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    ABSTRACT: Individual variation in nutritional status has direct implications for fitness and thus is crucial in shaping patterns of life-history variation. Nevertheless, it is difficult to measure in natural populations, especially in humans. Here, we used longitudinal data on individual life-histories and annual crop yield variation collected from pre-industrial Finnish populations experiencing natural mortality and fertility to test the validity of first birth interval (FBI; time between marriage and first birth) as a surrogate measure of nutritional status. We evaluated whether women with different socio-economic groups differ in length of FBI, whether women of poorer socio-economic status and experiencing lower crop yields conceive slower following marriage, and whether shorter FBI is associated with higher lifetime breeding success. We found that poorer women had longer FBI and reduced probability of giving birth in months with low food availability, while the FBI of richer women was not affected by variation in food availability. Women with shorter FBI achieved higher lifetime breeding success and a faster reproductive rate. This is, to our knowledge, the first study to show a direct relationship between environmental conditions and speed of childbirth following marriage, highlighting the value of FBI as an indicator of nutritional status when direct data are lacking.
    Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 01/2014; 281(1775):20132319.
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    ABSTRACT: Soil is the vital foundation of terrestrial ecosystems storing water, nutrients, and almost three-quarters of the organic carbon stocks of the Earth's biomes. Soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks vary with land-cover and land-use change, with significant losses occurring through disturbance and cultivation. Although urbanisation is a growing contributor to land-use change globally, the effects of urban land-cover types on SOC stocks have not been studied for densely built cities. Additionally, there is a need to resolve the direction and extent to which greenspace management such as tree planting impacts on SOC concentrations. Here, we analyse the effect of land-cover (herbaceous, shrub or tree cover), on SOC stocks in domestic gardens and non-domestic greenspaces across a typical mid-sized U.K. city (Leicester, 73km(2), 56% greenspace), and map citywide distribution of this ecosystem service. SOC was measured in topsoil and compared to surrounding extra-urban agricultural land. Average SOC storage in the city's greenspace was 9.9kgm(-2), to 21cm depth. SOC concentrations under trees and shrubs in domestic gardens were greater than all other land-covers, with total median storage of 13.5kgm(-2) to 21cm depth, more than 3kgm(-2) greater than any other land-cover class in domestic and non-domestic greenspace and 5kgm(-2) greater than in arable land. Land-cover did not significantly affect SOC concentrations in non-domestic greenspace, but values beneath trees were higher than under both pasture and arable land, whereas concentrations under shrub and herbaceous land-covers were only higher than arable fields. We conclude that although differences in greenspace management affect SOC stocks, trees only marginally increase these stocks in non-domestic greenspaces, but may enhance them in domestic gardens, and greenspace topsoils hold substantial SOC stores that require protection from further expansion of artificial surfaces e.g. patios and driveways.
    Science of The Total Environment 12/2013; 472C:444-453.
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    ABSTRACT: Many questions in evolutionary biology require an estimate of divergence times but, for groups with a sparse fossil record, such estimates rely heavily on molecular dating methods. The accuracy of these methods depends on both an adequate underlying model and the appropriate implementation of fossil evidence as calibration points. We explore the effect of these in Poaceae (grasses), a diverse plant lineage with a very limited fossil record, focusing particularly on dating the early divergences in the group. We show that molecular dating based on a dataset of plastid markers is strongly dependent on the model assumptions. In particular, an acceleration of evolutionary rates at the base of Poaceae followed by a deceleration in the descendants strongly biases methods that assume an autocorrelation of rates. This problem can be circumvented by using markers that have lower rate variation, and we show that phylogenetic markers extracted from complete nuclear genomes can be a useful complement to the more commonly used plastid markers. However, estimates of divergence times remain strongly affected by different implementations of fossil calibration points. Analyses calibrated with only macrofossils lead to estimates for the age of core Poaceae around 51-55 Ma, but the inclusion of microfossil evidence pushes this age to 74-82 Ma and leads to lower estimated evolutionary rates in grasses. These results emphasize the importance of considering markers from multiple genomes and alternative fossil placements when addressing evolutionary issues that depend on ages estimated for important groups.
    Systematic Biology 11/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: 1. In order to understand how changes in individual performance (growth, survival or reproduction) influence population dynamics and evolution, ecologists are increasingly using parameterised mathematical models. 2. For continuously structured populations, where some continuous measure of individual state influences growth, survival or reproduction, integral projection models (IPMs) are commonly used. 3. We provide a detailed description of the steps involved in constructing an IPM, explaining how to: 1) translate your study system into an IPM; 2) implement your IPM; and 3) diagnose potential problems with your IPM. We emphasize how the study organism's life cycle, and the timing of censuses, together determine the structure of the IPM kernel and important aspects of the statistical analysis used to parameterise an IPM using data on marked individuals. 4. An IPM based on population studies of Soay sheep is used to illustrate the complete process of constructing, implementing, and evaluating an IPM fitted to sample data. 5. We then look at very general approaches to parameterising an IPM, using a wide range of statistical techniques (e.g. maximum likelihood methods, generalized additive models, nonparametric kernel density estimators). Methods for selecting models for parameterising IPMs are briefly discussed. 6. We conclude with key recommendations and a brief overview of applications that extend the basic model. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Journal of Animal Ecology 11/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: New World livebearing fishes (family Poeciliidae) have repeatedly colonised toxic, hydrogen sulphide-rich waters across their natural distribution. Physiological considerations and life-history theory predict that these adverse conditions should favour the evolution of larger offspring. Here, we examined nine poeciliid species that independently colonised toxic environments, and show that these fishes have indeed repeatedly evolved much larger offspring size at birth in sulphidic waters, thus uncovering a widespread pattern of predictable evolution. However, a second pattern, only indirectly predicted by theory, proved additionally common: a reduction in the number of offspring carried per clutch (i.e. lower fecundity). Our analyses reveal that this secondary pattern represents a mere consequence of a classic life-history trade-off combined with strong selection on offspring size alone. With such strong natural selection in extreme environments, extremophile organisms may commonly exhibit multivariate phenotypic shifts even though not all diverging traits necessarily represent adaptations to the extreme conditions.
