Note: I was asked why I exclude taxonomy from these listings. The reason is that there are so many new species descriptions that get published every day that it would flood the posts, even more than the arthropods currently do. And the use brought by them is minimal – the people who are interested in/work in taxonomy get these papers, and they’re of very little interest to anyone outside of taxonomy.
This is just a listing of papers published this week that piqued my interest (taxonomy excluded), with personal comments and further reading recommendations whenever appropriate. Interdisciplinary papers sorted according to personal opinion. Papers ordered only by their appearance in my inbox. For PDFs, e-mail me, I get most of them. You can request an in-depth analysis of any paper and I’ll do it as I get the time.
Some papers are tagged for easy finding using your browser’s find (Ctrl+F):
- [OA] is for open access papers, those you can read for free.
- [imp] is for papers that I perceive as particularly important to have.
62 papers this week, 3 special issues. Breakdown below.
- Special Issues 
- Arthropods 
- Botany 
- Developmental Biology 
- Ecology 
- Education 
- Environmental 
- Evolution 
- Palaeontology 
- Phylogenetics 
- Zoology 
- ENCODE [OA] [imp]
Not a special issue per se, but the latest issue of Nature‘s got a series of open-access papers on the important ENCODE project, a project whose results have been making faulty headlines with a stupid myth about junk DNA not existing anymore. I’ll take the opportunity to debunk this widely-publicised claim. What was found was that 80% of the DNA gets transcribed into RNA. That’s it. This doesn’t mean that this DNA is functional. It’s still overwhelmingly junk, until a function is found for the transcribed RNA (there’s very little evolutionary pressure to stop transcription of even useless genomic sections, it has no cost). And anyway, there’s quite a lot of RNA-destroying mechanisms in the cell.
- Using palaeolimnological and limnological data to reconstruct the recent history of European lake ecosystems.
Interesting stuff. I want to see this get corroborated by the fancy evo-devo that gets done with butterfly wing patterns.
- Predaceous Diving Beetle, Dytiscus sharpi sharpi (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) Larvae Avoid Cannibalism by Recognizing Prey.
This gives me an idea for an easy project to do with school classrooms. Basically copying this paper’s methodology. It’s simple and fun, and teaches all the hallmarks of experimental biology, from hypothesis formulation and experimental set-up through to stats.
- A preliminary histological investigation of gall induction in an unconventional galling system.
- The use of the sex pheromone as an evolutionary solution to food source selection in caterpillars.
This study finds that cotton leafworm caterpillars use sex pheromones as cues to where to find food.
- GENETIC DIVERGENCE IS DECOUPLED FROM ECOLOGICAL DIVERSIFICATION IN THE HAWAIIAN NESOSYDNE PLANTHOPPERS.
One of those papers that makes me extremely bitter at having no funding.
- A new method for collecting agile tiger beetles by live pitfall trapping.
- Responses of three species of mosquito larvae to the presence of predatory dragonfly and damselfly larvae.
- Measurement of arthropod body composition using quantitative magnetic resonance.
The disparity in technology among entomologists is striking. Most of us make do with standard household objects – rubber bands, plastic cups, empty glass jars, plastic bottles, string, sticks. Then you have a paper like this using some magic machine I’ve never heard of.
- Laboratory Rearing of Callitettix versicolor (Hemiptera: Cicadomorpha: Cercopidae), with Descriptions of the Immature Stages.
- Can a Semiochemical-Based Trapping Method Diminish Damage Levels Caused by Rhabdoscelus obscurus (Coleoptera: Curculionidae)?
- Sexing Live Adults of the Three Species of Darkling Beetle (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) and Morphological Characteristics.
One of the more difficult aspects of field entomology, especially when doing it with students or kids, is reliably identifying the sex of an insect with no clear sexual dimorphism. I’ll have to try out this method next time I get the problem with tenebrionids.
- New and Simple Methods for Studying Hemipteran Stylets, Bacteriomes, and Salivary Sheaths in Host Plants.
- Ultrastructural Studies of the Salivary Duct System in the Whitefly Vector Bemisia tabaci (Aleyrodidae: Hemiptera).
- Locusts use a composite of resilin and hard cuticle as an energy store for jumping and kicking.
- Edge detection depends on achromatic channel in Drosophila melanogaster.
- The proximal costs of case construction in caddisflies: antioxidant and life history responses.
The cases built by caddisfly larvae are important adaptations: they act as shelters, as camouflage, and as protection from dessication. The cases are generally built either from leaves or from mineral grains (sand, etc.), held together by silk spun by the larva. While it’s known that building the case is energetically-costly, especially if it’s a mineral case (requires more silk = more cost), this paper puts these costs in a more holistic context.
Camel spiders are badass. Anyway, this paper compares the chelicerae of two camel spiders with different ecologies, finding some drastic differences between them, most probably caused by the differing lifestyles.
- The mechanical properties of the non-sticky spiral in Nephila orb webs (Araneae, Nephilidae).
