Biological Reviews

Publisher: Cambridge Philosophical Society, Blackwell Publishing


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    Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (Online), Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Biological reviews, Biol. rev
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    Periodical, Internet resource
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    Internet Resource, Journal / Magazine / Newspaper

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Blackwell Publishing

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Publications in this journal

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Obtaining biological and spatial information of the early life history (ELH) phases of fishes has been problematic, such that larval and juvenile phases are often referred to as the ‘black box’ of fish population biology and ecology. However, a potent source of life- history data has been mined from the earstones (otoliths) of bony fishes. We systematically reviewed 476 empirical papers published between 2005 and 2012 (inclusive) that used otoliths to examine fish ELH stages, which has been an area of increasing attention over this period. We found that otolith-based research during this period could be split into two broad themes according to whether studies examined: (1) biological objectives related to intrinsic processes such as larval and juvenile age, growth and mortality, and/or (2) spatial objectives, such as habitat use, dispersal and migration. Surprisingly, just 24 studies (5%) explored a combined biological–spatial objective by simultaneously exploiting biological and spatial information from otoliths, suggesting much more scope for such integrated research objectives to be answered via the use of multiple otolith-based techniques in a single study. Mapping otolith analytical techniques across these two approaches revealed that otolith structural analysis was mainly used to investigate biological processes, while otolith chemical analyses were most often applied to spatial questions. Heavy skew in research effort was apparent across biomes, with most (62%) publications specific to marine species, despite comparable levels of species richness and the importance of freshwater taxa (just 15% of papers). Indeed, around 1% (380 species) of a possible 31,400+ extant species were examined in our surveyed papers, with a strong emphasis on temperate marine species of commercial value. Potential model species for otolith-based ELH ecology research are arising, with the eel genus Anguilla (24 studies) and the European anchovy Engraulis encrasicolis (14 studies) attracting more research effort than most other taxa. While there is a preponderance of common techniques (e.g. daily otolith increment counts, increment widths), novel techniques such as transgenerational marking and computed X-ray tomography, are increasingly being applied in published studies. The application of an integrative approach based on a combination of emerging techniques and traditional methods holds promise for major advances in our understanding of ELH fish ecology and to shine light into the ‘black box’ of fish ecology.
    Biological Reviews 01/2015; in press.
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    ABSTRACT: The hair follicle (HF) represents a prototypic ectodermal–mesodermal interaction system in which central questions of modern biology can be studied. A unique feature of these stem-cell-rich mini-organs is that they undergo life-long, cyclic transformations between stages of active regeneration (anagen), apoptotic involution (catagen), and relative proliferative quiescence (telogen). Due to the low proliferation rate and small size of the HF during telogen, this stage was conventionally thought of as a stage of dormancy. However, multiple lines of newly emerging evidence show that HFs during telogen are anything but dormant. Here, we emphasize that telogen is a highly energy-efficient default state of the mammalian coat, whose function centres around maintenance of the hair fibre and prompt responses to its loss. While actively retaining hair fibres with minimal energy expenditure, telogen HFs can launch a new regeneration cycle in response to a variety of stimuli originating in their autonomous micro-environment (including its stem cell niche) as well as in their external tissue macro-environment. Regenerative responses of telogen HFs change as a function of time and can be divided into two sub-stages: early ‘refractory’ and late ‘competent’ telogen. These changing activities are reflected in hundreds of dynamically regulated genes in telogen skin, possibly aimed at establishing a fast response-signalling environment to trauma and other disturbances of skin homeostasis. Furthermore, telogen is an interpreter of circadian output in the timing of anagen initiation and the key stage during which the subsequent organ regeneration (anagen) is actively prepared by suppressing molecular brakes on hair growth while activating pro-regenerative signals. Thus, telogen may serve as an excellent model system for dissecting signalling and cellular interactions that precede the active ‘regenerative mode’ of tissue remodeling. This revised understanding of telogen biology also points to intriguing new therapeutic avenues in the management of common human hair growth disorders.
