment (3,364 genes) from 31 placental mammals for reconstructing their evolution. Most placental mammalian relationships were resolved, and a consensus of their evolution is emerging. However, certain branches remain difficult or virtually impossible to resolve. These branches are characterized by short divergence times in the order of 1-4 million years. Computer simulations based on parameters from the real data show that as little as about 12,500 amino acid sites could be sufficient to confidently resolve short branches as old as about 90 million years ago. Thus, the amount of sequence data should no longer be a limiting factor in resolving the relationships among placental mammals. The timing of the early radiation of placental mammals coincides with a period of climate warming some 100 - 80 million years ago and with continental fragmentation. These global processes may have triggered the rapid diversification of placental mammals. However, the rapid radiations of certain mammalian groups complicate phylogenetic analyses, possibly due to incomplete lineage sorting and introgression. These speciation-related processes led to a mosaic genome and conflicting phylogenetic signals. Split network methods are ideal for visualizing these problematic branches and can therefore depict data conflict and possibly the true evolutionary history better than strictly bifurcating trees. Given the timing of tectonics, of placental mammalian divergences, and the fossil record, a Laurasian rather than Gondwanan origin of placental mammals seems the most parsimonious explanation. Key words: continental drift , Cretaceous warming , genome analysis , hybridization , phylogenomics , split decomposition
- Resolution among major placental mammal interordinal relationships with genome data imply that speciation influenced their earliest radiations (2008)
- Background: A number of the deeper divergences in the placental mammal tree are still inconclusively resolved despite extensive phylogenomic analyses. A recent analysis of 200 kbp of protein coding sequences yielded only limited support for the relationships among Laurasiatheria (cow, dog, bat and shrew), probably because the divergences occurred only within a few million years from each other. It is generally expected that increasing the amount of data and improving the taxon sampling enhance the resolution of narrow divergences. Therefore these and other difficult splits were examined by phylogenomic analysis of the hitherto largest sequence alignment. The increasingly complete genome data of placental mammals also allowed developing a novel and stringent data search method. Results: The rigorous data handling, recursive BLAST, successfully removed the sequences from gene families, including those from well-known families hemoglobin, olfactory, myosin and HOX genes, thus avoiding alignment of possibly paralogous sequences. The current phylogenomic analysis of 3,012 genes (2,844,615 nucleotides) from a total of 22 species yielded statistically significant support for most relationships. While some major clades were confirmed using genomic sequence data, the placement of the treeshrew, bat and the relationship between Boreoeutheria, Xenarthra and Afrotheria remained problematic to resolve despite the size of the alignment. Phylogenomic analysis of divergence times dated the basal placental mammal splits at 95–100 million years ago. Many of the following divergences occurred only a few (2–4) million years later. Relationships with narrow divergence time intervals received unexpectedly limited support even from the phylogenomic analyses. Conclusion: The narrow temporal window within which some placental divergences took place suggests that inconsistencies and limited resolution of the mammalian tree may have their natural explanation in speciation processes such as lineage sorting, introgression from species hybridization or hybrid speciation. These processes obscure phylogenetic analysis, making some parts of the tree difficult to resolve even with genome data.