- Light and vision in the deep-sea benthos: II. Vision in deep-sea crustaceans. [imp]
A good, data-filled review. Read more about life in the deep sea in this post.
- Specific herbivore-induced volatiles defend plants and determine insect community composition in the field.
- Cannibalism can drive the evolution of behavioural phase polyphenism in locusts. [OA]
- Serotonin immunoreactive interneurons in the brain of the Remipedia: new insights into the phylogenetic affinities of an enigmatic crustacean taxon. [OA]
Remipedes are the most interesting crusties to study nowadays, because they’re so little-known and what is known points to them holding the key to several important open questions about crustacean evolution. See Neiber et al. (2011) for a comprehensive review of them.
Interesting hypothesis, I never thought of it before. Seems like orchids are even smarter than we thought. (As in evolution gave them some ingenious mechanisms not only for pollination, but also for defence. They have no intelligence, obviously. Neither does natural selection. This parenthesis is only here to pre-empt the pedants who have no understanding of artistic license, in this case fruity writing.)
- Unravelling the evolution of neural stem cells in arthropods: Notch signalling in neural stem cell development in the crustacean Daphnia magna.
I’ve written about stem cells here. Wrt to this paper, the analysis of Daphnia is very useful. I’m a bit wary of the reconstruction from the tetraconate last common ancestor, because I don’t feel we have enough resolution across the crustaceans to enable such an exercise (we don’t know for sure how the ground pattern nervous system was like). But it’s a worthwhile effort in any case, and a good step forward.
Sea urchins are one of the model organisms for developmental biology, so it’s nice to see another echinoderm get studied in detail.
- Hox gene expression in the harvestman Phalangium opilio reveals divergent patterning of the chelicerate opisthosoma.
Arthropod head. Taboo topic on the blog.
Vertebrate heads. Not taboo, but vertebrate, therefore uninteresting.
This is a matter of some importance to me, since one tangential goal of my palaeontological research in Cyprus is to give a deep-time perspective on the biodiversity and ecology of the Eastern Mediterranean, enabling us to have a perspective on the ongoing Lessepsian Migration, the invasion of the Mediterranean by Red Sea fauna through the Suez Canal.
I think I’ll include this in my “ecosystems are very easy to disrupt” lectures as an example of just how preserving siversity is needed – new ecological roles are always being found, and even a “useless” species now (such as some fungus) will have a key role in at least one ecosystem process, a role waiting to be discovered.
- The Fauna of Seepage Springs and Other Shallow Subterranean Habitats in the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont and Coastal Plain.
Some ecosystems are pretty unique.
- Eight questions about invasions and ecosystem functioning. [imp] [OA]
- Latitudinal species diversity gradient of marine zooplankton for the last three million years. [OA]
- Extra-Mediterranean refugia: The rule and not the exception? [OA]
- Scientific Gear as a Vector for Non-Native Species at Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents.
Doctors know all about the dangers of contamination, and ecologists do as well (or should do). The difference is that doctors can cleant hemselves up. It’s very hard for ecologists to do so. I worry about this a lot. For example, my typical fieldwork attire includes hiking boots with deep treads. I work in vernal ponds, investigating dry-stage cysts of organisms. When I step in there, some cysts will undoubteably get stuck on the treads, even if I wipe my shoes. I go to another pond and these cysts might get transferred. Ecosystem disrupted, gene flow enabled once the rainy season starts again. I have nightmares about this stuff.
I will be starting projects with schools soon, when the school year start mess clears up. One of the offers I give to teachers is to do a short-term ecological/ethoological experiment, much like this one. I find that giving high-school students the opportunity to ask their own scientific questions and figure out way to test them is much more conducive to scientific learning than telling them how to do it (or telling them the answer to their question).
I don’t recommend doing it with honeybees though, or any other stinging animals. Parents can raise hell with the official teacher if they get wind of such a thing. Use ants or beetles. (I know this because I proposed to do scorpion experiments. Refusals all around. Understandable, I guess.)
A big step up from the usual coloured cards. I like this because it teaches how to think like a biologist, i.e. tog et a feel for costs and trade-offs in evolution, and so instills the correct sense of evolution as not a progression up a fictional ladder to an even more fictional perfection.
- Can You Build It? Using Manipulatives to Assess Student Understanding of Food-Web Concepts.
- Morphogenesis of the Terrarium. [imp]
I consider terrariums to be the most powerful biological classroom education tool. This paper should be applauded for giving easy instructions for how to build a very good terrarium. Teachers, you now have no excuse for having one.
The usual rhetoric on climate change as destructive to the biosphere is effective, but is also flawed. It’s not destructive to the biosphere, but to the status quo. It’s going to change up the current environment, and a lot of organismal group will suffer and maybe even go extinct. But there will also be those that will take advantage of the new conditions and thrive and radiate. This paper makes the case for anemones being one such organismal group.
