Institut für Ökologie, Evolution und Diversität
Natural or human mediated - biogeography of widespread Mediterranean invertebrates with poor dispersal capacities
Hominin palaeoecology in Late Pliocene Malawi: first insights from isotopes (13C, 18O) in mammal teeth
- Carbon-13 and oxygen-18 abundances were measured in large mammal skeletal remains (tooth enamel, dentine and bone) from the Chiwondo Beds in Malawi, which were dated by biostratigraphic correlation to ca. 2.5 million years ago. The biologic isotopic patterns, in particular the difference in carbon-13 abundances between grazers and browsers and the difference in oxygen-18 abundances between semi-aquatic and terrestrial herbivores, were preserved in enamel, but not in dentine and bone. The isotopic results obtained from the skeletal remains from the Chiwondo Beds indicate a dominance of savannah habitats with some trees and shrubs. This environment was more arid than the contemporaneous Ndolanya Beds in Tanzania. The present study confirms that robust australopithecines were able to live in relatively arid environments and were not confined to more mesic environments elsewhere in southern Africa.
Molar macrowear reveals Neanderthal eco-geographic dietary variation
Timothy G. Bromage
- Neanderthal diets are reported to be based mainly on the consumption of large and medium sized herbivores, while the exploitation of other food types including plants has also been demonstrated. Though some studies conclude that early Homo sapiens were active hunters, the analyses of faunal assemblages, stone tool technologies and stable isotopic studies indicate that they exploited broader dietary resources than Neanderthals. Whereas previous studies assume taxon-specific dietary specializations, we suggest here that the diet of both Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens is determined by ecological conditions. We analyzed molar wear patterns using occlusal fingerprint analysis derived from optical 3D topometry. Molar macrowear accumulates during the lifespan of an individual and thus reflects diet over long periods. Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens maxillary molar macrowear indicates strong eco-geographic dietary variation independent of taxonomic affinities. Based on comparisons with modern hunter-gatherer populations with known diets, Neanderthals as well as early Homo sapiens show high dietary variability in Mediterranean evergreen habitats but a more restricted diet in upper latitude steppe/coniferous forest environments, suggesting a significant consumption of high protein meat resources.
Short read Illumina data for the de novo assembly of a non-model snail species transcriptome (Radix balthica, Basommatophora, Pulmonata), and a comparison of assembler performance
Christopher W. Wheat
- Background: Until recently, read lengths on the Solexa/Illumina system were too short to reliably assemble transcriptomes without a reference sequence, especially for non-model organisms. However, with read lengths up to 100 nucleotides available in the current version, an assembly without reference genome should be possible. For this study we created an EST data set for the common pond snail Radix balthica by Illumina sequencing of a normalized transcriptome. Performance of three different short read assemblers was compared with respect to: the number of contigs, their length, depth of coverage, their quality in various BLAST searches and the alignment to mitochondrial genes. Results: A single sequencing run of a normalized RNA pool resulted in 16,923,850 paired end reads with median read length of 61 bases. The assemblies generated by VELVET, OASES, and SeqMan NGEN differed in the total number of contigs, contig length, the number and quality of gene hits obtained by BLAST searches against various databases, and contig performance in the mt genome comparison. While VELVET produced the highest overall number of contigs, a large fraction of these were of small size (< 200bp), and gave redundant hits in BLAST searches and the mt genome alignment. The best overall contig performance resulted from the NGEN assembly. It produced the second largest number of contigs, which on average were comparable to the OASES contigs but gave the highest number of gene hits in two out of four BLAST searches against different reference databases. A subsequent meta-assembly of the four contig sets resulted in larger contigs, less redundancy and a higher number of BLAST hits. Conclusion: Our results document the first de novo transcriptome assembly of a non-model species using Illumina sequencing data. We show that de novo transcriptome assembly using this approach yields results useful for downstream applications, in particular if a meta-assembly of contig sets is used to increase contig quality. These results highlight the ongoing need for improvements in assembly methodology. Keywords: next generation sequencing; short read assembly; Mollusca
Utility of arsenic-treated bird skins for DNA extraction
