Removing the threat of diclofenac to critically endangered Asian vultures.
Veterinary use of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug diclofenac in South Asia has resulted in the collapse of populations of three vulture species of the genus Gyps to the most severe category of global extinction risk. Vultures are exposed to diclofenac when scavenging on livestock treated with the drug shortly before death. Diclofenac causes kidney damage, increased serum uric acid concentrations, visceral gout, and death. Concern about this issue led the Indian Government to announce its intention to ban the veterinary use of diclofenac by September 2005. Implementation of a ban is still in progress late in 2005, and to facilitate this we sought potential alternative NSAIDs by obtaining information from captive bird collections worldwide. We found that the NSAID meloxicam had been administered to 35 captive Gyps vultures with no apparent ill effects. We then undertook a phased programme of safety testing of meloxicam on the African white-backed vulture Gyps africanus, which we had previously established to be as susceptible to diclofenac poisoning as the endangered Asian Gyps vultures. We estimated the likely maximum level of exposure (MLE) of wild vultures and dosed birds by gavage (oral administration) with increasing quantities of the drug until the likely MLE was exceeded in a sample of 40 G. africanus. Subsequently, six G. africanus were fed tissues from cattle which had been treated with a higher than standard veterinary course of meloxicam prior to death. In the final phase, ten Asian vultures of two of the endangered species (Gyps bengalensis, Gyps indicus) were dosed with meloxicam by gavage; five of them at more than the likely MLE dosage. All meloxicam-treated birds survived all treatments, and none suffered any obvious clinical effects. Serum uric acid concentrations remained within the normal limits throughout, and were significantly lower than those from birds treated with diclofenac in other studies. We conclude that meloxicam is of low toxicity to Gyps vultures and that its use in place of diclofenac would reduce vulture mortality substantially in the Indian subcontinent. Meloxicam is already available for veterinary use in India. (+info)
Tracking ancient polyploids: a retroposon insertion reveals an extinct diploid ancestor in the polyploid origin of belladonna.
Polyploidy is a prominent process in plant evolution and adaptation, but molecular phylogenetic studies of polyploids based on DNA sequences have often been confounded by their complex gene and genome histories. We report here a retroposon insertion in the nuclear gene granule-bound starch synthase I (GBSSI or "waxy") that clearly reveals the ancient hybrid history of the medically important polyploid species belladonna (Atropa belladonna) and resolves the controversy over the taxonomic group to which it belongs, the tribe Hyoscyameae (Solanaceae). Our inferences based on the pattern of presence or absence of the retroposon insertion are corroborated by phylogenetic analyses of the GBSSI gene sequences. This case may suggest that retroposons are promising molecular markers to study polyploid evolution. (+info)
Negative environmental perturbations may improve species persistence.
Among the factors proximally involved in the extinction of small isolated populations, genetic deterioration and temporal variation in environmental quality have been the subjects of intensive research in ecological and evolutionary sciences. However, previous theoretical studies and population viability assessments generally assumed a strict dichotomy between these two types of threat. Yet a number of empirical studies have recently suggested that the effects of genetic deterioration and environmental variation should not be considered independently, by demonstrating that the main effect of inbreeding depression lies with its tendency to exacerbate the deleterious consequences of environmental stress. Capitalizing on these results, I developed a stochastic model to examine the impact of random environmental perturbations on the persistence time of small isolated populations subject to inbreeding depression and mutation accumulation. The model assumes that spontaneous deleterious mutations have more severe effects when perturbations occur, which results in more efficient purging of the mutation load. Under this assumption, I find that negative perturbations may paradoxically improve middle- and long-term species persistence for realistic frequency of occurrence and severity distribution. (+info)
Invasion of an asexual American water flea clone throughout Africa and rapid displacement of a native sibling species.
The huge ecological and economic impact of biological invasions creates an urgent need for knowledge of traits that make invading species successful and factors helping indigenous populations to resist displacement by invading species or genotypes. High genetic diversity is generally considered to be advantageous in both processes. Combined with sex, it allows rapid evolution and adaptation to changing environments. We combined paleogenetic analysis with continent-wide survey of genetic diversity at nuclear and mitochondrial loci to reconstruct the invasion history of a single asexual American water flea clone (hybrid Daphnia pulexxDaphnia pulicaria) in Africa. Within 60 years of the original introduction of this invader, it displaced the genetically diverse, sexual population of native D. pulex in Lake Naivasha (Kenya), despite a formidable numerical advantage of the local population and continuous replenishment from a large dormant egg bank. Currently, the invading clone has spread throughout the range of native African D. pulex, where it appears to be the only occurring genotype. The absence of genetic variation did not hamper either the continent-wide establishment of this exotic lineage or the effective displacement of an indigenous and genetically diverse sibling species. (+info)
Climate change and the demographic demise of a hoarding bird living on the edge.
