Frontiers in Zoology

Published by Springer Nature

Online ISSN: 1742-9994


The three major Mediterranean refugial and differentiation centres of Southern Europe during the last ice-age (R1: Atlantic-Mediterranean, R2: Adriatic-Mediterranean, R3: Pontic-Mediterranean) and the geographic location of the five most important contact and hybridisation areas where different biota got into secondary contact during the postglacial range expansion processes (H1: Pyrenees, H2: Alps, H3: western Central Europe, H4: eastern Central Europe, H5: Central Scandinavia. (Based on Taberlet et al. [9] and Hewitt [5]).
Hypothetical location of Würm ice-age refugia of the chalk-hill blues Polyommatus coridon (hatched area) and P. hispana (dotted area) in the three Mediterranean peninsulas of Southern Europe and main directions of the Postglacial range expansion (solid arrows) [32,33,122,123,177].
Hypothetical distribution patterns of the meadow brown Maniola jurtina in Europe during the last glacial maximum (dark hatched areas). Postglacial expansions are indicated by solid arrows. The postulated actual hybrid zone is shown by the hatched area. Question marks indicate lack of information concerning ancient distribution patterns in the South and present distribution of hybrid populations in the North. Redrawn from Schmitt et. al. [36]; based on Thomson [37] and Schmitt et al. [36].
Hypothetical distribution patterns of the mountain ringlet Erebia epiphron in western Europe during the last glacial maximum. Grey areas show mountain areas above 1000 m asl. Hatched areas: Western major group, dotted areas: eastern major group. Redrawn from Schmitt et al. [168].
Schmitt T. Molecular biogeography of Europe: Pleistocene cycles and postglacial trends. Front Zool 4: 11
  • Article
  • Full-text available

February 2007


930 Reads

The climatic cycles with subsequent glacial and intergalcial periods have had a great impact on the distribution and evolution of species. Using genetic analytical tools considerably increased our understanding of these processes. In this review I therefore give an overview of the molecular biogeography of Europe. For means of simplification, I distinguish between three major biogeographical entities: (i) "Mediterranean" with Mediterranean differentiation and dispersal centres, (ii) "Continental" with extra-Mediterranean centres and (iii) "Alpine" and/or "Arctic" with recent alpine and/or arctic distribution patterns. These different molecular biogeographical patterns are presented using actual examples. Many "Mediterranean" species are differentiated into three major European genetic lineages, which are due to glacial isolation in the three major Mediterranean peninsulas. Postglacial expansion in this group of species is mostly influenced by the barriers of the Pyrenees and the Alps with four resulting main patterns of postglacial range expansions. However, some cases are known with less than one genetic lineage per Mediterranean peninsula on the one hand, and others with a considerable genetic substructure within each of the Mediterranean peninsulas, Asia Minor and the Maghreb. These structures within the Mediterranean sub-centres are often rather strong and in several cases even predate the Pleistocene. For the "Continental" species, it could be shown that the formerly supposed postglacial spread from eastern Palearctic expansion centres is mostly not applicable. Quite the contrary, most of these species apparently had extra-Mediterranean centres of survival in Europe with special importance of the perialpine regions, the Carpathian Basin and parts of the Balkan Peninsula. In the group of "Alpine" and/or "Arctic" species, several molecular biogeographical patterns have been found, which support and improve the postulates based on distribution patterns and pollen records. Thus, genetic studies support the strong linkage between southwestern Alps and Pyrenees, northeastern Alps and Carpathians as well as southeastern Alps and the Dinaric mountain systems, hereby allowing conclusions on the glacial distribution patterns of these species. Furthermore, genetic analyses of arctic-alpine disjunct species support their broad distribution in the periglacial areas at least during the last glacial period. The detailed understanding of the different phylogeographical structures is essential for the management of the different evolutionary significant units of species and the conservation of their entire genetic diversity. Furthermore, the distribution of genetic diversity due to biogeographical reasons helps understanding the differing regional vulnerabilities of extant populations.

Differences between the rates of non-synonymous (dn) and synonymous (ds) substitutions (= dn-ds, amino acid sequence-changing substitution rate) in antigen-binding sites (ABS, shaded bars) and nonantigen-binding sites (nonABS, black bars) of MHC class II DRB exon 2 alleles of the species included in Table 2. Abbreviations follow the MHC nomenclature [42], the first two letters of the genus and the species name are used.
Sommer S.. The importance of immune gene variability (MHC) in evolutionary ecology and conservation. Front Zool 2: 16

November 2005


251 Reads

Genetic studies have typically inferred the effects of human impact by documenting patterns of genetic differentiation and levels of genetic diversity among potentially isolated populations using selective neutral markers such as mitochondrial control region sequences, microsatellites or single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs). However, evolutionary relevant and adaptive processes within and between populations can only be reflected by coding genes. In vertebrates, growing evidence suggests that genetic diversity is particularly important at the level of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). MHC variants influence many important biological traits, including immune recognition, susceptibility to infectious and autoimmune diseases, individual odours, mating preferences, kin recognition, cooperation and pregnancy outcome. These diverse functions and characteristics place genes of the MHC among the best candidates for studies of mechanisms and significance of molecular adaptation in vertebrates. MHC variability is believed to be maintained by pathogen-driven selection, mediated either through heterozygote advantage or frequency-dependent selection. Up to now, most of our knowledge has derived from studies in humans or from model organisms under experimental, laboratory conditions. Empirical support for selective mechanisms in free-ranging animal populations in their natural environment is rare. In this review, I first introduce general information about the structure and function of MHC genes, as well as current hypotheses and concepts concerning the role of selection in the maintenance of MHC polymorphism. The evolutionary forces acting on the genetic diversity in coding and non-coding markers are compared. Then, I summarise empirical support for the functional importance of MHC variability in parasite resistance with emphasis on the evidence derived from free-ranging animal populations investigated in their natural habitat. Finally, I discuss the importance of adaptive genetic variability with respect to human impact and conservation, and implications for future studies.

