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  1. Elgar, Mark A. (Ed.)
    Coevolution—reciprocal evolutionary change between interacting lineages (Thompson, 1994; see Glossary)—is thought to have played a profound role in the evolution of Life on Earth. From similar patterns across the wings of unrelated lineages of butterflies (Hoyal Cuthill and Charleston, 2015), egg mimicry of “cheating” brood parasites (Davies, 2010), to the role of animal pollinators in driving the diversification of flowering plants (Kay and Sargent, 2009), to the ubiquity of sexual reproduction and sexual conflicts (Hamilton, 2002; Arnqvist and Rowe, 2005; King et al., 2009), the formation of the eukaryotic cell (Martin et al., 2015; Imachi et al., 2020), and even the origin of living organisms themselves (Mizuuchi and Ichihashi, 2018), evolutionary changes among interacting lineages have played profound and important roles in the history of Life. This Grand Challenges inaugural contribution encompasses eclectic opinions of the editorial board as to what are the next frontiers of coevolution research in the 21st century. Coevolutionary biology is a field that has garnered a lot of attention in recent years, in part as a result of technical advances in nucleotide sequencing and bioinformatics in the burgeoning field of host–microbial interactions. Many seminal studies of coevolution examined reciprocal evolutionary change between two or amore »few interacting macroscopic species that imposed selective pressures on one another (e.g., insect or bird pollinators and their flowering host plants). Understanding the contexts under which coevolution occurs, as opposed to scenarios in which each partner adapts independently to a particular environment (Darwin, 1862; Stiles, 1978) is important to elucidate coevolutionary processes. A whole spectrum of organismal interactions has been examined under the lens of coevolution, providing additional context, and nuance to ecological strategies traditionally categorized as ranging from beneficial to detrimental for participating species (Figure 1). In particular, a coevolutionary perspective has revealed that even “mutualisms” are not always fully beneficial or cooperative for the partners involved. Instead, the tendency to “cheat” permeates across symbiotic partnerships (Perez-Lamarque et al., 2020). Conversely, recent evidence suggests that non-lethal predation by co-evolved predators, which has traditionally been assumed to be entirely antagonistic, may provide sessile prey with some indirect benefit through enhanced opportunities to acquire beneficial symbiotic microorganisms (Grupstra et al., 2021). Herein, we discuss some of the recent areas of active research in coevolution, restricting our focus to coevolution between interacting species.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 6, 2023
  2. Abstract

    The gut microbiota is critical for host function. Among mammals, host phylogenetic relatedness and diet are strong drivers of gut microbiota structure, but one factor may be more influential than the other. Here, we used 16S rRNA gene sequencing to determine the relative contributions of host phylogeny and host diet in structuring the gut microbiotas of 11 herbivore species from 5 families living sympatrically in southwest Kenya. Herbivore species were classified as grazers, browsers, or mixed-feeders and dietary data (% C4 grasses in diet) were compiled from previously published sources. We found that herbivore gut microbiotas were highly species-specific, and that host taxonomy accounted for more variation in the gut microbiota (30%) than did host dietary guild (10%) or sample month (8%). Overall, similarity in the gut microbiota increased with host phylogenetic relatedness (r = 0.74) across the 11 species of herbivores, but among 7 closely related Bovid species, dietary %C4 grass values more strongly predicted gut microbiota structure (r = 0.64). Additionally, within bovids, host dietary guild explained more of the variation in the gut microbiota (17%) than did host species (12%). Lastly, while we found that the gut microbiotas of herbivores residing in southwest Kenya converge with those of distinct populations of conspecificsmore »from central Kenya, fine-scale differences in the abundances of bacterial amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) between individuals from the two regions were also observed. Overall, our findings suggest that host phylogeny and taxonomy strongly structure the gut microbiota across broad host taxonomic scales, but these gut microbiotas can be further modified by host ecology (i.e., diet, geography), especially among closely related host species.

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  3. ABSTRACT Host-associated microbial communities, henceforth ‘microbiota’, can affect the physiology and behavior of their hosts. In mammals, host ecological, social and environmental variables are associated with variation in microbial communities. Within individuals in a given mammalian species, the microbiota also partitions by body site. Here, we build on this work and sequence the bacterial 16S rRNA gene to profile the microbiota at six distinct body sites (ear, nasal and oral cavities, prepuce, rectum and anal scent gland) in a population of wild spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), which are highly social, large African carnivores. We inquired whether microbiota at these body sites vary with host sex or social rank among juvenile hyenas, and whether they differ between juvenile females and adult females. We found that the scent gland microbiota differed between juvenile males and juvenile females, whereas the prepuce and rectal microbiota differed between adult females and juvenile females. Social rank, however, was not a significant predictor of microbiota profiles. Additionally, the microbiota varied considerably among the six sampled body sites and exhibited strong specificity among individual hyenas. Thus, our findings suggest that site-specific niche selection is a primary driver of microbiota structure in mammals, but endogenous host factors may alsomore »be influential.« less
  4. Rough-skinned newts produce tetrodotoxin or TTX, a deadly neurotoxin that is also present in some pufferfish, octopuses, crabs, starfish, flatworms, frogs, and toads. It remains a mystery why so many different creatures produce this toxin. One possibility is that TTX did not evolve in animals at all, but rather it is made by bacteria living on or in these creatures. In fact, scientists have already shown that TTX-producing bacteria supply pufferfish, octopus, and other animals with the toxin. However, it was not known where TTX in newts and other amphibians comes from. TTX kills animals by blocking specialized ion channels and shutting down the signaling between neurons, but rough-skinned newts appear insensitive to this blockage, making it likely that they have evolved defenses against the toxin. Some garter snakes that feed on these newts have also evolved to become immune to the effects of TTX. If bacteria are the source of TTX in the newts, the emergence of newt-eating snakes resistant to TTX must be putting evolutionary pressure on both the newts and the bacteria to boost their anti-snake defenses. Learning more about these complex relationships will help scientists better understand both evolution and the role of beneficial bacteria. Vaellimore »et al. have now shown that bacteria living on rough-skinned newts produce TTX. In the experiments, bacteria samples were collected from the skin of the newts and grown in the laboratory. Four different types of bacteria from the samples collected produced TTX. Next, Vaelli et al. looked at five genes that encode the channels normally affected by TTX in newts and found that all them have mutations that prevent them from being blocked by this deadly neurotoxin. This suggests that bacteria living on newts shape the evolution of genes critical to the animals’ own survival. Helpful bacteria living on and in animals have important effects on animals’ physiology, health, and disease. But understanding these complex interactions is challenging. Rough-skinned newts provide an excellent model system for studying the effects of helpful bacteria living on animals. Vaelli et al. show that a single chemical produced by bacteria can impact diverse aspects of animal biology including physiology, the evolution of their genes, and their interactions with other creatures in their environment.« less