A Species Arises: Ancient Reef-Building Coral Duplicates Genome in Response to Changing Environmental Conditions

By: Wafae El-Arar, Brandon Haffner, Grace Pickering, and Andrew Williams (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2020)

Due to rising sea water temperatures, a life-sustaining ecosystem in our oceans is under threat. Coral reefs are dying at a daunting rate, and climate change threatens many species that rely on the reefs. The coral species that are the architects of the reefs, such as Astreopora, or star coral, and Acropora, or stony coral, are some of many under threat. Researchers Yafei Mao and Noriyuki Satoh have been studying these species in order to determine their evolutionary history, and how more information on their evolutionary history can help to better understand coral reef biodiversity and support conservation efforts.  

Acropora donei, by K. Osborne <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Acropora_donei,_Masig.jpg>
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What’s All the Buzz About?

By: Kelsey DaSilva, Lauren Quintiliani, Cara Reynolds, and Mia Romano (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2020)

Welcome to the blog “What’s All the Buzz About,” serving you your daily buzz so prepare to be(e) amazed. This article examined honey bee queens of the species scientifically known as Apis mellifera. The common name for the species is western honey bee, and it is the most common honey bee species in the world. These bees are social insects, which means they exhibit a high level of societal organization. This is seen in their overlapping generations within a colony of adults, division of labor, and in the way broods, or groups of bees, work together. These characteristics make honey bees a model organism for studying social evolution. The article aimed to explore differences in observed egg size and the cause of egg size variation. Plasticity plays a large role here and is defined as the ability of an organism to be flexible and to change in various aspects based on factors in their environment. Plasticity occurs in organisms for evolutionary beneficial reasons. Understanding plasticity and variability in genes, specifically seen in the egg size of honey bees, is important because it serves as a model to understand life on earth, it can increase fitness, generate novelty, and facilitate evolution. This article helps to further understand evolution in a social context and provides a practical application of plasticity.

Western honey bee (Apis mellifera), by A. Trepte <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apis_mellifera_Western_honey_bee.jpg>
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A Small Snail with Big Influence

By: Claire Shamber, Lauren O’Regan, Julia Nuzzo, and Julia Tawil (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2020)

Periwinkle is not just a color; it is also an organism! Flat periwinkles are small sea snails that live throughout the northern shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers have been interested in periwinkles because of their large dispersal across different shores and their potential to provide information about the intertidal zone. The intertidal zone is the area where the ocean meets the shoreline between low and high tides. This environment is subject to ecological speciation, meaning that the varying conditions of the intertidal zone can create differences between species. Speciation is the process of a single species splitting into two separate distinct species. Periwinkles offer a good look into how we determine whether two populations should be considered as their own species.

Littorina obtusata, by H. Zell <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Littorina_obtusata_01.jpg>
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The Wonderful Venus Flytrap: Marginal Spikes Form a “Horrid Prison” for Moderate-Sized Insect

By: Daniel Bender, Thomas Dickey, Laryssa Kalbfus, and Emily Langmeyer (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2019)

The American Naturalist article, Testing Darwin’s Hypothesis about the Wonderful Venus Flytrap: Marginal Spikes Form a “Horrid Prison” for Moderate-Sized Insect Prey, by Davis et al. (2019) is a set of field observations and lab experiments in support of the hypothesis that marginal spikes increase the success rate of prey capture for medium-sized insects in carnivorous plants. Marginal spikes are the spikes along the edge of a Venus flytrap. As a Venus flytrap closes on its prey, these spikes create an enclosed cage-like structure securing it in place. Darwin theorized that very small insects can slip through the spaces between spikes for escape and very large insects are able to overpower the plant’s snap trap and break free, but moderate-sized insects will be trapped in a “horrid prison” should they find themselves captured. Davis et al. were able to test their hypothesis by measuring prey capture efficiency on plants with marginal spikes and with the marginal spikes removed for different sized crickets. They were able to collect these necessary data sets by performing field data collection of wild plants, a controlled laboratory experiment, and a semi-natural experiment.

Venus flytrap
The trap of a Venus flytrap, showing trigger hairs and marginal spikes. Photo by Noah Elhardt.

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Turtle Neck Evolution

By: Taylor Auletto, Nick Botelho, Jeremy Breen, and Rebecca Johnson (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2019)

The neck is a seriously underappreciated part of the body of most organisms. Think about it: what if you didn’t have a neck? Or, what if you were incapable of moving your neck? Weird, huh? The proper development and functioning of a neck are essential to survival for many species. This is especially true for turtles. Turtles have the unique ability to retract their neck into their shell when necessary; without this ability, they would be highly susceptible to predators and other such dangers. As such, researchers Christine Böhmer and Ingmar Werneburg wanted to investigate the way the cervical vertebral (CV) column appears across multiple extinct and living turtle taxa for the first time. The cervical vertebral column is essentially composed of segments of the skeleton that make up the neck. Turtles have 8 (referred to as CV1-CV8) of these segments. What’s more, these segments have been conserved through evolution for millions of years. What we already know, though, is that there are specializations in the CV column that are different (i.e., specialized) in different groups of turtles, depending on the method by which they retract their necks. These differences are known to be due to differences in how Hox genes have been modified through evolution. Hox genes are genes that are involved in the body plan of all organisms. Böhmer and Werneburg state that their work ultimately aims to understand how evolution has worked to create the differences in CV columns that we can see today.

