BACKGROUND: Colour traits in animals play critical roles in thermoregulation, photoprotection, camouflage, and visual communication and are amenable to objective quantification and modelling. However, the extensive variation in non-melanic pigments and structural colours in squamate reptiles has been largely disregarded. Here, we use an integrated approach to investigate the morphological basis and physical mechanisms generating variation in colour traits in tropical day geckos of the genus Phelsuma. RESULTS: Combining histology, optics, mass spectrometry, as well as UV and Raman spectroscopy, we show that the extensive variation in colour patterns observed within and among Phelsuma species is generated by complex interactions between, on the one hand, chromatophores containing yellow/red pteridine pigments and, on the other hand, iridophores producing structural colour by constructive interference of light with guanine nanocrystals. More specifically, we show that (i) the hue of the vivid dorso-lateral skin is modulated both by variation in geometry of structural highly-ordered narrowband reflectors and by the presence of yellow pigments, and (ii) the reflectivity of the white belly, as well as of dorso-lateral pigmentary red marks, is increased by underlying structural disorganised broadband reflectors. Most importantly, these interactions require precise co-localisation of yellow and red chromatophores with different types of iridophores, characterised by ordered and disordered nanocrystals, respectively. We validated these results through numerical simulations combining pigmentary components with a multilayer interferential optical model. Finally, we show that melanophores form dark lateral patterns but do not significantly contribute to variation in blue/green or red coloration, and that changes in the pH- or redox-state of pigments provide yet an additional source of colour variation in squamates. CONCLUSIONS: Precisely co-localised interacting pigmentary and structural elements generate extensive variation in lizard colour patterns. Our results indicate the need to identify the developmental mechanisms responsible for the control of nanocrystals size, shape and orientation, as well as the superposition of specific chromatophore types. This study opens up new perspectives for Phelsuma lizards as models in evolutionary developmental biology.
School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne CH-1015, Switzerland.
Hox genes are required for the development of the intestinal cecum, a major organ of plant-eating species. We have analyzed the transcriptional regulation of Hoxd genes in cecal buds and show that they are controlled by a series of enhancers located in a gene desert flanking the HoxD cluster. The start site of two opposite long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), Hotdog and Twin of Hotdog, selectively contacts the expressed Hoxd genes in the framework of a topological domain, coinciding with robust transcription of these genes during cecum budding. Both lncRNAs are specifically transcribed in the cecum, albeit bearing no detectable function in trans. Hedgehogs have kept this regulatory potential despite the absence of the cecum, suggesting that these mechanisms are used in other developmental situations. In this context, we discuss the implementation of a common "budding toolkit" between the cecum and the limbs.
BACKGROUND: During their evolution towards a complete life cycle on land, stem reptiles developed both an impermeable multi-layered keratinized epidermis and skin appendages (scales) providing mechanical, thermal, and chemical protection. Previous studies have demonstrated that, despite the presence of a particularly armored skin, crocodylians have exquisite mechanosensory abilities thanks to the presence of small integumentary sensory organs (ISOs) distributed on postcranial and/or cranial scales. RESULTS: Here, we analyze and compare the structure, innervation, embryonic morphogenesis and sensory functions of postcranial, cranial, and lingual sensory organs of the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) and the spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus). Our molecular analyses indicate that sensory neurons of crocodylian ISOs express a large repertoire of transduction channels involved in mechano-, thermo-, and chemosensory functions, and our electrophysiological analyses confirm that each ISO exhibits a combined sensitivity to mechanical, thermal and pH stimuli (but not hyper-osmotic salinity), making them remarkable multi-sensorial micro-organs with no equivalent in the sensory systems of other vertebrate lineages. We also show that ISOs all exhibit similar morphologies and modes of development, despite forming at different stages of scale morphogenesis across the body. CONCLUSIONS: The ancestral vertebrate diffused sensory system of the skin was transformed in the crocodylian lineages into an array of scattered discrete multi-sensory micro-organs innervated by multiple pools of sensory neurons. This discretization of skin sensory expression sites is unique among vertebrates and allowed crocodylians to develop a highly-armored, but very sensitive, skin.