Variability of priming sites in amphibians. Variability of priming sites for 16S rRNA and COI in amphibians.
Variation of priming sites vertebrates. Variation in priming sites of 16S rRNA (a, F-primer; b, R-primer) and COI (c, Bird-F1, LCO1490; d, HCO2198; e, Bird-R1, Bird-R2) fragments studied herein. Values are nucleotide variability as calculated using the DNAsp program. Grey bars show the values for nine amphibians, black bars the values for a set of 59 other vertebrates (see Materials and Methods, and Figs. 3-4).
16S Neighbor-joining tree of selected vertebrate taxa. Neighbor-joining tree of selected vertebrate taxa based on the fragment of the 16SrRNA gene amplified by primers 16SaL and 16SbH. Numbers in black circles indicate major clades that were recovered by this analysis: (1) cartilaginous fishes, (2) salamanders, (3) frogs, (4) turtles, (5) eutherian mammals, (6) mammals, (7) squamates, (8) birds.
COI Neighbor-joining tree of selected vertebrate taxa. Neighbor-joining tree of selected vertebrate taxa based on the fragment of the COI gene amplified by primers LCO1490 and HCO2198. Numbers in black circles indicate major clades that were recovered by this analysis, corresponding to the numbering in Supp. material D. Only two of the clades recovered by the 16S analysis are also monophyletic here: (1) cartilaginous fishes, (8) birds.
16S inter- and intraspecific genetic variation in Malagasy frogs. Variation in the fragment of the 16S rRNA gene (ca. 550 bp) studied herein, (a) within populations, (b) among conspecific populations and (c) among sibling species of frogs in the family Mantellidae from Madagascar. The values are uncorrected p-distances from pairwise comparisons in the respective category. Only one (mean) value per species was used in (a) and (b), even when multiple individuals were compared. Grey bars in (a) and (b) show the mean values from all possible individual comparisons within a species, black bars are the maximum divergences encountered between two individual sequences.
Comparative performance of the 16S rRNA gene in DNA barcoding of amphibians. Frontiers in Zool. 2: 5

April 2005


1,392 Reads


Meike Thomas





Background Identifying species of organisms by short sequences of DNA has been in the center of ongoing discussions under the terms DNA barcoding or DNA taxonomy. A C-terminal fragment of the mitochondrial gene for cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) has been proposed as universal marker for this purpose among animals. Results Herein we present experimental evidence that the mitochondrial 16S rRNA gene fulfills the requirements for a universal DNA barcoding marker in amphibians. In terms of universality of priming sites and identification of major vertebrate clades the studied 16S fragment is superior to COI. Amplification success was 100% for 16S in a subset of fresh and well-preserved samples of Madagascan frogs, while various combination of COI primers had lower success rates.COI priming sites showed high variability among amphibians both at the level of groups and closely related species, whereas 16S priming sites were highly conserved among vertebrates. Interspecific pairwise 16S divergences in a test group of Madagascan frogs were at a level suitable for assignment of larval stages to species (1–17%), with low degrees of pairwise haplotype divergence within populations (0–1%). Conclusion We strongly advocate the use of 16S rRNA as standard DNA barcoding marker for vertebrates to complement COI, especially if samples a priori could belong to various phylogenetically distant taxa and false negatives would constitute a major problem.

Three-dimensional kinematic analysis of the pectoral girdle during upside down locomotion of two-toed sloths (Chloepus didactylus, Linn?? 1758)

July 2010


527 Reads

Theria (marsupials and placental mammals) are characterized by a highly mobile pectoral girdle in which the scapula has been shown to be an important propulsive element during locomotion. Shoulder function and kinematics are highly conservative during locomotion within quadrupedal therian mammals. In order to gain insight into the functional morphology and evolution of the pectoral girdle of the two-toed sloth we here analyze the anatomy and the three-dimensional (3D) pattern of shoulder kinematics during quadrupedal suspensory ('upside-down') locomotion. We use scientific rotoscoping, a new, non-invasive, markerless approach for x-ray reconstruction of moving morphology (XROMM), to quantify in vivo the 3D movements of all constituent skeletal elements of the shoulder girdle. Additionally we use histologic staining to analyze the configuration of the sterno-clavicular articulation (SCA). Despite the inverse orientation of the body towards gravity, sloths display a 3D kinematic pattern and an orientation of the scapula relative to the thorax similar to pronograde claviculate mammalian species that differs from that of aclaviculate as well as brachiating mammals. Reduction of the relative length of the scapula alters its displacing effect on limb excursions. The configuration of the SCA maximizes mobility at this joint and demonstrates a tensile loading regime between thorax and limbs. The morphological characteristics of the scapula and the SCA allow maximal mobility of the forelimb to facilitate effective locomotion within a discontinuous habitat. These evolutionary changes associated with the adoption of the suspensory posture emphasized humeral influence on forelimb motion, but allowed the retention of the plesiomorphic 3D kinematic pattern.

The male genital system of the cellar spider Pholcus phalangioides (Fuesslin, 1775) (Pholcidae, Araneae): Development of spermatozoa and seminal secretion

July 2005


421 Reads

Most arthropods pass through several molting stages (instars) before reaching sexual maturity. In spiders, very little is known about the male genital system, its development and seminal secretions. For example, it is unknown whether spermatozoa exist prior to-, or only after the final molt. Likewise, it is unclear whether sperm are produced throughout male adulthood or only once in a lifetime, as is whether seminal secretions contain factors capable of manipulating female behavior. In order to shed light on these aspects of the reproductive biology of spiders, we investigated the male genital system of the common cellar spider Pholcus phalangioides, with special emphasis on its development and seminal secretions. Testes already display all stages of spermatogenesis in subadult males (about four weeks before the final molt). Their vasa deferentia possess proximally a very voluminous lumen containing dense seminal fluid and few spermatozoa, whereas the distal part is seemingly devoid of contents. Spermatoza of P. phalangioides are typical cleistospermia with individual secretion sheaths. In male stages approximately two weeks prior to the final molt, the lumina of the testes are wider and filled with a dense secretion. The wide, proximal portion of the vasa deferentia is filled with secretion and a large number of spermatozoa, and the narrow distal part also contains secretion. In adult males, the wide lumina of the testes are packed with spermatozoa and secretions. The latter are produced by the somatic cells that bear microvilli and contain many vesicles. The lumina of the vasa deferentia are narrow and filled with spermatozoa and secretions. We could identify a dense matrix of secretion consisting of mucosubstances and at least three types of secretion droplets, likely consisting of proteinaceous substances. This study reveals that spermatogenesis begins weeks before maturity and takes place continuously in the long-lived males of P. phalangioides. Possible functions of the various types of secretion in the seminal fluid and previously investigated female secretions are discussed in the light of sexual selection.

