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  1. Abstract

    Emerging infectious diseases in wildlife species caused by pathogenic fungi are of growing concern, yet crucial knowledge gaps remain for diseases with potentially large impacts. For example, there is detailed knowledge about host pathology and mechanisms underlying response for chytridiomycosis in amphibians and white‐nose syndrome in bats, but such information is lacking for other more recently described fungal infections. One such disease is ophidiomycosis, caused by the fungusOphidiomyces ophidiicola, which has been identified in many species of snakes, yet the biological mechanisms and molecular changes occurring during infection are unknown. To gain this information, we performed a controlled experimental infection in captive Prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) withO. ophidiicolaat two different temperatures: 20 and 26°C. We then compared liver, kidney, and skin transcriptomes to assess tissue‐specific genetic responses toO. ophidiicolainfection. Given previous histopathological studies and the fact that snakes are ectotherms, we expected highest fungal activity on skin and a significant impact of temperature on host response. Although we found fungal activity to be localized on skin, most of the differential gene expression occurred in internal tissues. Infected snakes at the lower temperature had the highest host mortality whereas two‐thirds of the infected snakes at the higher temperature survived. Our results suggest that ophidiomycosis is likely a systemic disease with long‐term effects on host response. Our analysis also identified candidate protein coding genes that are potentially involved in host response, providing genetic tools for studies of host response to ophidiomycosis in natural populations.

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  2. Yoder, Anne (Ed.)
    Abstract Understanding the joint roles of protein sequence variation and differential expression during adaptive evolution is a fundamental, yet largely unrealized goal of evolutionary biology. Here, we use phylogenetic path analysis to analyze a comprehensive venom-gland transcriptome dataset spanning three genera of pitvipers to identify the functional genetic basis of a key adaptation (venom complexity) linked to diet breadth (DB). The analysis of gene-family-specific patterns reveals that, for genes encoding two of the most important venom proteins (snake venom metalloproteases and snake venom serine proteases), there are direct, positive relationships between sequence diversity (SD), expression diversity (ED), and increased DB. Further analysis of gene-family diversification for these proteins showed no constraint on how individual lineages achieved toxin gene SD in terms of the patterns of paralog diversification. In contrast, another major venom protein family (PLA2s) showed no relationship between venom molecular diversity and DB. Additional analyses suggest that other molecular mechanisms—such as higher absolute levels of expression—are responsible for diet adaptation involving these venom proteins. Broadly, our findings argue that functional diversity generated through sequence and expression variations jointly determine adaptation in the key components of pitviper venoms, which mediate complex molecular interactions between the snakes and their prey. 
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  3. Differences in snake venom composition occur across all taxonomic levels and it has been argued that this variation represents an adaptation that has evolved to facilitate the capture and digestion of prey and evasion of predators. Bothrops atrox is a terrestrial pitviper that is distributed across the Amazon region, where it occupies different habitats. Using statistical analyses and functional assays that incorporate individual variation, we analyzed the individual venom variability in B. atrox snakes from four different habitats (forest, pasture, degraded area, and floodplain) in and around the Amazon River in Brazil. We observed venom differentiation between spatially distinct B. atrox individuals from the different habitats, with venom variation due to both common (high abundance) and rare (low abundance) proteins. Moreover, differences in the composition of the venoms resulted in individual variability in functionality and heterogeneity in the lethality to mammals and birds, particularly among the floodplain snakes. Taken together, the data obtained from individual venoms of B. atrox snakes, captured in different habitats from the Brazilian Amazon, support the hypothesis that the differential distribution of protein isoforms results in functional distinctiveness and the ability of snakes with different venoms to have variable toxic effects on different prey. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
  5. Abstract

    Assessing the environmental factors that influence the ability of a threatened species to move through a landscape can be used to identify conservation actions that connect isolated populations. However, direct observations of species' movement are often limited, making the development of alternate approaches necessary. Here we use landscape genetic analyses to assess the impact of landscape features on the movement of individuals between local populations of a threatened snake, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus). We linked connectivity data with habitat information from two landscapes of similar size: a large region of unfragmented habitat and a previously studied fragmented landscape consisting of isolated patches of habitat. We used this analysis to identify features of the landscape where modification or acquisition would enhance population connectivity in the fragmented region. We found evidence that current connectivity was impacted by both contemporary land‐cover features, especially roads, and inherent landscape features such as elevation. Next, we derived estimates of expected movement ability using a recently developed pedigree‐based approach and least‐cost paths through the unfragmented landscape. We then used our pedigree and resistance map to estimate resistance polygons of the potential extent forS. catenatusmovement in the fragmented landscape. These polygons identify possible sites for future corridors connecting currently isolated populations in this landscape by linking the impact of future habitat modification or land acquisition to dispersal ability in this species. Overall, our study shows how modeling landscape resistance across differently fragmented landscapes can identify habitat features that affect contemporary movement in threatened species in fragmented landscapes and how this information can be used to guide mitigation actions whose goal is to connect isolated populations.

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  6. Abstract

    Theory predicts that threatened species living in small populations will experience high levels of inbreeding that will increase their genetic load, but recent work suggests that the impact of load may be minimized by purging resulting from long‐term population bottlenecks. Empirical studies that examine this idea using genome‐wide estimates of inbreeding and genetic load in threatened species are limited. Here we use individual genome resequencing data to compare levels of inbreeding, levels of genetic load (estimated as mutation load) and population history in threatened Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus), which exist in small isolated populations, and closely related yet outbred Western massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus tergeminus). In terms of inbreeding,Scatenatusgenomes had a greater number of runs of homozygosity of varying sizes, indicating sustained inbreeding through repeated bottlenecks when compared toStergeminus. At the species level, outbredStergeminushad higher genome‐wide levels of mutation load in the form of greater numbers of derived deleterious mutations compared toScatenatus, presumably due to long‐term purging of deleterious mutations inScatenatus. In contrast, mutations that escaped species‐level drift effects withinScatenatuspopulations were in general more frequent and more often found in homozygous genotypes than inStergeminus, suggesting a reduced efficiency of purifying selection in smallerScatenatuspopulations for most mutations. Our results support an emerging idea that the historical demography of a threatened species has a significant impact on the type of genetic load present, which impacts implementation of conservation actions such as genetic rescue.

