staff

Adrien Debry

Research assistant in Artificial & Natural Evolution

  • T: +41 22 379 69 02
  • office 4013a (Sciences III)
  • Phylogenetic mapping of scale nanostructure diversity in snakes. BMC Evolutionary Biology2019 19:91 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-019-1411-6

    abstract

    Background. Many species of snakes exhibit epidermal surface nanostructures that form complex motifs conferring self-cleaning properties, and sometimes structural iridescence, to their skin. Results. Using confocal microscopy, we show that these specialised cells can be greatly elongated along their left-right axis and that different types of nanostructures are generated by cell borders and cell surface. To characterise the complexity and diversity of these surface gratings, we analysed scanning electron microscopy images of skin sheds from 353 species spanning 19 of the 26 families of snakes and characterised the observed nanostructures with four characters. The full character matrix, as well as one representative SEM image of each of the corresponding species, is available as a MySQL relational database at https://snake-nanogratings.lanevol.org. We then performed continuous-time Markov phylogenetic mapping on the snake phylogeny, providing an evolutionary dynamical estimate for the different types of nanostructures. These analyses suggest that the presence of cell border digitations is the ancestral state for snake skin nanostructures which was subsequently and independently lost in multiple lineages. Our analyses also indicate that cell shape and cell border shape are co-dependent characters whereas we did not find correlation between a simple life habit classification and any specific nanomorphological character. Conclusions. These results, compatible with the fact that multiple types of nanostructures can generate hydrophobicity, suggest that the diversity and complexity of snake skin surface nano-morphology are dominated by phylogenetic rather than habitat-specific functional constraints. The present descriptive study opens the perspective of investigating the cellular self-organisational cytoskeletal processes controlling the patterning of different skin surface nanostructures in snakes and lizards.

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  • Phylogeography and support vector machine classification of colour variation in panther chameleons. Mol. Ecol. 2015 Jul;24(13):3455-66. 10.1111/mec.13241. PMC4755148.

    abstract

    Lizards and snakes exhibit colour variation of adaptive value for thermoregulation, camouflage, predator avoidance, sexual selection and speciation. Furcifer pardalis, the panther chameleon, is one of the most spectacular reptilian endemic species in Madagascar, with pronounced sexual dimorphism and exceptionally large intraspecific variation in male coloration. We perform here an integrative analysis of molecular phylogeography and colour variation after collecting high-resolution colour photographs and blood samples from 324 F. pardalis individuals in locations spanning the whole species distribution. First, mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence analyses uncover strong genetic structure among geographically restricted haplogroups, revealing limited gene flow among populations. Bayesian coalescent modelling suggests that most of the mitochondrial haplogroups could be considered as separate species. Second, using a supervised multiclass support vector machine approach on five anatomical components, we identify patterns in 3D colour space that efficiently predict assignment of male individuals to mitochondrial haplogroups. We converted the results of this analysis into a simple visual classification key that can assist trade managers to avoid local population overharvesting.

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  • Crocodile head scales are not developmental units but emerge from physical cracking. Science 2013 Jan;339(6115):78-81. science.1226265. 10.1126/science.1226265.

    abstract

    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 (RDMs). 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 RDMs: 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.

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