Tiny but complex - interactive 3D visualization of the interstitial acochlidian gastropod Pseudunela cornuta (Challis, 1970)

September 2009


500 Reads

Mesopsammic acochlidians are small, and organ complexity may be strongly reduced (regressive evolution by progenesis), especially in microhedylacean species. The marine interstitial hedylopsacean Pseudunela cornuta (Challis, 1970), however, was suggested as having a complex reproductive system resembling that of much larger, limnic and benthic species. The present study aims to reconstruct the detailed anatomy and true complexity of P. cornuta from serial, semithin histological sections by using modern computer-based 3D visualization with Amira software, and to explain it in an evolutionary context. Our results demonstrate considerable discordance with the original species description, which was based solely on paraffin sections. Here, we show that the nervous system of P. cornuta has paired rhinophoral, optic and gastro-oesophageal ganglia, three distinct ganglia on the visceral nerve cord, and a putative osphradial ganglion, while anterior accessory ganglia are absent. The presence of an anal genital cloaca is clearly rejected and the anus, nephropore and gonopore open separately to the exterior; the circulatory and excretory systems are well-differentiated, including a two-chambered heart and a complex kidney with a long, looped nephroduct; the special androdiaulic reproductive system shows two allosperm receptacles, three nidamental glands, a cavity with unknown function, as well as highly complex anterior copulatory organs with two separate glandular and impregnatory systems including a penial stylet that measures approximately a third of the whole length of the preserved specimen. In spite of its small body size, the interstitial hermaphroditic P. cornuta shows high complexity regarding all major organ systems; the excretory system is as differentiated as in species of the sister clade, the limnic and much larger Acochlidiidae, and the reproductive system is by far the most elaborated one ever observed in a mesopsammic gastropod, though functionally not yet fully understood. Such organ complexity as shown herein by interactive 3D visualization is not plesiomorphically maintained from a larger, benthic ancestor, but newly evolved within small marine hedylopsacean ancestors of P. cornuta. The common picture of general organ regression within mesopsammic acochlidians thus is valid for microhedylacean species only.

The unsuitability of HTML-based colour charts for estimating animal colours--a comment on Berggren and Meril?? (2004)

September 2005


153 Reads

A variety of techniques are used to study the colours of animal signals, including the use of visual matching to colour charts. This paper aims to highlight why they are generally an unsatisfactory tool for the measurement and classification of animal colours and why colour codes based on HTML (really RGB) standards, as advocated in a recent paper, are particularly inappropriate. There are many theoretical arguments against the use of colour charts, not least that human colour vision differs markedly from that of most other animals. However, the focus of this paper is the concern that, even when applied to humans, there is no simple 1:1 mapping from an RGB colour space to the perceived colours in a chart (the results are both printer- and illumination-dependent). We support our criticisms with data from colour matching experiments with humans, involving self-made, printed colour charts. Colour matching experiments with printed charts involving 11 subjects showed that the choices made by individuals were significantly different between charts that had exactly the same RGB values, but were produced from different printers. Furthermore, individual matches tended to vary under different lighting conditions. Spectrophotometry of the colour charts showed that the reflectance spectra of the charts varied greatly between printers and that equal steps in RGB space were often far from equal in terms of reflectance on the printed charts. In addition to outlining theoretical criticisms of the use of colour charts, our empirical results show that: individuals vary in their perception of colours, that different printers produce strikingly different results when reproducing what should be the same chart, and that the characteristics of the light irradiating the surface do affect colour perception. Therefore, we urge great caution in the use of colour charts to study animal colour signals. They should be used only as a last resort and in full knowledge of their limitations, with specially produced charts made to high industry standards.

Neuromuscular development of Aeolidiella stephanieae Valdéz, 2005 (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Nudibranchia)

January 2010


404 Reads

Studies on the development of the nervous system and the musculature of invertebrates have become more sophisticated and numerous within the last decade and have proven to provide new insights into the evolutionary history of organisms. In order to provide new morphogenetic data on opisthobranch gastropods we investigated the neuromuscular development in the nudibranch Aeolidiella stephanieae Valdéz, 2005 using immunocytochemistry as well as F-actin labelling in conjunction with confocal laser scanning microscopy (cLSM). The ontogenetic development of Aeolidiella stephanieae can be subdivided into 8 stages, each recognisable by characteristic morphological and behavioural features as well as specific characters of the nervous system and the muscular system, respectively. The larval nervous system of A. stephanieae includes an apical organ, developing central ganglia, and peripheral neurons associated with the velum, foot and posterior, visceral part of the larva. The first serotonergic and FMRFamidergic neural structures appear in the apical organ that exhibits an array of three sensory, flask-shaped and two non-sensory, round neurons, which altogether disappear prior to metamorphosis. The postmetamorphic central nervous system (CNS) becomes concentrated, and the rhinophoral ganglia develop together with the anlage of the future rhinophores whereas oral tentacle ganglia are not found. The myogenesis in A. stephanieae begins with the larval retractor muscle followed by the accessory larval retractor muscle, the velar or prototroch muscles and the pedal retractors that all together degenerate during metamorphosis, and the adult muscle complex forms de novo. Aeolidiella stephanieae comprises features of the larval and postmetamorphic nervous as well as muscular system that represent the ground plan of the Mollusca or even the Trochozoa (e. g. presence of the prototrochal or velar muscle ring). On the one hand, A. stephanieae shows some features shared by all nudibranchs like the postmetamorphic condensation of the CNS, the possession of rhinophoral ganglia and the lack of oral tentacle ganglia as well as the de novo formation of the adult muscle complex. On the other hand, the structure and arrangement of the serotonergic apical organ is similar to other caenogastropod and opisthobranch gastropods supporting their sister group relationship.

Experiments in no-impact control of dingoes: Comment on Allen et al. 2013

February 2014


156 Reads

There has been much recent debate in Australia over whether lethal control of dingoes incurs environmental costs, particularly by allowing increase of populations of mesopredators such as red foxes and feral cats. Allen et al. FIZ 10:39, 2013 claim to show in their recent study that suppression of dingo activity by poison baiting does not lead to mesopredator release, because mesopredators are also suppressed by poisoning. We show that this claim is not supported by the data and analysis reported in Allen et al.'s paper.

Functional morphology and integration of corvid skulls–a 3D geometric morphometric approach

February 2009


1,133 Reads

Sympatric corvid species have evolved differences in nesting, habitat choice, diet and foraging. Differences in the frequency with which corvid species use their repertoire of feeding techniques is expected to covary with bill-shape and with the frontal binocular field. Species that frequently probe are expected to have a relatively longer bill and more sidewise oriented orbits in contrast to species that frequently peck. We tested this prediction by analyzing computed tomography scans of skulls of six corvid species by means of three-dimensional geometric morphometrics. We (1) explored patterns of major variation using principal component analysis, (2) compared within and between species relationships of size and shape and (3) quantitatively compared patterns of morphological integration between bill and cranium by means of partial least squares (singular warp) analysis. Major shape variation occurs at the bill, in the orientation of orbits, in the position of the foramen magnum and in the angle between bill and cranium. The first principal component correlated positively with centroid-size, but within-species allometric relationships differed markedly. Major covariation between the bill and cranium lies in the difference in orbit orientation relative to bill-length and in the angle between bill and cranium. Corvid species show pronounced differences in skull shape, which covary with foraging mode. Increasing bill-length, bill-curvature and sidewise orientation of the eyes is associated with an increase in the observed frequency in probing (vice versa in pecking). Hence, the frequency of probing, bill-length, bill-curvature and sidewise orientation of the eyes is progressively increased from jackdaw, to Eurasian jay, to black-billed magpie, to hooded crow, to rook and to common raven (when feeding on carcasses is considered as probing). Our results on the morphological integration suggest that most of the covariation between bill and cranium is due to differences in the topography of the binocular fields and the projection of the bill-tip therein, indicating the importance of visual fields to the foraging ecology of corvids.