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing St., Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, United Kingdom. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consensus on placental mammal phylogeny is fairly recent compared to that for vertebrates as a whole. A stable phylogenetic hypothesis enables investigation into the possibility that placental clades differ from one another in terms of their development. Here, we focus on the sequence of skeletal ossification as a possible source of developmental distinctiveness in "northern" (Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires) versus "southern" (Afrotheria and Xenarthra) placental clades. We contribute data on cranial and postcranial ossification events during growth in Afrotheria, including elephants, hyraxes, golden moles, tenrecs, sengis, and aardvarks. We use three different techniques to quantify sequence heterochrony: continuous method, sequence-ANOVA (analysis of variance) and event-paring/Parsimov. We show that afrotherians significantly differ from other placentals by an early ossification of the orbitosphenoid and caudal vertebrae. Our analysis also suggests that both southern placental groups show a greater degree of developmental variability; however, they rarely seem to vary in the same direction, especially regarding the shifts that differ statistically. The latter observation is inconsistent with the Atlantogenata hypothesis in which afrotherians are considered as the sister clade of xenarthrans. Interestingly, ancestral nodes for Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires show very similar trends and our results suggest that developmental homogeneity in some ossification sequences may be restricted to northern placental mammals (Boreoeutheria).
Laboratory of Artificial & Natural Evolution (LANE), Department of Genetics & Evolution, University of Geneva Geneva, Switzerland.
A species of Galapagos tortoise endemic to Espanola Island was reduced to just 12 females and three males that have been bred in captivity since 1971 and have produced over 1700 offspring now repatriated to the island. Our molecular genetic analyses of juveniles repatriated to and surviving on the island indicate that none of the tortoises sampled in 1994 had hatched on the island versus 3% in 2004 and 24% in 2007, which demonstrates substantial and increasing reproduction once again. This recovery occurred despite the parental population having an estimated effective population size <8 due to a combination of unequal reproductive success of the breeders and nonrandom mating in captivity. These results provide guidelines for adapting breeding regimes in the parental captive population and decreasing inbreeding in the repatriated population. Using simple morphological data scored on the sampled animals, we also show that a strongly heterogeneous distribution of tortoise sizes on Espanola Island observed today is due to a large variance in the number of animals included in yearly repatriation events performed in the last 40 years. Our study reveals that, at least in the short run, some endangered species can recover dramatically despite a lack of genetic variation and irregular repatriation efforts.
Laboratory of Artificial & Natural Evolution (LANE), Department of Genetics & Evolution, University of Geneva, Sciences III, Geneva, Switzerland.
The vomeronasal organ (VNO) is an olfactory structure that detects pheromones and environmental cues. It consists of sensory neurons that express evolutionary unrelated groups of transmembrane chemoreceptors. The predominant V1R and V2R receptor repertoires are believed to detect airborne and water-soluble molecules, respectively. It has been suggested that the shift in habitat of early tetrapods from water to land is reflected by an increase in the ratio of V1R/V2R genes. Snakes, which have a very large VNO associated with a sophisticated tongue delivery system, are missing from this analysis. Here, we use RNA-seq and RNA in situ hybridization to study the diversity, evolution, and expression pattern of the corn snake vomeronasal receptor repertoires. Our analyses indicate that snakes and lizards retain an extremely limited number of V1R genes but exhibit a large number of V2R genes, including multiple lineages of reptile-specific and snake-specific expansions. We finally show that the peculiar bigenic pattern of V2R vomeronasal receptor gene transcription observed in mammals is conserved in squamate reptiles, hinting at an important but unknown functional role played by this expression strategy. Our results do not support the hypothesis that the shift to a vomeronasal receptor repertoire dominated by V1Rs in mammals reflects the evolutionary transition of early tetrapods from water to land. This study sheds light on the evolutionary dynamics of the vomeronasal receptor families in vertebrates and reveals how mammals and squamates differentially adapted the same ancestral vomeronasal repertoire to succeed in a terrestrial environment.
Laboratory of Arti fi cial and Natural Evolution (LANE), Department of Genetics and Evolution, University of Geneva, Sciences III, 30, Quai Ernest-Ansermet, 1211 Geneve, Switzerland.
Various lineages of amniotes display keratinized skin appendages (feathers, hairs, and scales) that differentiate in the embryo from genetically controlled developmental units whose spatial organization is patterned by reaction-diffusion mechanisms (RDM). We show that contrary to skin appendages in other amniotes (as well as body scales in crocodiles), face and jaws scales of crocodiles are random polygonal domains of highly keratinized skin, rather than genetically controlled elements, and emerge from a physical self-organizing stochastic process distinct from RDM: cracking of the developing skin in a stress field. We suggest that the rapid growth of the crocodile embryonic facial and jaw skeleton, combined with the development of a very keratinized skin, generates the mechanical stress that causes cracking.