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Telomere Length and Life Spans in Starlings

By: Maggie Diehl, Michaela Duffy, and Bryanna Norden (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2019)

When we hear the word “aging”, the first images that pop into our minds are usually those of wrinkled skin and gray hair. Although these are common visual characteristics of aging in humans (and other animals), we often fail to recognize the biological processes behind these physical features. Just as our bodies grow old and lose efficiency, our cells lose their ability to grow and divide properly. The process of the gradual deterioration of function of cells is also known as senescence, which is currently a popular topic in evolutionary biology. For many years, scientists have proposed theories to explain the inevitable struggle of aging. Likewise, they have pondered whether conditions during early development play a role in the longevity of one’s life. To examine this possibility, researchers in previous studies have used telomere length as a predictor of survival. Simply put, telomeres are noncoding DNA regions on the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. They serve as protectors, preventing unwanted deterioration or fusion with surrounding chromosomes. Additionally, they maintain chromosome stability and serve as “mitotic clocks”, shortening (in length) with each round of cell division. When telomeres shorten to almost nothing, coding DNA is exposed and damaged, resulting in cells failing to function properly. The rate at which these vital “chromosome caps” shorten may be accelerated by various environmental stressors in early life, leading to a faster accumulation of senescent cells (which cannot replicate) and an overall shorter lifespan.

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Are giant panda populations separated genetically across human disturbance features?

By: Liz Audie, Mike Lane, Samantha Morand, and Jackie Shuttleworth (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2019)

Ailuropoda melanoleuca, more commonly known as the giant panda, is facing serious population decline and is one of the many species conservationists are trying to save by protecting the areas where they live. While road development has been a huge advancement for us as humans, it has disrupted these pandas because it separates them from other pandas, causing subpopulations to form. This decreases the genetic diversity, which then reduces the probability that the given population will last. In the research done by Qiao et al. (2019), they chose to focus on the pandas from the Wolong Mountains. This region is heavily trafficked by tourists and is divided by a main highway (national road G350). Tourism is a possible threat to the giant panda population as it increases the isolation between pandas, and therefore the genetic composition.

Two captive giant pandas in Wolong
Figure 1 from Qiao et al.: “Two captive giant pandas in Wolong. Photo credit to Bo Luo of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.”

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Baboon Vocalizations and Primate Vocal Diversity

By: Fendy Lormine, Caroline Schad, Daniel Simosa, and Anna Walker  (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2019)

A remarkable trait unique to humans is spoken language; it allows us to communicate our thoughts, emotions, and intentions with other humans. While not as advanced as human speech, other species use different means of vocalizations to express themselves. Nonhuman primates have a largely genetically fixed acoustic structure that they use to communicate with each other. Their vocalization system is mainly comprised of grunts and loud calls. This study focused on the genus Papio as a model organism. More specifically, they studied chacma (Papio ursinus), olive (P. anubis), and Guinea (P. papio) baboons. The aim of this research was to see how the variation in vocal repertoire and call structure relates to social system characteristics. They focused on how the baboons interact socially and how competition among males and females is affected by sexual selection. The researchers hypothesized that loud calls would differ more between species than grunts. They also predicted that sexual selection would lead to more pronounced differences between males of different species than between females.

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Baboon Comparative Genomics

By: Zachary Frament, Frederick Kalisz, Griffin Lyons, and Alexia Zambarano (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2019)

In this article, researchers wanted to conduct an extensive analysis of the evolutionary history of the genus Papio, the baboons, and its six species. The researchers wanted to explore the genetic relationships among the six extant species: Olive baboon (P. anubis), Yellow baboon (P. cynocephalus), Kinda baboon (P. kindae), Hamadryas baboon (P. hamadryas), Chacma baboon (P. ursinus), and Guinea baboon (P. papio). Each of the species differs morphologically and behaviorally, and they occupy completely different geographical areas in Africa. Although the ranges that the six different species reside in do not overlap, researchers were able to find that the baboon lineages were experiencing hybridization and interbreeding in recent and past times. Some of the ranges are particularly close to each other, nearly overlapping, yet these six different species do not resemble each other morphologically or behaviorally.

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Is anole evolution predictable?

By: Royce Conlin, Mark Khalil, Claire Manuszak, and Meredith Moore (Stonehill College, BIO323 Evolution, Spring 2018)

In this article, scientists examined various species of anoles. Anoles belong to what many know as the “New World” lizards, closely related to iguanas, and can interestingly change the color of their skin related to their environment.  Anoles generally thrive in warm, moist environments; in cooler weather, anoles tend to hide out and take shelter in a confined area. Most anoles live in the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. Many scientists have taken a strong interest in anoles due to their fascinating evolutionary histories.

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