Are accessory hearing structures linked to inner ear morphology? Insights from 3D orientation patterns of ciliary bundles in three cichlid species

March 2014


718 Reads

Background: Cichlid fishes show considerable diversity in swim bladder morphology. In members of the subfamily Etroplinae, the connection between anterior swim bladder extensions and the inner ears enhances sound transmission and translates into an improved hearing ability. We tested the hypothesis that those swim bladder modifications coincide with differences in inner ear morphology and thus compared Steatocranus tinanti (vestigial swim bladder), Hemichromis guttatus (large swim bladder without extensions), and Etroplus maculatus (intimate connection between swim bladder and inner ears). Methodology and results: We applied immunostaining together with confocal imaging and scanning electron microscopy for the investigation of sensory epithelia, and high-resolution, contrast-enhanced microCT imaging for characterizing inner ears in 3D, and evaluated otolith dimensions. Compared to S. tinanti and H. guttatus, inner ears of E. maculatus showed an enlargement of all three maculae, and a particularly large lacinia of the macula utriculi. While our analysis of orientation patterns of ciliary bundles on the three macula types using artificially flattened maculae uncovered rather similar orientation patterns of ciliary bundles, interspecific differences became apparent when illustrating the orientation patterns on the 3D models of the maculae: differences in the shape and curvature of the lacinia of the macula utriculi, and the anterior arm of the macula lagenae resulted in an altered arrangement of ciliary bundles. Conclusions: Our results imply that improved audition in E. maculatus is associated not only with swim bladder modifications but also with altered inner ear morphology. However, not all modifications in E. maculatus could be connected to enhanced auditory abilities, and so a potential improvement of the vestibular sense, among others, also needs to be considered. Our study highlights the value of analyzing orientation patterns of ciliary bundles in their intact 3D context in studies of inner ear morphology and physiology.

A correlative approach for combining microCT, light and transmission electron microscopy in a single 3D scenario

August 2013


851 Reads

In biomedical research, a huge variety of different techniques is currently available for the structural examination of small specimens, including conventional light microscopy (LM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), microscopic X-ray computed tomography (microCT), and many others. Since every imaging method is physically limited by certain parameters, a correlative use of complementary methods often yields a significant broader range of information. Here we demonstrate the advantages of the correlative use of microCT, light microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy for the analysis of small biological samples. We used a small juvenile bivalve mollusc (Mytilus galloprovincialis, approximately 0.8 mm length) to demonstrate the workflow of a correlative examination by microCT, LM serial section analysis, and TEM-re-sectioning. Initially these three datasets were analyzed separately, and subsequently they were fused in one 3D scene. This workflow is very straightforward. The specimen was processed as usual for transmission electron microscopy including post-fixation in osmium tetroxide and embedding in epoxy resin. Subsequently it was imaged with microCT. Post-fixation in osmium tetroxide yielded sufficient X-ray contrast for microCT imaging, since the X-ray absorption of epoxy resin is low. Thereafter, the same specimen was serially sectioned for LM investigation. The serial section images were aligned and specific organ systems were reconstructed based on manual segmentation and surface rendering. According to the region of interest (ROI), specific LM sections were detached from the slides, re-mounted on resin blocks and re-sectioned (ultrathin) for TEM. For analysis, image data from the three different modalities was co-registered into a single 3D scene using the software AMIRA(R). We were able to register both the LM section series volume and TEM slices neatly to the microCT dataset, with small geometric deviations occurring only in the peripheral areas of the specimen. Based on co-registered datasets the excretory organs, which were chosen as ROI for this study, could be investigated regarding both their ultrastructure as well as their position in the organism and their spatial relationship to adjacent tissues. We found structures typical for mollusc excretory systems, including ultrafiltration sites at the pericardial wall, and ducts leading from the pericardium towards the kidneys, which exhibit a typical basal infolding system. The presented approach allows a comprehensive analysis and presentation of small objects regarding both the overall organization as well as cellular and subcellular details. Although our protocol involves a variety of different equipment and procedures, we maintain that it offers savings in both effort and cost. Co-registration of datasets from different imaging modalities can be accomplished with high-end desktop computers and offers new opportunities for understanding and communicating structural relationships within organisms and tissues. In general, the correlative use of different microscopic imaging techniques will continue to become more widespread in morphological and structural research in zoology. Classical TEM serial section investigations are extremely time consuming, and modern methods for 3D analysis of ultrastructure such as SBF-SEM and FIB-SEM are limited to very small volumes for examination. Thus the re-sectioning of LM sections is suitable for speeding up TEM examination substantially, while microCT could become a key-method for complementing ultrastructural examinations.

At the limits of a successful body plan – 3D microanatomy, histology and evolution of Helminthope (Mollusca: Heterobranchia: Rhodopemorpha), the most worm-like gastropod

June 2013


354 Reads

Gastropods are among the most diverse animal clades, and have successfully colonized special habitats such as the marine sand interstitial. Specialized meiofaunal snails and slugs are tiny and worm-shaped. They combine regressive features - argued to be due to progenetic tendencies - with convergent adaptations. Microscopic size and concerted convergences make morphological examination non-trivial and hamper phylogenetic reconstructions. The enigmatic turbellarian-like Rhodopemorpha are a small group that has puzzled systematists for over a century. A preliminary molecular framework places the group far closer to the root of Heterobranchia - one of the major gastropod groups - than previously suggested. The poorly known meiofaunal Helminthope psammobionta Salvini-Plawen, 1991 from Bermuda is the most worm-shaped free-living gastropod and shows apparently aberrant aspects of anatomy. Its study may give important clues to understand the evolution of rhodopemorphs among basal heterobranchs versus their previously thought origin among 'higher' euthyneuran taxa. We describe the 3D-microanatomy of H. psammobionta using three-dimensional digital reconstruction based on serial semithin histological sections. The new dataset expands upon the original description and corrects several aspects. Helminthope shows a set of typical adaptations and regressive characters present in other mesopsammic slugs (called 'meiofaunal syndrome' herein). The taxonomically important presence of five separate visceral loop ganglia is confirmed, but considerable further detail of the complex nervous system are corrected and revealed. The digestive and reproductive systems are simple and modified to the thread-like morphology of the animal; the anus is far posterior. There is no heart; the kidney resembles a protonephridium. Data on all organ systems are compiled and compared to Rhodope. Helminthope is related to Rhodope sharing unique apomorphies. We argue that the peculiar kidney, configuration of the visceral loop and simplicity or lack of other organs in Rhodopemorpha are results of progenesis. The posterior shift of the anus in Helminthope is interpreted as a peramorphy, i.e. hypertrophy of body length early in ontogeny. Our review of morphological and molecular evidence is consistent with an origin of Rhodopemorpha slugs among shelled 'lower Heterobranchia'. Previously thought shared 'diagnostic' features such as five visceral ganglia are either plesiomorphic or convergent, while euthyneury and a double-rooted cerebral nerve likely evolved independently in Rhodopemorpha and Euthyneura.