- Background: Natural history museums receive a rapidly growing number of requests for tissue samples from preserved specimens for DNA-based studies. Traditionally, dried vertebrate specimens were treated with arsenic because of its toxicity and insect-repellent effect. Arsenic has negative effects on in vivo DNA repair enzymes and consequently may inhibit PCR performance. In bird collections, foot pad samples are often requested since the feet were not regularly treated with arsenic and because they are assumed to provide substantial amounts of DNA. However, the actual influence of arsenic on DNA analyses has never been tested. Findings: PCR success of both foot pad and body skin samples was significantly lower in arsenic-treated samples. In general, foot pads performed better than body skin samples. Moreover, PCR success depends on collection date in which younger samples yielded better results. While the addition of arsenic solution to the PCR mixture had a clear negative effect on PCR performance after the threshold of 5.4 μg/μl, such high doses of arsenic are highly unlikely to occur in dried zoological specimens. Conclusions: While lower PCR success in older samples might be due to age effects and/or DNA damage through arsenic treatment, our results show no inhibiting effect on DNA polymerase. We assume that DNA degradation proceeds more rapidly in thin tissue layers with low cell numbers that are susceptible to external abiotic influences. In contrast, in thicker parts of a specimen, such as foot pads, the outermost horny skin may act as an additional barrier. Since foot pads often performed better than body skin samples, the intention to preserve morphologically important structures of a specimen still conflicts with the aim to obtain optimal PCR success. Thus, body skin samples from recently collected specimens should be considered as alternative sources of DNA.
From the Western Alps across Central Europe: Postglacial recolonisation of the tufa stream specialist Rhyacophila pubescens (Insecta, Trichoptera)
Steffen U. Pauls
- Background: Dispersal rates, i.e. the effective number of dispersing individuals per unit time, are the product of dispersal capacity, i.e. a species physiological potential for dispersal, dispersal behaviour, i.e. the decision to leave a habitat patch in favour of another, and connectivity of occupied habitat. Dispersal of species that are highly specialised to a certain habitat is thus strongly limited by habitat availability. Additionally, species inhabiting very stable environments may adopt a sedentary life-style. Both factors should lead to strong genetic differentiation in highly specialised species inhabiting stable environments. These two factors apply to our model species Rhyacophila pubescens a highly specialised freshwater insect that occurs in tufa springs, a very stable habitat. Results: We examined the genetic population structure and phylogeography using range-wide mtCOI sequence and AFLP data from 333 individuals of R. pubescens. We inferred the location of Pleistocene refugia and postglacial colonisation routes of R. pubescens, and examined ongoing local differentiation. Our results indicate intraregional differentiation with a high number of locally endemic haplotypes, that we attributed to habitat specificity and low dispersal rates of R. pubescens. We observed high levels of genetic diversity south of the Alps and genetic impoverishment north of the Alps. Estimates of migrants placed the refugium and the source of the colonisation in the Dauphine Alps (SW Alps). Conclusions: This is the first example of an aquatic insect with a colonisation route along the western margin of the Alps to the Central European highlands. The study also shows that specialisation to a stable environment may have promoted a behavioural shift to decreased dispersal rates, leading to stronger local population differentiation than in less specialised aquatic insects. Alternatively, the occurrence of highly specialised tufa spring habitats may have been more widespread in the past, leading to range regression and fragmentation among present day R. pubescens populations.
Postglacial migration supplements climate in determining plant species ranges in Europe
Robert E. Ricklefs
- The influence of dispersal limitation on species ranges remains controversial. Considering the dramatic impacts of the last glaciation in Europe, species might not have tracked climate changes through time and, as a consequence, their present-day ranges might be in disequilibrium with current climate. For 1016 European plant species, we assessed the relative importance of current climate and limited postglacial migration in determining species ranges using regression modelling and explanatory variables representing climate, and a novel species-specific hind-casting-based measure of accessibility to postglacial colonization. Climate was important for all species, while postglacial colonization also constrained the ranges of more than 50 per cent of the species. On average, climate explained five times more variation in species ranges than accessibility, but accessibility was the strongest determinant for one-sixth of the species. Accessibility was particularly important for species with limited long-distance dispersal ability, with southern glacial ranges, seed plants compared with ferns, and small-range species in southern Europe. In addition, accessibility explained one-third of the variation in species' disequilibrium with climate as measured by the realized/potential range size ratio computed with niche modelling. In conclusion, we show that although climate is the dominant broad-scale determinant of European plant species ranges, constrained dispersal plays an important supplementary role.