    Ecology Letters 11/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: During the diversification of living organisms, novel adaptive traits usually evolve through the co-option of pre-existing genes. However, most enzymes are encoded by gene families, whose members vary in their expression and catalytic properties. Each may therefore differ in its suitability for recruitment into a novel function. In this work, we test for the presence of such a gene recruitment bias using the example of C4 photosynthesis, a complex trait that evolved recurrently in flowering plants as a response to atmospheric CO2 depletion. We combined the analysis of complete nuclear genomes and high-throughput transcriptome data for three grass species that evolved the C4 trait independently. For five of the seven enzymes analysed, the same gene lineage was recruited across the independent C4 origins, despite the existence of multiple copies. The analysis of a closely related C3 grass confirmed that C4 expression patterns were not present in the C3 ancestors, but were acquired during the evolutionary transition to C4 photosynthesis. The significant bias in gene recruitment indicates that some genes are more suitable for a novel function, probably because the mutations they accumulated brought them closer to the characteristics required for the new function.
    Genome Biology and Evolution 10/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: "Living stones" (Lithops spp.) display some of the most extreme morphological and physiological adaptations in the plant kingdom to tolerate the xeric environments in which they grow. The physiological mechanisms that optimise the photosynthetic processes of Lithops spp. while minimising transpirational water loss in both above- and below-ground tissues remain unclear. Our experiments have shown unique simultaneous high-light and shade-tolerant adaptations within individual leaves of Lithops aucampiae. Leaf windows on the upper surfaces of the plant allow sunlight to penetrate to photosynthetic tissues within while sunlight-blocking flavonoid accumulation limits incoming solar radiation and aids screening of harmful UV radiation. Increased concentration of chlorophyll a and greater chlorophyll a∶b in above-ground regions of leaves enable maximum photosynthetic use of incoming light, while inverted conical epidermal cells, increased chlorophyll b, and reduced chlorophyll a∶b ensure maximum absorption and use of low light levels within the below-ground region of the leaf. High NPQ capacity affords physiological flexibility under variable natural light conditions. Our findings demonstrate unprecedented physiological flexibility in a xerophyte and further our understanding of plant responses and adaptations to extreme environments.
    PLoS ONE 10/2013; 8(10):e75671.
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    ABSTRACT: Expansins have long been implicated in the control of cell wall extensibility. However, despite ample evidence supporting a role for these proteins in the endogenous mechanism of plant growth, there are also examples in the literature where the outcome of altered expansin gene expression is difficult to reconcile with a simplistic causal linkage to growth promotion. To investigate this problem, we report on the analysis of transgenic Arabidopsis plants in which a heterologous cucumber expansin can be inducibly overexpressed. Our results indicate that the effects of expansin expression on growth depend on the degree of induction of expansin expression and the developmental pattern of organ growth. They support the role of expansin in directional cell expansion. They are also consistent with the idea that excess expansin might itself impede normal activities of cell wall modifications, culminating in both growth promotion and repression depending on the degree of expression.
    Journal of plant physiology 10/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: The causal relationship between cell division and growth in plants is complex. Although altered expression of cell cycle genes frequently leads to altered organ growth, there are many examples where manipulation of the division machinery leads to a limited outcome at the level of organ form, despite changes in constituent cell size. One possibility, which has been under-explored, is that altered division patterns resulting from manipulation of cell cycle gene expression alter the physiology of the organ and that this has an effect on growth. Here we report on a series of experiments focused on retinoblastoma-related protein (RBR), a well characterized regulator of the cell cycle, to investigate the outcome of altered cell division on leaf physiology. Our approach involved the combination of high-resolution microCT imaging and physiological analysis coupled with a transient gene induction system, providing a powerful approach for the study of developmental physiology. Our investigation identifies a new role for RBR in mesophyll differentiation which impinges on tissue porosity and the distribution of air space within the leaf. The data demonstrate the importance of RBR in early leaf development and the extent to which physiology can accommodate to modified cellular architecture resulting from altered cell cycle gene expression. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    The Plant Journal 10/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: Telomere length and the rate of telomere attrition vary between individuals and have been interpreted as the rate at which individuals have aged. The biology of telomeres dictates shortening with age, although telomere elongation with age has repeatedly been observed within a minority of individuals in several populations. These findings have been attributed to error, rather than actual telomere elongation, restricting our understanding of its possible biological significance. Here we present a method to distinguish between error and telomere elongation in longitudinal datasets, which is easy to apply and has few assumptions. Using simulations, we show that the method has considerable statistical power (>80 %) to detect even a small proportion (6.7 %) of TL increases in the population, within a relatively small sample (N = 200), while maintaining the standard level of Type I error rate (α ≤ 0.05).
    Biogerontology 10/2013;
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