Stereoscopic motion analysis in densely packed clusters: 3D analysis of the shimmering behavior in Giant Honey Bees

February 2011


311 Reads

The detailed interpretation of mass phenomena such as human escape panic or swarm behaviour in birds, fish and insects requires detailed analysis of the 3D movements of individual participants. Here, we describe the adaptation of a 3D stereoscopic imaging method to measure the positional coordinates of individual agents in densely packed clusters. The method was applied to study behavioural aspects of shimmering in Giant honeybees, a collective defence behaviour that deters predatory wasps by visual cues, whereby individual bees flip their abdomen upwards in a split second, producing Mexican wave-like patterns. Stereoscopic imaging provided non-invasive, automated, simultaneous, in-situ 3D measurements of hundreds of bees on the nest surface regarding their thoracic position and orientation of the body length axis. Segmentation was the basis for the stereo matching, which defined correspondences of individual bees in pairs of stereo images. Stereo-matched "agent bees" were re-identified in subsequent frames by the tracking procedure and triangulated into real-world coordinates. These algorithms were required to calculate the three spatial motion components (dx: horizontal, dy: vertical and dz: towards and from the comb) of individual bees over time. The method enables the assessment of the 3D positions of individual Giant honeybees, which is not possible with single-view cameras. The method can be applied to distinguish at the individual bee level active movements of the thoraces produced by abdominal flipping from passive motions generated by the moving bee curtain. The data provide evidence that the z-deflections of thoraces are potential cues for colony-intrinsic communication. The method helps to understand the phenomenon of collective decision-making through mechanoceptive synchronization and to associate shimmering with the principles of wave propagation. With further, minor modifications, the method could be used to study aspects of other mass phenomena that involve active and passive movements of individual agents in densely packed clusters.

Differences of surface rendering and volume rendering. Two different representations of the same skull rendered with two methods. Surface rendering (left) from Amira 5.2., volume rendering (right) from the TINA Manual Landmarking Tool. Note the pseudofenestration e.g. at the end of the incisor in the mandible in the surface rendering (arrows).
User interface of the TINA Manual Landmarking Tool. Screenshot of the TINA Manual Landmarking Tool during digitizing session. See text for more details.
Examples of multilayered objects. Screenshots of the 3D and 2D Tv tools. Left: Skull of a small fish, anterior tip of otolith selected. Right: Decalcified skull with precipitations in surrounding tissue of a European Ground Squirrel, first tip of molar teeth selected.
TINA manual landmarking tool: Software for the precise digitization of 3D landmarks

April 2012


3,819 Reads

Interest in the placing of landmarks and subsequent morphometric analyses of shape for 3D data has increased with the increasing accessibility of computed tomography (CT) scanners. However, current computer programs for this task suffer from various practical drawbacks. We present here a free software tool that overcomes many of these problems. The TINA Manual Landmarking Tool was developed for the digitization of 3D data sets. It enables the generation of a modifiable 3D volume rendering display plus matching orthogonal 2D cross-sections from DICOM files. The object can be rotated and axes defined and fixed. Predefined lists of landmarks can be loaded and the landmarks identified within any of the representations. Output files are stored in various established formats, depending on the preferred evaluation software. The software tool presented here provides several options facilitating the placing of landmarks on 3D objects, including volume rendering from DICOM files, definition and fixation of meaningful axes, easy import, placement, control, and export of landmarks, and handling of large datasets. The TINA Manual Landmark Tool runs under Linux and can be obtained for free from

Sensory epithelia of the fish inner ear in 3D: Studied with high-resolution contrast enhanced microCT

October 2013


848 Reads

While a number of studies have illustrated and analyzed 3D models of inner ears in higher vertebrates, inner ears in fishes have rarely been investigated in 3D, especially with regard to the sensory epithelia of the end organs, the maculae. It has been suggested that the 3D curvature of these maculae may also play an important role in hearing abilities in fishes. We therefore set out to develop a fast and reliable approach for detailed 3D visualization of whole inner ears as well as maculae. High-resolution microCT imaging of black mollies Poecilia sp. (Poeciliidae, Teleostei) and Steatocranus tinanti (Cichlidae, Teleostei) stained with phosphotungstic acid (PTA) resulted in good tissue contrast, enabling us to perform a reliable 3D reconstruction of all three sensory maculae of the inner ears. Comparison with maculae that have been 3D reconstructed based on histological serial sections and phalloidin-stained maculae showed high congruence in overall shape of the maculae studied here. PTA staining and subsequent high-resolution contrast enhanced microCT imaging is a powerful method to obtain 3D models of fish inner ears and maculae in a fast and more reliable manner. Future studies investigating functional morphology, phylogenetic potential of inner ear features, or evolution of hearing and inner ear specialization in fishes may benefit from the use of 3D models of inner ears and maculae.

A detailed description of the development of the hemichordate Saccoglossus kowalevskii using SEM, TEM, Histology and 3D-reconstructions