    Biological Reviews 11/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: The nymphal stages of Palaeozoic insects differ significantly in morphology from those of their modern counterparts. Morphological details for some previously reported species have recently been called into question. Palaeozoic insect nymphs are important, however – their study could provide key insights into the evolution of wings, and complete metamorphosis. Here we review past work on these topics and juvenile insects in the fossil record, and then present both novel and previously described nymphs, documented using new imaging methods. Our results demonstrate that some Carboniferous nymphs – those of Palaeodictyopteroidea – possessed movable wing pads and appear to have been able to perform simple flapping flight. It remains unclear whether this feature is ancestral for Pterygota or an autapomorphy of Palaeodictyopteroidea. Further characters of nymphal development which were probably in the ground pattern of Pterygota can be reconstructed. Wing development was very gradual (archimetaboly). Wing pads did not protrude from the tergum postero-laterally as in most modern nymphs, but laterally, and had well-developed venation. The modern orientation of wing pads and the delay of wing development into later developmental stages (condensation) appears to have evolved several times independently within Pterygota: in Ephemeroptera, Odonatoptera, Eumetabola, and probably several times within Polyneoptera. Selective pressure appears to have favoured a more pronounced metamorphosis between the last nymphal and adult stage, ultimately reducing exploitation competition between the two. We caution, however, that the results presented herein remain preliminary, and the reconstructed evolutionary scenario contains gaps and uncertainties. Additional comparative data need to be collected. The present study is thus seen as a starting point for this enterprise.
    Biological Reviews 11/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Amniote vertebrates, the group consisting of mammals and reptiles including birds, possess various mechanisms of sex determination. Under environmental sex determination (ESD), the sex of individuals depends on the environmental conditions occurring during their development and therefore there are no sexual differences present in their genotypes. Alternatively, through the mode of genotypic sex determination (GSD), sex is determined by a sex-specific genotype, i.e. by the combination of sex chromosomes at various stages of differentiation at conception. As well as influencing sex determination, sex-specific parts of genomes may, and often do, develop specific reproductive or ecological roles in their bearers. Accordingly, an individual with a mismatch between phenotypic (gonadal) and genotypic sex, for example an individual sex-reversed by environmental effects, should have a lower fitness due to the lack of specialized, sex-specific parts of their genome. In this case, evolutionary transitions from GSD to ESD should be less likely than transitions in the opposite direction. This prediction contrasts with the view that GSD was the ancestral sex-determining mechanism for amniote vertebrates. Ancestral GSD would require several transitions from GSD to ESD associated with an independent dedifferentiation of sex chromosomes, at least in the ancestors of crocodiles, turtles, and lepidosaurs (tuataras and squamate reptiles). In this review, we argue that the alternative theory postulating ESD as ancestral in amniotes is more parsimonious and is largely concordant with the theoretical expectations and current knowledge of the phylogenetic distribution and homology of sex-determining mechanisms.
    Biological Reviews 10/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Throughout the evolutionary history of life, only three vertebrate lineages took to the air by acquiring a body plan suitable for powered flight: birds, bats, and pterosaurs. Because pterosaurs were the earliest vertebrate lineage capable of powered flight and included the largest volant animal in the history of the earth, understanding how they evolved their flight apparatus, the wing, is an important issue in evolutionary biology. Herein, I speculate on the potential basis of pterosaur wing evolution using recent advances in the developmental biology of flying and non-flying vertebrates. The most significant morphological features of pterosaur wings are: (i) a disproportionately elongated fourth finger, and (ii) a wing membrane called the brachiopatagium, which stretches from the posterior surface of the arm and elongated fourth finger to the anterior surface of the leg. At limb-forming stages of pterosaur embryos, the zone of polarizing activity (ZPA) cells, from which the fourth finger eventually differentiates, could up-regulate, restrict, and prolong expression of 5′-located Homeobox D (Hoxd) genes (e.g. Hoxd11, Hoxd12, and Hoxd13) around the ZPA through pterosaur-specific exploitation of sonic hedgehog (SHH) signalling. 5′Hoxd genes could then influence downstream bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signalling to facilitate chondrocyte proliferation in long bones. Potential expression of Fgf10 and Tbx3 in the primordium of the brachiopatagium formed posterior to the forelimb bud might also facilitate elongation of the phalanges of the fourth finger. To establish the flight-adapted musculoskeletal morphology shared by all volant vertebrates, pterosaurs probably underwent regulatory changes in the expression of genes controlling forelimb and pectoral girdle musculoskeletal development (e.g. Tbx5), as well as certain changes in the mode of cell–cell interactions between muscular and connective tissues in the early phase of their evolution. Developmental data now accumulating for extant vertebrate taxa could be helpful in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of body-plan evolution in extinct vertebrates as well as extant vertebrates with unique morphology whose embryonic materials are hard to obtain.
    Biological Reviews 10/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Proline is not only an essential component of proteins but it also has important roles in adaptation to osmotic and dehydration stresses, redox control, and apoptosis. Here, we review pathways of proline biosynthesis in the three domains of life. Pathway reconstruction from genome data for hundreds of eubacterial and dozens of archaeal and eukaryotic organisms revealed evolutionary conservation and variations of this pathway across different taxa. In the most prevalent pathway of proline synthesis, glutamate is phosphorylated to γ-glutamyl phosphate by γ-glutamyl kinase, reduced to γ-glutamyl semialdehyde by γ-glutamyl phosphate reductase, cyclized spontaneously to Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate and reduced to proline by Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate reductase. In higher plants and animals the first two steps are catalysed by a bi-functional Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthase. Alternative pathways of proline formation use the initial steps of the arginine biosynthetic pathway to ornithine, which can be converted to Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate by ornithine aminotransferase and then reduced to proline or converted directly to proline by ornithine cyclodeaminase. In some organisms, the latter pathways contribute to or could be fully responsible for the synthesis of proline. The conservation of proline biosynthetic enzymes and significance of specific residues for catalytic activity and allosteric regulation are analysed on the basis of protein structural data, multiple sequence alignments, and mutant studies, providing novel insights into proline biosynthesis in organisms. We also discuss the transcriptional control of the proline biosynthetic genes in bacteria and plants.