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  7. Venom is a key adaptive innovation in snakes, and how nonvenom genes were co-opted to become part of the toxin arsenal is a significant evolutionary question. While this process has been investigated through the phylogenetic reconstruction of toxin sequences, evidence provided by the genomic context of toxin genes remains less explored. To investigate the process of toxin recruitment, we sequenced the genome ofBothrops jararaca, a clinically relevant pitviper. In addition to producing a road map with canonical structures of genes encoding 12 toxin families, we inferred most of the ancestral genes for their loci. We found evidence that 1) snake venom metalloproteinases (SVMPs) and phospholipases A2(PLA2) have expanded in genomic proximity to their nonvenomous ancestors; 2) serine proteinases arose by co-opting a local gene that also gave rise to lizard gilatoxins and then expanded; 3) the bradykinin-potentiating peptides originated from a C-type natriuretic peptide gene backbone; and 4) VEGF-F was co-opted from a PGF-like gene and not from VEGF-A. We evaluated two scenarios for the original recruitment of nontoxin genes for snake venom: 1) in locus ancestral gene duplication and 2) in locus ancestral gene direct co-option. The first explains the origins of two important toxins (SVMP and PLA2), while the second explains the emergence of a greater number of venom components. Overall, our results support the idea of a locally assembled venom arsenal in which the most clinically relevant toxin families expanded through posterior gene duplications, regardless of whether they originated by duplication or gene co-option.

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  8. Abstract

    Understanding the geographic linkages among populations across the annual cycle is an essential component for understanding the ecology and evolution of migratory species and for facilitating their effective conservation. While genetic markers have been widely applied to describe migratory connections, the rapid development of new sequencing methods, such as low‐coverage whole genome sequencing (lcWGS), provides new opportunities for improved estimates of migratory connectivity. Here, we use lcWGS to identify fine‐scale population structure in a widespread songbird, the American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), and accurately assign individuals to genetically distinct breeding populations. Assignment of individuals from the nonbreeding range reveals population‐specific patterns of varying migratory connectivity. By combining migratory connectivity results with demographic analysis of population abundance and trends, we consider full annual cycle conservation strategies for preserving numbers of individuals and genetic diversity. Notably, we highlight the importance of the Northern Temperate‐Greater Antilles migratory population as containing the largest proportion of individuals in the species. Finally, we highlight valuable considerations for other population assignment studies aimed at using lcWGS. Our results have broad implications for improving our understanding of the ecology and evolution of migratory species through conservation genomics approaches.

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  9. Abstract

    Managing endangered species in fragmented landscapes requires estimating dispersal rates between populations over contemporary timescales. Here, we developed a new method for quantifying recent dispersal using genetic pedigree data for close and distant kin. Specifically, we describe an approach that infers missing shared ancestors between pairs of kin in habitat patches across a fragmented landscape. We then applied a stepping‐stone model to assign unsampled individuals in the pedigree to probable locations based on minimizing the number of movements required to produce the observed locations in sampled kin pairs. Finally, we used all pairs of reconstructed parent‐offspring sets to estimate dispersal rates between habitat patches under a Bayesian model. Our approach measures connectivity over the timescale represented by the small number of generations contained within the pedigree and so is appropriate for estimating the impacts of recent habitat changes due to human activity. We used our method to estimate recent movement between newly discovered populations of threatened Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus) using data from 2996 RAD‐based genetic loci. Our pedigree analyses found no evidence for contemporary connectivity between five genetic groups, but, as validation of our approach, showed high dispersal rates between sample sites within a single genetic cluster. We conclude that these five genetic clusters of Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes have small numbers of resident snakes and are demographically isolated conservation units. More broadly, our methodology can be widely applied to determine contemporary connectivity rates, independent of bias from shared genetic similarity due to ancestry that impacts other approaches.

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  10. The role of natural selection in the evolution of trait complexity can be characterized by testing hypothesized links between complex forms and their functions across species. Predatory venoms are composed of multiple proteins that collectively function to incapacitate prey. Venom complexity fluctuates over evolutionary timescales, with apparent increases and decreases in complexity, and yet the causes of this variation are unclear. We tested alternative hypotheses linking venom complexity and ecological sources of selection from diet in the largest clade of front-fanged venomous snakes in North America: the rattlesnakes, copperheads, cantils, and cottonmouths. We generated independent transcriptomic and proteomic measures of venom complexity and collated several natural history studies to quantify dietary variation. We then constructed genome-scale phylogenies for these snakes for comparative analyses. Strikingly, prey phylogenetic diversity was more strongly correlated to venom complexity than was overall prey species diversity, specifically implicating prey species’ divergence, rather than the number of lineages alone, in the evolution of complexity. Prey phylogenetic diversity further predicted transcriptomic complexity of three of the four largest gene families in viper venom, showing that complexity evolution is a concerted response among many independent gene families. We suggest that the phylogenetic diversity of prey measures functionally relevant divergence in the targets of venom, a claim supported by sequence diversity in the coagulation cascade targets of venom. Our results support the general concept that the diversity of species in an ecological community is more important than their overall number in determining evolutionary patterns in predator trait complexity.

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