September 2013


844 Reads

Traditionally, the origin of the third germ layer and its special formation of coelomic cavities by enterocoely is regarded to be an informative character in phylogenetic analyses. In early deuterostomes such as sea urchins, the mesoderm forms through a single evagination pinching off from the apical end of the archenteron which then gives off mesocoela and metacoela on each side. This echinoid-type coelom formation has conventionally been assumed to be ancestral for Deuterostomia. However, recent phylogenetic analyses show that Echinodermata hold a more derived position within Deuterostomia. In this regard a subgroup of Hemichordata, namely enteropneusts, seem to host promising candidates, because they are supposed to have retained many ancestral deuterostome features on the one hand, and furthermore share some characteristics with chordates on the other hand. In enteropneusts a wide range of different modes of coelom formation has been reported and in many cases authors of the original observations carefully detailed the limitations of their descriptions, while these doubts disappeared in subsequent reviews. In the present study, we investigated the development of all tissues in an enteropneust, Saccoglossus kowalevskii by using modern morphological techniques such as complete serial sectioning for LM and TEM, and 3D-reconstructions, in order to contribute new data to the elucidation of deuterostome evolution. Our data show that in the enteropneust S. kowalevskii all main coelomic cavities (single protocoel, paired mesocoela and metacoela) derive from the endoderm via enterocoely as separate evaginations, in contrast to the aforementioned echinoid-type. The anlagen of the first pair of gill slits emerge at the late kink stage (~96 h pf). From that time onwards, we documented a temporal left-first development of the gill slits and skeletal gill rods in S. kowalevskii until the 2 gill slit juvenile stage. The condition of coelom formation from separate evaginations is recapitulated in the larva of amphioxus and can be observed in crinoid echinoderms in a similar way. Therefore, coelom formation from separated pouches, rather than from a single apical pouch with eventual subdivision is suggested as the ancestral type of coelom formation for Deuterostomia. Left-right asymmetries are also present in echinoderms (rudiment formation), cephalochordates (larval development), tunicates (gut coiling) and vertebrates (visceral organs), and it is known from other studies applying molecular genetic analyses that genes such as nodal, lefty and pitx are involved during development. We discuss our findings in S. kowalevskii in the light of morphological as well as molecular genetic data.

Comparative myoanatomy of Echinoderes (Kinorhyncha): A comprehensive investigation by CLSM and 3D reconstruction

April 2014


3,034 Reads

Kinorhyncha is a clade of marine invertebrate meiofauna. Their body plan includes a retractable introvert bearing rings of cuticular spines, and a limbless trunk with distinct segmentation of nervous, muscular and epidermal organ systems. As derived members within the basal branch of Ecdysozoa, kinorhynchs may provide an important example of convergence on the evolution of segmentation within one of three bilaterian superclades. We describe the myoanatomy of Echinoderes, the most specious kinorhynch genus, and build upon historical studies of kinorhynch ultrastructure and gross morphology. This is the first multi-species comparison of a complete organ system by confocal microscopy and three-dimensional reconstruction within Kinorhyncha. Myoanatomy of adult Echinoderes is composed of the following: Head with two mouth cone circular muscles, nine pairs of oral style muscles, ten introvert retractors, one introvert circular muscle, and fourteen introvert circular muscle retractors; Neck with one circular muscle; Trunk showing distinct pairs of ventral and dorsal muscles within segments 1-10, dorsoventral muscles within segments 3-10, diagonal muscles within segments 1-8, longitudinal fibers spanning segments 1-9, three pairs of terminal spine muscles, and one pair of male penile spine muscles; Gut showing a pharynx with ten alternating rings of radial and circular muscle fibers enclosed in a complex sheath of protractors and retractors, an orthogonal grid of longitudinal and circular fibers surrounding the intestine, and paired hindgut dilators. Myoanatomy is highly conserved between species of Echinoderes. Interspecific variation is observed in the arrangement and number of introvert fibers and the composition of pharyngeal muscles. Segmented trunk musculature facilitates the movements of articulated cuticular plates along the anterior-posterior axis. Intersegmental muscle fibers assist with dorsoventral and lateral trunk movements. Protractors, retractors and circular muscles coordinate eversion and retraction of the introvert and mouth cone, and relocation of the pharynx during locomotion and feeding behaviors. Pairs of posterior fibers suggest independent movements of terminal spines, and male penile spines. Within Scalidophora, myoanatomy is more similar between Kinorhyncha and Loricifera, than either group is to Priapulida. Kinorhynch myoanatomy may reflect a convergent transition from vermiform to segmented body plans during the early radiation of Ecdysozoa.

Molluscan mega-hemocyanin: An ancient oxygen carrier tuned by a ~550 kDa polypeptide

May 2010


446 Reads

The allosteric respiratory protein hemocyanin occurs in gastropods as tubular di-, tri- and multimers of a 35 x 18 nm, ring-like decamer with a collar complex at one opening. The decamer comprises five subunit dimers. The subunit, a 400 kDa polypeptide, is a concatenation of eight paralogous functional units. Their exact topology within the quaternary structure has recently been solved by 3D electron microscopy, providing a molecular model of an entire didecamer (two conjoined decamers). Here we study keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH2) tridecamers to unravel the exact association mode of the third decamer. Moreover, we introduce and describe a more complex type of hemocyanin tridecamer discovered in fresh/brackish-water cerithioid snails (Leptoxis, Melanoides, Terebralia). The "typical" KLH2 tridecamer is partially hollow, whereas the cerithioid tridecamer is almost completely filled with material; it was therefore termed "mega-hemocyanin". In both types, the staggering angle between adjoining decamers is 36 degrees . The cerithioid tridecamer comprises two typical decamers based on the canonical 400 kDa subunit, flanking a central "mega-decamer" composed of ten unique ~550 kDa subunits. The additional ~150 kDa per subunit substantially enlarge the internal collar complex. Preliminary oxygen binding measurements indicate a moderate hemocyanin oxygen affinity in Leptoxis (p50 ~9 mmHg), and a very high affinity in Melanoides (~3 mmHg) and Terebralia (~2 mmHg). Species-specific and individual variation in the proportions of the two subunit types was also observed, leading to differences in the oligomeric states found in the hemolymph. In cerithioid hemocyanin tridecamers ("mega-hemocyanin") the collar complex of the central decamer is substantially enlarged and modified. The preliminary O2 binding curves indicate that there are species-specific functional differences in the cerithioid mega-hemocyanins which might reflect different physiological tolerances of these gill-breathing animals. The observed differential expression of the two subunit types of mega-hemocyanin might allow individual respiratory acclimatization. We hypothesize that mega-hemocyanin is a key character supporting the adaptive radiation and invasive capacity of cerithioid snails.

Figure 1: Reflectance spectra of artificial foods. Numbers in the panel identify the number of the experiments. The dotted line indicates the reflectance of orange foods, the solid line that of red cubes. Note the minor difference between reflectance spectra used in experiments 5 and 7. Overall reflectance is low as agar cubes partly transmitted the light that illuminates their surface.
Table 1 : Glucose contents of red and orange agar cubes used during the experiments.
Figure 2: Wild-caught birds (white dots) increased the intake of the sugar-rich food more quickly and more strongly than hand-raised birds (black dots) during the experiments. We illustrated this difference for food intake in trial two. Note that the food intake of both groups reached a plateau on the second day. Illustrated are means and standard errors.
Figure 3: Food intake of wild-caught (white dots) and hand-raised (black dots) birds; illustrated are means and standard errors. Numbers in the upper part of the panel identify individual experiments. Values on the x-axis identify the difference in sugar contents between both foods (in % of overall weight). Positive values indicate that red foods contained more sugar than orange foods, whereas negative values indicate higher sugar contents in orange foods. The line indicates food intake if birds consumed both foods equally.
Figure 4: Wild-caught birds had higher overall sugar intake in the experiments than hand-raised birds. Illustrated are means and standard errors.
Long- term effects of previous experience determine nutrient discrimination abilities in birds

