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  1. Abstract

    As genomic-scale data sets become economically feasible for most organisms, a key question for conservation biology is whether the increased resolution offered by new genomic approaches justifies repeating earlier studies based on traditional markers, rather than investing those same time and monetary resources in less-known species. Genomic studies offer clear advantages when the objective is to identify adaptive loci that may be critical to conservation policy-makers. However, the answer is far less certain for the population and landscape studies based on neutral loci that dominate the conservation genetics research agenda. We used Restriction-site Associated DNA sequencing (RADseq) to revisit earlier molecular studies of the IUCN Critically Endangered Magdalena River turtle (Podocnemis lewyana), documenting the conservation insights gained by increasing the number of neutral markers by several orders of magnitude. Earlier research indicated that P. lewyana has the lowest genetic diversity known for any chelonian, and little or no population differentiation among independent rivers. In contrast, the RADseq data revealed discrete population structure with isolation-by-distance within river segments and identified precise population breaks clearly delineating management units. It also confirmed that the species does not have extremely low heterozygosity and that effective population sizes are probably sufficient to maintain long-termmore »evolutionary potential. Contrary to earlier inferences from more limited population genetic markers, our genomic data suggest that management strategies should shift from active genetic rescue to more passive protection without extreme interventions. We conclude with a list of examples of conservation studies in other vertebrates indicating that for many systems a genomic update is worth the investment.

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  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 7, 2023
  3. Tetrodotoxin (TTX) is a potent neurotoxin that was first identified in pufferfish but has since been isolated from an array of taxa that host TTX-producing bacteria. However, determining its origin, ecosystem roles, and biomedical applications has challenged researchers for decades. Recognized as a poison and for its lethal effects on humans when ingested, TTX is primarily a powerful sodium channel inhibitor that targets voltage-gated sodium channels, including six of the nine mammalian isoforms. Although lethal doses for humans range from 1.5–2.0 mg TTX (blood level 9 ng/mL), when it is administered at levels far below LD50, TTX exhibits therapeutic properties, especially to treat cancer-related pain, neuropathic pain, and visceral pain. Furthermore, TTX can potentially treat a variety of medical ailments, including heroin and cocaine withdrawal symptoms, spinal cord injuries, brain trauma, and some kinds of tumors. Here, we (i) describe the perplexing evolution and ecology of tetrodotoxin, (ii) review its mechanisms and modes of action, and (iii) offer an overview of the numerous ways it may be applied as a therapeutic. There is much to be explored in these three areas, and we offer ideas for future research that combine evolutionary biology with therapeutics. The TTX system holds great promisemore »as a therapeutic and understanding the origin and chemical ecology of TTX as a poison will only improve its general benefit to humanity.« less
  4. Living turtles are characterized by extraordinarily low species diversity given their age. The clade’s extensive fossil record indicates that climate and biogeography may have played important roles in determining their diversity. We investigated this hypothesis by collecting a molecular dataset for 591 individual turtles that, together, represent 80% of all turtle species, including representatives of all families and 98% of genera, and used it to jointly estimate phylogeny and divergence times. We found that the turtle tree is characterized by relatively constant diversification (speciation minus extinction) punctuated by a single threefold increase. We also found that this shift is temporally and geographically associated with newly emerged continental margins that appeared during the Eocene−Oligocene transition about 30 million years before present. In apparent contrast, the fossil record from this time period contains evidence for a major, but regional, extinction event. These seemingly discordant findings appear to be driven by a common global process: global cooling and drying at the time of the Eocene−Oligocene transition. This climatic shift led to aridification that drove extinctions in important fossil-bearing areas, while simultaneously exposing new continental margin habitat that subsequently allowed for a burst of speciation associated with these newly exploitable ecological opportunities.

  5. The North American tiger salamander species complex, including its best-known species, the Mexican axolotl, has long been a source of biological fascination. The complex exhibits a wide range of variation in developmental life history strategies, including populations and individuals that undergo metamorphosis; those able to forego metamorphosis and retain a larval, aquatic lifestyle (i.e., paedomorphosis); and those that do both. The evolution of a paedomorphic life history state is thought to lead to increased population genetic differentiation and ultimately reproductive isolation and speciation, but the degree to which it has shaped population- and species-level divergence is poorly understood. Using a large multilocus dataset from hundreds of samples across North America, we identified genetic clusters across the geographic range of the tiger salamander complex. These clusters often contain a mixture of paedomorphic and metamorphic taxa, indicating that geographic isolation has played a larger role in lineage divergence than paedomorphosis in this system. This conclusion is bolstered by geography-informed analyses indicating no effect of life history strategy on population genetic differentiation and by model-based population genetic analyses demonstrating gene flow between adjacent metamorphic and paedomorphic populations. This fine-scale genetic perspective on life history variation establishes a framework for understanding how plasticity, localmore »adaptation, and gene flow contribute to lineage divergence. Many members of the tiger salamander complex are endangered, and the Mexican axolotl is an important model system in regenerative and biomedical research. Our results chart a course for more informed use of these taxa in experimental, ecological, and conservation research.

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  6. Abstract

    Climate change-induced extinctions are estimated to eliminate one in six known species by the end of the century. One major factor that will contribute to these extinctions is extreme climatic events. Here, we show the ecological impacts of recent record warm air temperatures and simultaneous peak drought conditions in California. From 2008–2016, the southern populations of a wide-ranging endemic amphibian (the California newt,Taricha torosa) showed a 20% reduction to mean body condition and significant losses to variation in body condition linked with extreme climate deviations. However, body condition in northern populations remained relatively unaffected during this period. Range-wide population estimates of change to body condition under future climate change scenarios within the next 50 years suggest that northern populations will mirror the loss of body condition recently observed in southern populations. This change is predicated on latter 21stcentury climate deviations that resemble recent conditions in Southern California. Thus, the ecological consequences of climate change have already occurred across the warmer, drier regions of Southern California, and our results suggest that predicted climate vulnerable regions in the more mesic northern range likely will not provide climate refuge for numerous amphibian communities.

  7. Anthropogenic environmental modification is placing as many as 1 million species at risk of extinction. One management action for reducing extinction risk is translocation of individuals to locations from which they have disappeared or to new locations where biologists hypothesize they have a good chance of surviving. To maximize this survival probability, the standard practice is to move animals from the closest possible populations that contain presumably related individuals. In an empirical test of this conventional wisdom, we analyzed a genomic dataset for 166 translocated desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) that either survived or died over a period of two decades. We used genomic data to infer the geographic origin of translocated tortoises and found that individual heterozygosity predicted tortoise survival, whereas translocation distance or geographic unit of origin did not. Our results suggest a relatively simple indicator of the likelihood of a translocated individual’s survival: heterozygosity.