Note that while I disparage the rhetoric in the above paragraph, the issue is an alarming one. The biosphere is going to change, but our entire civilisation and its infrastructure (and especially agriculture) is adapted to the current environment. So if we want to survive, we need to maintain the status quo. It’s probably too late though.
A great paper demonstrating the practical use of experimental evolution. I will be incorporating it into relevant stock lectures.
- Criticality Is an Emergent Property of Genetic Networks that Exhibit Evolvability. [OA]
- Ontogeny, systematics, and phylogenetics: Perspectives of future synthesis and a new model of the evolution of Bilateria.
The synthesis part is challenging and I like that. Read the new model of bilaterian evolution with trepidation.
- UNEXPECTEDLY MANY EXTINCT HOMININS.
- LATE PALEOZOIC FUSULINOIDEAN GIGANTISM DRIVEN BY ATMOSPHERIC HYPEROXIA.
Seems like arthropods aren’t the only organisms who become gigantic with more oxygen. This paper shows that fusulinid forms do it too.
Most fights in early animal palaeontology are simply down to differences in the interpretations of fossils, because when ti comes down to it, a lot of it is necessarily subjective. Geochemistry can only get you so far as an objective measure, and the rest is all up to the researcher to draw all the feeatures they see in the fossil and label them. Others will disagree with those labels; they will look at the fossil and draw something different, maybe adding a few other structures that the first researcher dismissed as abiotic blobs. This is how this area advances. Finding new fossils is not the only goal; equally important is to occasionally check the older finds, giving them to new people (especially students, as my own opportunity came along) for a fresh look, and with new technology (in my case, µCT; but this can be new photographic techniques, e.g. the addition of filters revealing features unseeable under natural light). The rant is relevant in that this is exactly the process that has now been done with Vernanimalcula, fossils that are generally accepted as the earliest bilaterian body fossils. They’re small, <0.2mm oval blobs that have been interpreted as having a pharynx, mouth, coeloms, and a gut. This reinterpretation says they’re nothing more than random mineralised crap in no way biological.
- A Hotspot for Cretaceous Goniodromitids (Decapoda: Brachyura) from Reef Associated Strata in Spain.
- Distinct But Rare Archisargid Flies from Jurassic of China (Diptera, Brachycera, Archisargidae) With Discussion of the Systematic Position of Origoasilus pingquanensis ZHANG ET AL., 2011.
The Archisargidae are an extinct family of flies, living in the Jurassic of China. This paper adds some more species to it.
- A NEW BAYESIAN METHOD FOR FITTING EVOLUTIONARY MODELS TO COMPARATIVE DATA WITH INTRASPECIFIC VARIATION.
- Trees of Unusual Size: Biased Inference of Early Bursts from Large Molecular Phylogenies. [OA]
The title’s pretty self-explanatory, but I do want to make a general, tangentially-related comment: when teaching bioinformatics or phylogenetics, just how much information can be derived just from the tree’s shape should be emphasised right from the start. It gives students something to anticipate learning about.
- Host Specificity and Population Dynamics of a Sponge-Endosymbiotic Bivalve.
- Mechanisms of Maternal Inheritance of Dinoflagellate Symbionts in the Acoelomorph Worm Waminoa litus.
Very interesting stuff, about the non-parasitic transmission of symbionts through eggs. I found it surprising because as an entomologist, I’m used to Wolbachia, which transmits itself maternally by feminising or killing males, not in a benign way like what’s evolved in this acoelomorph and its algal symbionts.
- Reproduction, development, growth, and the length of larval life of Phascolosoma turnerae, a wood-dwelling deep-sea sipunculan.
The communities living in woody detritus in the deep sea are quite fascinating, because it’s such a unique habitat.
- Host-specific morphologies but no host races in the commensal bivalve Neaeromya rugifera.
- Evidence that glucose is the major transferred metabolite in dinoflagellate–cnidarian symbiosis.
The symbiosis of zooxanthellates and corals is one of the best examples of mutualism, with the coral providing a habitat and the zooxanthellate giving the coral a competitive advantage in shallow, photic waters by providing the coral photosynthetic products as food. This paper finds that the food is glucose.
- Light and vision in the deep-sea benthos: I. Bioluminescence at 500–1000 m depth in the Bahamian Islands.
See this post for more on bioluminescence in the deep sea.
Very interesting review and milestone paper on the effect of “personality” (in quotes because I may be the only one who characterises individual differences as personalities), in an eco-evo context.
- A Distinct Role of the Queen in Coordinated Workload and Soil Distribution in Eusocial Naked Mole-Rats. [OA]
The most adorably disgusting vertebrates, but also by far the most interesting, since they’re the only eusocial ones (EO Wilson’s redefinition of eusociality in The Social Conquest nonwithstanding). I like to read studies about them to see what features are caused by eusociality – comparing ants and termites isn’t very general (they may be widely apart on the insect tree, but they’re still both insects), so if something is found in ants, termites, and naked mole rats, it’s very likely that it’s a eusociality-caused characteristic.