    Biological Reviews 10/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Grazing lawns are a distinct grassland community type, characterised by short-stature and with their persistence and spread promoted by grazing. In Africa, they reveal a long co-evolutionary history of grasses and large mammal grazers. The attractiveness to grazers of a low-biomass sward lies in the relatively high quality of forage, largely due to the low proportion of stem material in the sward; this encourages repeat grazing that concomitantly suppresses tall-grass growth forms that would otherwise outcompete lawn species for light. Regular grazing that prevents shading and maintains sward quality is thus the cornerstone of grazing lawn dynamics. The strong interplay between abiotic conditions and disturbance factors, which are central to grazing lawn existence, can also cause these systems to be highly dynamic. Here we identify differences in growth form among grazing lawn grass species, and assess how compositional differences among lawn types, as well as environmental variables, influence their maintenance requirements (i.e. grazing frequency) and vulnerability to degradation. We also make a clear distinction between the processes of lawn establishment and lawn maintenance. Rainfall, soil nutrient status, grazer community composition and fire regime have strong and interactive influences on both processes. However, factors that concentrate grazing pressure (e.g. nutrient hotspots and sodic sites) have more bearing on where lawns establish. Similarly, we discuss the relevance of enhanced rates of nitrogen cycling and of sodium levels to lawn maintenance. Grazer community composition and density has considerable significance to grazing lawn dynamics; not all grazers are adapted to foraging on short-grass swards, and differences in body size and relative mouth dimensions determine which species are able to convert tall-grass swards into grazing lawns under different conditions. Hence, we evaluate the roles of different grazers in lawn dynamics, as well as the benefits that grazer populations derive from having access to grazing lawns. The effects of grazing lawns can extend well beyond their borders, due to their influence on grazer densities, behaviour and movements as well as fire spread, intensity and frequency. Variation in the area and proportion of a landscape that is grazing lawn can thus have a profound impact on system dynamics. We provide a conceptual model that summarises grazing lawn dynamics, and identify a rainfall range where we predict grazing lawns to be most prevalent. We also examine the biodiversity associated with grazing lawn systems, and consider their functional contribution to the conservation of this biodiversity. Finally, we assess the utility of grazing lawns as a resource in a rangeland context.
    Biological Reviews 09/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Understanding the processes that lead to species extinctions is vital for lessening pressures on biodiversity. While species diversity, presence and abundance are most commonly used to measure the effects of human pressures, demographic responses give a more proximal indication of how pressures affect population viability and contribute to extinction risk. We reviewed how demographic rates are affected by the major anthropogenic pressures, changed landscape condition caused by human land use, and climate change. We synthesized the results of 147 empirical studies to compare the relative effect size of climate and landscape condition on birth, death, immigration and emigration rates in plant and animal populations. While changed landscape condition is recognized as the major driver of species declines and losses worldwide, we found that, on average, climate variables had equally strong effects on demographic rates in plant and animal populations. This is significant given that the pressures of climate change will continue to intensify in coming decades. The effects of climate change on some populations may be underestimated because changes in climate conditions during critical windows of species life cycles may have disproportionate effects on demographic rates. The combined pressures of land-use change and climate change may result in species declines and extinctions occurring faster than otherwise predicted, particularly if their effects are multiplicative.
    Biological Reviews 08/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Predators appear to be less frequently specialised (i.e. adapted to restricted diet) on their prey than herbivores, parasites or parasitoids. Here, we critically evaluate contemporary evolutionary hypotheses that might be used to explain the evolution of specialised foraging in predators. We propose a unifying concept within which we define four types of trophic categories using ecological (diet breadth) and evolutionary (degree of adaptations) contexts. We use data on spiders (Araneae), the most diversified order of terrestrial predators, to assess applicability of frameworks and evolutionary concepts related to trophic specialisation. The majority of spider species are euryphagous but a few have a restricted prey range, i.e. they are stenophagous. We provide a detailed overview of specialisation on different prey types, namely spiders, crustaceans, moths, dipterans, ants, and termites. We also review the available evidence for trophic adaptations, classified into four categories: behavioural, morphological, venomic and metabolic. Finally, we discuss the ecological and evolutionary implications of trophic specialisation and propose avenues for future research.
    Biological Reviews 08/2014;