February 2008


67 Reads

Foraging behaviour is an essential ecological process linking different trophic levels. A central assumption of foraging theory is that food selection maximises the fitness of the consumer. It remains unknown, however, whether animals use innate or learned behaviour to discriminate food rewards. While many studies demonstrated that previous experience is a strong determinant of complex food choices such as diet mixing, the response to simple nutritional stimuli, such as sugar concentrations, is often believed to be innate. Here we show that previous experience determines the ability to track changes in sugar composition in same-aged individuals of a short-lived migratory songbird, the garden warbler (Sylvia borin). Although birds received identical foods for seven months prior to the experiment, wild-caught birds achieved higher sugar intake rates than hand-raised birds when confronted with alternative, differently coloured, novel food types. Hand-raised and wild birds did not differ in their initial colour selection or overall food intake, but wild birds were quicker to adjust food choice to varying sugar intake. Over a period of at least seven months, broader previous experience translates into a higher plasticity of food choice leading to higher nutrient intake. Our results thus highlight the need to address previous long-term experience in foraging experiments. Furthermore, they show that hand-raised animals are often poor surrogates for testing the foraging behaviour of wild animals.

Swim speed in the Morris water maze task. Data represent mean (+SEM) speeds of trial one to ten. DM = male domestic guinea pigs (n = 15), DF = female domestic guinea pigs (n = 13), WM = male wild cavies (n = 13), WF = female wild cavies (n = 13). ANOVA revealed significant effects of sex and domestication (sex: F1, 50 = 6.38, p = 0.015; domestication: F1,50 = 5.21, p = 0.027).
Learning performance in the Morris water maze task. DM = male domestic guinea pigs (n = 15), DF = female domestic guinea pigs (n = 13), WM = male wild cavies (n = 13), WF = female wild cavies (n = 13). A) Learning curve analyzed by path length. The two trials of the first day are depicted separately. Data for day two to day five are combined values of two trials per day. In the probe trial (pt) the platform was removed. Two retention trials (r1 and r2) were conducted on the same day with the platform being moved to the opposite quadrant of the pool. Data represent means and SEMs. B) Comparison of the groups by analysis of the areas under the learning curves (AUC) of the parameter 'path length' calculated for the acquisition phase (trial one, day one to trial ten, day 5). Data represent means + SEM. ANOVA revealed a significant effect of domestication (F1, 47 = 9.32, p < 0.01). Statistical symbols of post hoc analysis are depicted in the figure. * = p < 0.05, t = p < 0.1. C) Learning curve analyzed by latency to find the platform. D) Comparison of the groups by analysis of the areas under the learning curves (AUC) of the parameter 'latency' calculated for the acquisition phase (trial one, day one to trial ten, day 5). ANOVA revealed effects of domestication as a statistical trend (F1, 47 = 3.02, p = 0.09).
Time spent in the right quadrant of the Morris water maze. In the probe trial the platform was removed and animals explored the pool for 60 s. Data represent mean (+SEM) time the animals were recorded to be in the quadrant of the pool where the platform used to be in previous trials. DM = male domestic guinea pigs (n = 15), DF = female domestic guinea pigs (n = 13), WM = male wild cavies (n = 13), WF = female wild cavies (n = 13). Statistics: one-sample t-test testing the deviation from chance-level (dotted line). ** = p < 0.01, * = p < 0.05, t = p < 0.1.
Wild genius - domestic fool? Spatial learning abilities of wild and domestic guinea pigs

March 2010


644 Reads

Domestic animals and their wild relatives differ in a wide variety of aspects. The process of domestication of the domestic guinea pig (Cavia aperea f. porcellus), starting at least 4500 years ago, led to changes in the anatomy, physiology, and behaviour compared with their wild relative, the wild cavy, Cavia aperea. Although domestic guinea pigs are widely used as a laboratory animal, learning and memory capabilities are often disregarded as being very scarce. Even less is known about learning and memory of wild cavies. In this regard, one striking domestic trait is a reduction in relative brain size, which in the domesticated form of the guinea pig amounts to 13%. However, the common belief, that such a reduction of brain size in the course of domestication of different species is accomplished by less learning capabilities is not at all very well established in the literature. Indeed, domestic animals might also even outperform their wild conspecifics taking advantage of their adaptation to a man-made environment.In our study we compared the spatial learning abilities of wild and domestic guinea pigs. We expected that the two forms are different regarding their learning performance possibly related to the process of domestication. Therefore wild cavies as well as domestic guinea pigs of both sexes, aged 35 to 45 days, were tested in the Morris water maze to investigate their ability of spatial learning. Both, wild cavies and domestic guinea pigs were able to learn the task, proving the water maze to be a suitable test also for wild cavies. Regarding the speed of learning, male as well as female domestic guinea pigs outperformed their wild conspecifics significantly. Interestingly, only domestic guinea pigs showed a significant spatial association of the platform position, while other effective search strategies were used by wild cavies. The results demonstrate that domestic guinea pigs do not at all perform worse than their wild relatives in tests of spatial learning abilities. Yet, the contrary seems to be true. Hence, artificial selection and breeding did not lead to a cognitive decline but rather to an adaptation to man-made environment that allows solving the task more efficiently.

Compensatory regulation of Na+ absorption by Na+/H+ exchanger and Na+-Cl- cotransporter in zebrafish (Danio rerio)

August 2013


178 Reads

In mammals, internal Na+ homeostasis is maintained through Na+ reabsorption via a variety of Na+ transport proteins with mutually compensating functions, which are expressed in different segments of the nephrons. In zebrafish, Na+ homeostasis is achieved mainly through the skin/gill ionocytes, namely Na+/H+ exchanger (NHE3b)-expressing H+-ATPase rich (HR) cells and Na+-Cl- cotransporter (NCC)- expressing NCC cells, which are functionally homologous to mammalian proximal and distal convoluted tubular cells, respectively. The present study aimed to investigate whether or not the functions of HR and NCC ionocytes are differentially regulated to compensate for disruptions of internal Na+ homeostasis and if the cell differentiation of the ionocytes is involved in this regulation pathway. Translational knockdown of ncc caused an increase in HR cell number and a resulting augmentation of Na+ uptake in zebrafish larvae, while NHE3b loss-of-function caused an increase in NCC cell number with a concomitant recovery of Na+ absorption. Environmental acid stress suppressed nhe3b expression in HR cells and decreased Na+ content, which was followed by up-regulation of NCC cells accompanied by recovery of Na+ content. Moreover, knockdown of ncc resulted in a significant decrease of Na+ content in acid-acclimated zebrafish. These results provide evidence that HR and NCC cells exhibit functional redundancy in Na+ absorption, similar to the regulatory mechanisms in mammalian kidney, and suggest this functional redundancy is a critical strategy used by zebrafish to survive in a harsh environment that disturbs body fluid Na+ homeostasis.