Population declines along the lower-latitude edge of a species' range may be diagnostic of climate change. We report evidence that climate change has contributed to deteriorating reproductive success in a rapidly declining population of the grey jay (Perisoreus canadensis) at the southern edge of its range. This non-migratory bird of boreal and subalpine forest lives on permanent territories, where it hoards enormous amounts of food for winter and then breeds very early, under still-wintry conditions. We hypothesized that warmer autumns have increased the perishability of hoards and compromised subsequent breeding attempts. Our analysis confirmed that warm autumns, especially when followed by cold late winters, have led to delayed breeding and reduced reproductive success. Our findings uniquely show that weather months before the breeding season impact the timing and success of breeding. Warm autumns apparently represent hostile conditions for this species, because it relies on cold storage. Our study population may be especially vulnerable, because it is situated at the southern edge of the range, where the potential for hoard rot is most pronounced. This population's demise may signal a climate-driven range contraction through local extinctions along the trailing edge. (+info)
Metapopulation extinction risk is increased by environmental stochasticity and assemblage complexity.
Extinction risk is a key area of investigation for contemporary ecologists and conservation biologists. Practical conservation efforts for vulnerable species can be considerably enhanced by thoroughly understanding the ecological processes that interact to determine species persistence or extinction. Theory has highlighted the importance of both extrinsic environmental factors and intrinsic demographic processes. In laboratory microcosms, single-species single-habitat patch experimental designs have been widely used to validate the theoretical prediction that environmental heterogeneity can increase extinction risk. Here, we develop on this theme by testing the effects of fluctuating resource levels in experimental multispecies metapopulations. We compare a three-species host-parasitoid assemblage that exhibits apparent competition to the individual pairwise, host-parasitoid interactions. Existing theory is broadly supported for two-species assemblages: environmental stochasticity reduces trophic interaction persistence time, while metapopulation structure increases persistence time. However, with increasing assemblage complexity, the effects of trophic interactions mask environmental impacts and persistence time is further reduced, regardless of resource renewal regime. We relate our findings to recent theory, highlighting the importance of taking into account both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, over a range of spatial scales, in order to understand resource-consumer dynamics. (+info)
Morphological and molecular phylogenetic context of the angiosperms: contrasting the 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' approaches used to infer the likely characteristics of the first flowers.
Recent attempts to address the long-debated 'origin' of the angiosperms depend on a phylogenetic framework derived from a matrix of taxa versus characters; most assume that empirical rigour is proportional to the size of the matrix. Sequence-based genotypic approaches increase the number of characters (nucleotides and indels) in the matrix but are confined to the highly restricted spectrum of extant species, whereas morphology-based approaches increase the number of phylogenetically informative taxa (including fossils) at the expense of accessing only a restricted spectrum of phenotypic characters. The two approaches are currently delivering strongly contrasting hypotheses of relationship. Most molecular studies indicate that all extant gymnosperms form a natural group, suggesting surprisingly early divergence of the lineage that led to angiosperms, whereas morphology-only phylogenies indicate that a succession of (mostly extinct) gymnosperms preceded a later angiosperm origin. Causes of this conflict include: (i) the vast phenotypic and genotypic lacuna, largely reflecting pre-Cenozoic extinctions, that separates early-divergent living angiosperms from their closest relatives among the living gymnosperms; (ii) profound uncertainty regarding which (a) extant and (b) extinct angiosperms are most closely related to gymnosperms; and (iii) profound uncertainty regarding which (a) extant and (b) extinct gymnosperms are most closely related to angiosperms, and thus best serve as 'outgroups' dictating the perceived evolutionary polarity of character transitions among the early-divergent angiosperms. These factors still permit a remarkable range of contrasting, yet credible, hypotheses regarding the order of acquisition of the many phenotypic characters, reproductive and vegetative, that distinguish 'classic' angiospermy from 'classic' gymnospermy. The flower remains ill-defined and its mode (or modes) of origin remains hotly disputed; some definitions and hypotheses of evolutionary relationships preclude a role for the flower in delimiting the angiosperms. We advocate maintenance of parallel, reciprocally illuminating programmes of morphological and molecular phylogeny reconstruction, respectively supported by homology testing through additional taxa (especially fossils) and evolutionary-developmental genetic studies that explore genes potentially responsible for major phenotypic transitions. (+info)
Abundance distributions imply elevated complexity of post-Paleozoic marine ecosystems.
Likelihood analyses of 1176 fossil assemblages of marine organisms from Phanerozoic (i.e., Cambrian to Recent) assemblages indicate a shift in typical relative-abundance distributions after the Paleozoic. Ecological theory associated with these abundance distributions implies that complex ecosystems are far more common among Meso-Cenozoic assemblages than among the Paleozoic assemblages that preceded them. This transition coincides not with any major change in the way fossils are preserved or collected but with a shift from communities dominated by sessile epifaunal suspension feeders to communities with elevated diversities of mobile and infaunal taxa. This suggests that the end-Permian extinction permanently altered prevailing marine ecosystem structure and precipitated high levels of ecological complexity and alpha diversity in the Meso-Cenozoic. (+info)