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  1. Abstract

    Ingestion of the cycad toxins β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) and azoxyglycosides is harmful to diverse organisms. However, some insects are specialized to feed on toxin-rich cycads with apparent immunity. Some cycad-feeding insects possess a common set of gut bacteria, which might play a role in detoxifying cycad toxins. Here, we investigated the composition of gut microbiota from a worldwide sample of cycadivorous insects and characterized the biosynthetic potential of selected bacteria. Cycadivorous insects shared a core gut microbiome consisting of six bacterial taxa, mainly belonging to the Proteobacteria, which we were able to isolate. To further investigate selected taxa from diverging lineages, we performed shotgun metagenomic sequencing of co-cultured bacterial sub-communities. We characterized the biosynthetic potential of four bacteria fromSerratia,Pantoea, and two differentStenotrophomonaslineages, and discovered a suite of biosynthetic gene clusters notably rich in siderophores. Siderophore semi-untargeted metabolomics revealed a broad range of chemically related yet diverse iron-chelating metabolites, including desferrioxamine B, suggesting the occurrence of an unprecedented desferrioxamine-like biosynthetic pathway that remains to be identified. These results provide a foundation for future investigations into how cycadivorous insects tolerate diets rich in azoxyglycosides, BMAA, and other cycad toxins, including a possible role for bacterial siderophores.

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  3. Color vision has evolved multiple times in both vertebrates and invertebrates and is largely determined by the number and variation in spectral sensitivities of distinct opsin subclasses. However, because of the difficulty of expressing long-wavelength (LW) invertebrate opsins in vitro, our understanding of the molecular basis of functional shifts in opsin spectral sensitivities has been biased toward research primarily in vertebrates. This has restricted our ability to address whether invertebrate Gqprotein-coupled opsins function in a novel or convergent way compared to vertebrate Gtopsins. Here we develop a robust heterologous expression system to purify invertebrate rhodopsins, identify specific amino acid changes responsible for adaptive spectral tuning, and pinpoint how molecular variation in invertebrate opsins underlie wavelength sensitivity shifts that enhance visual perception. By combining functional and optophysiological approaches, we disentangle the relative contributions of lateral filtering pigments from red-shifted LW and blue short-wavelength opsins expressed in distinct photoreceptor cells of individual ommatidia. We use in situ hybridization to visualize six ommatidial classes in the compound eye of a lycaenid butterfly with a four-opsin visual system. We show experimentally that certain key tuning residues underlying green spectral shifts in blue opsin paralogs have evolved repeatedly among short-wavelength opsin lineages. Taken together, our results demonstrate the interplay between regulatory and adaptive evolution at multiple Gqopsin loci, as well as how coordinated spectral shifts in LW and blue opsins can act together to enhance insect spectral sensitivity at blue and red wavelengths for visual performance adaptation.

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  4. Abstract

    Cycads are an ancient group of tropical gymnosperms that are toxic to most animals – including humans – though the larvae of many moths and butterflies (order: Lepidoptera) feed on cycads with apparent immunity. These insects belong to distinct lineages with varying degrees of specialisation and diverse feeding ecologies, presenting numerous opportunities for comparative studies of chemically mediated eco‐evolutionary dynamics. This review presents the first evolutionary evaluation of cycad‐feeding among Lepidoptera along with a comprehensive review of their ecology. Our analysis suggests that multiple lineages have independently colonised cycads from angiosperm hosts, yet only a few clades appear to have radiated following their transitions to cycads. Defensive traits are likely important for diversification, as many cycad specialists are warningly coloured and sequester cycad toxins. The butterfly family Lycaenidae appears to be particularly predisposed to cycad‐feeding and several cycadivorous lycaenids are warningly coloured and chemically defended. Cycad–herbivore interactions provide a promising but underutilised study system for investigating plant–insect coevolution, convergent and divergent adaptations, and the multi‐trophic significance of defensive traits; therefore the review ends by suggesting specific research gaps that would be fruitfully addressed in Lepidoptera and other cycad‐feeding insects.

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  5. Abstract

    Bacterial symbionts are known to facilitate a wide range of physiological processes and ecological interactions for their hosts. In spite of this, caterpillars with highly diverse life histories appear to lack resident microbiota. Gut physiology, endogenous digestive enzymes, and limited social interactions may contribute to this pattern, but the consequences of shifts in social activity and diet on caterpillar microbiota are largely unknown.Phengaris alconcaterpillars undergo particularly dramatic social and dietary shifts when they parasitizeMyrmicaant colonies, rapidly transitioning from solitary herbivory to ant tending (i.e., receiving protein‐rich regurgitations through trophallaxis). This unique life history provides a model for studying interactions between social living, diet, and caterpillar microbiota. Here, we characterized and compared bacterial communities withinPalconcaterpillars before and after their association with ants, using 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing and quantitative PCR. After being adopted by ants, bacterial communities withinP. alconcaterpillars shifted substantially, with a significant increase in alpha diversity and greater consistency in bacterial community composition in terms of beta dissimilarity. We also characterized the bacterial communities within their host ants (Myrmica schencki), food plant (Gentiana cruciata), and soil from ant nest chambers. These data indicated that the aforementioned patterns were influenced by bacteria derived from caterpillars’ surrounding environments, rather than through transfers from ants. Thus, while bacterial communities are substantially reorganized over the life cycle ofP. alconcaterpillars, it appears that they do not rely on transfers of bacteria from host ants to complete their development.

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