Medaka villin 1-like protein (VILL) is associated with the formation of microvilli induced by decreasing salinities in the absorptive ionocytes

January 2014


120 Reads

Villin 1 is an actin-regulatory protein involved in the formation of microvilli of mammalian enterocytes. The microvilli, finger-like protrusions, are more abundant on the apical surfaces of gill ionocytes in various freshwater (FW) teleosts than in seawater (SW) fishes. However, the plasticity in the mechanisms of microvillus formation in the gill ionocytes are poorly understood, and the actin-regulatory proteins involved in the formation of microvilli have not been identified in fishes. The present study used the euryhaline medaka (Oryzias dancena) as a model to explore the role of a homolog of villin 1 in the actin-organization of cellular morphologies induced by decreasing salinities. By ultrastructural observation, there are numerous actin filaments organized on the apical cortex of ion-absorptive ionocytes in the FW-acclimated medaka. From gills of the euryhaline medaka, we have identified the VILL sequence. The phylogenetic tree and functional domains suggest that VILL is the homolog of villin 1 in fishes. Immunofluorescence using a specific antibody revealed that VILL was specifically localized to the apical region of gill ionocytes along with microvilli in the FW medaka, but not in SW fish. The expression levels of Odvill mRNA and VILL protein were higher in the gills of the FW individuals than in the SW group and were induced when fish were transferred from SW to FW. A morpholino oligonucleotide for VILL knockdown eliminated the apical protrusions of ionocytes and pavement cells in the trunk epithelia of embryos. From a novel aspect of cytoskeletal functions, our findings highlighted the important role of VILL protein in the ionoregulation of aquatic vertebrates in response to different osmotic challenges. This study is the first to show that the expression of VILL is associated with the formation of microvilli in the absorptive ionocytes of a euryhaline fish. Loss-of-function experiments showed that the distribution of VILL may represent the molecular link between the cytoskeletal organization and cellular morphology of the absorptive ionocytes during hypoosmotic adaptation in aquatic vertebrates.

The complete sequences and gene organisation of the mitochondrial genomes of the heterodont bivalves Acanthocardia tuberculata and Hiatella arctica - And the first record for a putative Atpase subunit 8 gene in marine bivalves

February 2006


283 Reads

Mitochondrial (mt) gene arrangement is highly variable among molluscs and especially among bivalves. Of the 30 complete molluscan mt-genomes published to date, only one is of a heterodont bivalve, although this is the most diverse taxon in terms of species numbers. We determined the complete sequence of the mitochondrial genomes of Acanthocardia tuberculata and Hiatella arctica, (Mollusca, Bivalvia, Heterodonta) and describe their gene contents and genome organisations to assess the variability of these features among the Bivalvia and their value for phylogenetic inference. The size of the mt-genome in Acanthocardia tuberculata is 16.104 basepairs (bp), and in Hiatella arctica 18.244 bp. The Acanthocardia mt-genome contains 12 of the typical protein coding genes, lacking the Atpase subunit 8 (atp8) gene, as all published marine bivalves. In contrast, a complete atp8 gene is present in Hiatella arctica. In addition, we found a putative truncated atp8 gene when re-annotating the mt-genome of Venerupis philippinarum. Both mt-genomes reported here encode all genes on the same strand and have an additional trnM. In Acanthocardia several large non-coding regions are present. One of these contains 3.5 nearly identical copies of a 167 bp motive. In Hiatella, the 3' end of the NADH dehydrogenase subunit (nad)6 gene is duplicated together with the adjacent non-coding region. The gene arrangement of Hiatella is markedly different from all other known molluscan mt-genomes, that of Acanthocardia shows few identities with the Venerupis philippinarum. Phylogenetic analyses on amino acid and nucleotide levels robustly support the Heterodonta and the sister group relationship of Acanthocardia and Venerupis. Monophyletic Bivalvia are resolved only by a Bayesian inference of the nucleotide data set. In all other analyses the two unionid species, being to only ones with genes located on both strands, do not group with the remaining bivalves. The two mt-genomes reported here add to and underline the high variability of gene order and presence of duplications in bivalve and molluscan taxa. Some genomic traits like the loss of the atp8 gene or the encoding of all genes on the same strand are homoplastic among the Bivalvia. These characters, gene order, and the nucleotide sequence data show considerable potential of resolving phylogenetic patterns at lower taxonomic levels.

Mismatch between shape changes and ecological shifts during the post-settlement growth of the surgeonfish, Acanthurus triostegus

April 2012


260 Reads

Many coral reef fishes undergo habitat and diet shifts during ontogeny. However, studies focusing on the physiological and morphological adaptations that may prepare them for these transitions are relatively scarce. Here, we explored the body shape variation related to ontogenetic shifts in the ecology of the surgeonfish Acanthurus triostegus (Acanthuridae) from new settler to adult stages at Moorea Island (French Polynesia). Specifically, we tested the relationship between diet and habitat shifts and changes in overall body shape during the ontogeny of A. triostegus using a combination of geometric morphometric methods, stomach contents and stable isotope analysis. After reef settlement, stable isotope composition of carbon and nitrogen revealed a change from a zooplanktivorous to a benthic algae diet. The large amount of algae (> 75% of stomach contents) found in the digestive tract of small juveniles (25-30 mm SL) suggested the diet shift is rapid. The post-settlement growth of A. triostegus is highly allometric. The allometric shape changes mainly concern cephalic and pectoral regions. The head becomes shorter and more ventrally oriented during growth. Morphological changes are directly related to the diet shift given that a small mouth ventrally oriented is particularly suited for grazing activities at the adult stage. The pectoral fin is more anteriorely and vertically positioned and its basis is larger in adults than in juveniles. This shape variation had implications for swimming performance, manoeuvrability, turning ability and is related to habitat shift. Acanthurus triostegus achieves its main transformation of body shape to an adult-like form at size of 35-40 mm SL. Most of the shape changes occurred after the reef colonization but before the transition between juvenile habitat (fringing reef) and adult habitat (barrier reef). A large amount of allometric variation was observed after diet shift from zooplankton to benthic algae. Diet shift could act as an environmental factor favouring or inducing morphological changes. On the other hand, the main shape changes have to be achieved before the recruitment to adult populations and start negotiating the biophysical challenges of locomotion and feeding in wave- and current-swept outer reef habitat.

Top-cited authors