Palaontologisches Institut und Museum, Universitat Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland Institut fur Geowissenschaften, Tubingen, Germany Laboratory of Artificial & Natural Evolution (LANE), Department ...
Studies of evolutionary developmental biology commonly use 'model organisms' such as fruit flies or mice, and questions are often functional or epigenetic. Phylogenetic investigations, in contrast, typically use species that are less common and mostly deal with broad scale analyses in the tree of life. However, important evolutionary transformations have taken place at all taxonomic levels, resulting in such diverse forms as elephants and shrews. To understand the mechanisms underlying morphological diversification, broader sampling and comparative approaches are paramount. Using a simple, standardized protocol, we describe for the first time the development of soft tissues and some parts of the skeleton, using muCT-imaging of developmental series of Echinops telfairi and Tenrec ecaudatus, two tenrecid afrotherian mammals. The developmental timing of soft tissue and skeletal characters described for the tenrecids is briefly compared with that of other mammals, including mouse, echidna, and the opossum. We found relatively few heterochronic differences in development in the armadillo vs. tenrec, consistent with a close relationship of Xenarthra and Afrotheria. Ossification in T. ecaudatus continues well into the second half of overall gestation, resembling the pattern seen in other small mammals and differing markedly from the advanced state of ossification evident early in the gestation of elephants, sheep, and humans.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Reptiles are largely under-represented in comparative genomics despite the fact that they are substantially more diverse in many respects than mammals. Given the high divergence of reptiles from classical model species, next-generation sequencing of their transcriptomes is an approach of choice for gene identification and annotation. RESULTS: Here, we use 454 technology to sequence the brain transcriptome of four divergent reptilian and one reference avian species: the Nile crocodile, the corn snake, the bearded dragon, the red-eared turtle, and the chicken. Using an in-house pipeline for recursive similarity searches of >3,000,000 reads against multiple databases from 7 reference vertebrates, we compile a reptilian comparative transcriptomics dataset, with homology assignment for 20,000 to 31,000 transcripts per species and a cumulated non-redundant sequence length of 248.6 Mbases. Our approach identifies the majority (87%) of chicken brain transcripts and about 50% of de novo assembled reptilian transcripts. In addition to 57,502 microsatellite loci, we identify thousands of SNP and indel polymorphisms for population genetic and linkage analyses. We also build very large multiple alignments for Sauropsida and mammals (2 millions residues per species) and perform extensive phylogenetic analyses suggesting that turtles are not basal living reptiles but are rather associated with Archosaurians, hence, potentially answering a long-standing question in the phylogeny of Amniotes. CONCLUSIONS: The reptilian transcriptome (freely available at www.reptilian-transcriptomes.org) should prove a useful new resource as reptiles are becoming important new models for comparative genomics, ecology, and evolutionary developmental genetics.
Unit of Evolutionary Biology/Systematic Zoology, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 24-25, Haus 26, D-14476 Potsdam, Germany Langahlieth 9a, IS-60...
Intraspecific brood parasitism (IBP) is a remarkable phenomenon by which parasitic females can increase their reproductive output by laying eggs in conspecific females' nests in addition to incubating eggs in their own nest. Kin selection could explain the tolerance, or even the selective advantage, of IBP, but different models of IBP based on game theory yield contradicting predictions. Our analyses of seven polymorphic autosomal microsatellites in two eider duck colonies indicate that relatedness between host and parasitizing females is significantly higher than the background relatedness within the colony. This result is unlikely to be a by-product of relatives nesting in close vicinity, as nest distance and genetic identity are not correlated. For eider females that had been ring-marked during the decades prior to our study, our analyses indicate that (i) the average age of parasitized females is higher than the age of nonparasitized females, (ii) the percentage of nests with alien eggs increases with the age of nesting females, (iii) the level of IBP increases with the host females' age, and (iv) the number of own eggs in the nest of parasitized females significantly decreases with age. IBP may allow those older females unable to produce as many eggs as they can incubate to gain indirect fitness without impairing their direct fitness: genetically related females specialize in their energy allocation, with young females producing more eggs than they can incubate and entrusting these to their older relatives. Intraspecific brood parasitism in ducks may constitute cooperation among generations of closely related females.