Habitat-mediated facilitation and counteracting ecosystem engineering interactively influence ecosystem responses to disturbance
Johan S. Eklöf
Tjisse van der Heide
Els M. van der Zee
Britas Klemens Eriksson
- Recovery of an ecosystem following disturbance can be severely hampered or even shift altogether when a point disturbance exceeds a certain spatial threshold. Such scale-dependent dynamics may be caused by preemptive competition, but may also result from diminished self-facilitation due to weakened ecosystem engineering. Moreover, disturbance can facilitate colonization by engineering species that alter abiotic conditions in ways that exacerbate stress on the original species. Consequently, establishment of such counteracting engineers might reduce the spatial threshold for the disturbance, by effectively slowing recovery and increasing the risk for ecosystem shifts to alternative states. We tested these predictions in an intertidal mudflat characterized by a two-state mosaic of hummocks (humps exposed during low tide) dominated by the sediment-stabilizing seagrass Zostera noltii) and hollows (low-tide waterlogged depressions dominated by the bioturbating lugworm Arenicola marina). In contrast to expectations, seagrass recolonized both natural and experimental clearings via lateral expansion and seemed unaffected by both clearing size and lugworm addition. Near the end of the growth season, however, an additional disturbance (most likely waterfowl grazing and/or strong hydrodynamics) selectively impacted recolonizing seagrass in the largest (1 m2) clearings (regardless of lugworm addition), and in those medium (0.25 m2) clearings where lugworms had been added nearly five months earlier. Further analyses showed that the risk for the disturbance increased with hollow size, with a threshold of 0.24 m2. Hollows of that size were caused by seagrass removal alone in the largest clearings, and by a weaker seagrass removal effect exacerbated by lugworm bioturbation in the medium clearings. Consequently, a sufficiently large disturbance increased the vulnerability of recolonizing seagrass to additional disturbance by weakening seagrass engineering effects (sediment stabilization). Meanwhile, the counteracting ecosystem engineering (lugworm bioturbation) reduced that threshold size. Therefore, scale-dependent interactions between habitat-mediated facilitation, competition and disturbance seem to maintain the spatial two-state mosaic in this ecosystem.
Top-down control of herbivory by birds and bats in the canopy of temperate broad-leaved oaks (Quercus robur)
Stefan M. Böhm
Konstans L. Wells
Elisabeth K. V. Kalko
- The intensive foraging of insectivorous birds and bats is well known to reduce the density of arboreal herbivorous arthropods but quantification of collateral leaf damage remains limited for temperate forest canopies. We conducted exclusion experiments with nets in the crowns of young and mature oaks, Quercus robur, in south and central Germany to investigate the extent to which aerial vertebrates reduce herbivory through predation. We repeatedly estimated leaf damage throughout the vegetation period. Exclusion of birds and bats led to a distinct increase in arthropod herbivory, emphasizing the prominent role of vertebrate predators in controlling arthropods. Leaf damage (e.g., number of holes) differed strongly between sites and was 59% higher in south Germany, where species richness of vertebrate predators and relative oak density were lower compared with our other study site in central Germany. The effects of bird and bat exclusion on herbivory were 19% greater on young than on mature trees in south Germany. Our results support previous studies that have demonstrated clear effects of insectivorous vertebrates on leaf damage through the control of herbivorous arthropods. Moreover, our comparative approach on quantification of leaf damage highlights the importance of local attributes such as tree age, forest composition and species richness of vertebrate predators for control of arthropod herbivory.
The second Young Environmental Scientist (YES) meeting 2011 at RWTH Aachen University - environmental challenges in a changing world
Matthias Leonhard Berens
Jochen P. Zubrod
- This article reports on the second Young Environmental Scientists Meeting that was hosted from 28 February to 2 March 2011 by the Institute for Environmental Research at RWTH Aachen University, Germany. This extraordinary meeting was again initiated and organized by the Student Advisory Council under the umbrella of Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Europe. A movie about the meeting and the abstracts of poster and platform presentations are freely available as supplemental material of this article.