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  1. Ruiz-Rodriguez, Magdalena (Ed.)
    Animals and their microbiomes exert reciprocal influence; the host’s environment, physiology, and phylogeny can impact the composition of the microbiome, while the microbes present can affect host behavior, health, and fitness. While some microbiomes are highly malleable, specialized microbiomes that provide important functions can be more robust to environmental perturbations. Recent evidence suggests Sceloporus virgatus has one such specialized microbiome, which functions to protect eggs from fungal pathogens during incubation. Here, we examine the cloacal microbiome of three different Sceloporus species (spiny lizards; Family Phrynosomatidae)– Sceloporus virgatus , Sceloporus jarrovii , and Sceloporus occidentalis . We compare two species with different reproductive modes (oviparous vs. viviparous) living in sympatry: S . virgatus and S . jarrovii . We compare sister species living in similar habitats (riparian oak-pine woodlands) but different latitudes: S . virgatus and S . occidentalis . And, we compare three populations of one species ( S . occidentalis ) living in different habitat types: beach, low elevation forest, and the riparian woodland. We found differences in beta diversity metrics between all three comparisons, although those differences were more extreme between animals in different environments, even though those populations were more closely related. Similarly, alpha diversity varied among the S . occidentalis populations and between S . occidentalis and S . virgatus , but not between sympatric S . virgatus and S . jarrovii . Despite these differences, all three species and all three populations of S . occcidentalis had the same dominant taxon, Enterobacteriaceae . The majority of the variation between groups was in low abundance taxa and at the ASV level; these taxa are responsive to habitat differences, geographic distance, and host relatedness. Uncovering what factors influence the composition of wild microbiomes is important to understanding the ecology and evolution of the host animals, and can lead to more detailed exploration of the function of particular microbes and the community as a whole. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 22, 2023
  2. Ruiz-Rodriguez, Magdalena (Ed.)
    Some birds exhibit a maxillary overhang, in which the tip of the upper beak projects beyond the lower mandible and may curve downward. The overhang is thought to help control ectoparasites on the feathers. Little is known about the extent to which the maxillary overhang varies spatially or temporally within populations of the same species. The colonial cliff swallow ( Petrochelidon pyrrhonota ) has relatively recently shifted to almost exclusive use of artificial structures such as bridges and highway culverts for nesting and consequently has been exposed to higher levels of parasitism than on its ancestral cliff nesting sites. We examined whether increased ectoparasitism may have favored recent changes in the extent of the maxillary overhang. Using a specimen collection of cliff swallows from western Nebraska, USA, spanning 40 years and field data on live birds, we found that the extent of the maxillary overhang increased across years in a nonlinear way, peaking in the late 2000’s, and varied inversely with cliff swallow colony size for unknown reasons. The number of fleas on nestling cliff swallows declined in general over this period. Those birds with perceptible overhangs had fewer swallow bugs on the outside of their nest, but they did not have higher nesting success than birds with no overhangs. The intraspecific variation in the maxillary overhang in cliff swallows was partly consistent with it having a functional role in combatting ectoparasites. The temporal increase in the extent of the overhang may be a response by cliff swallows to their relatively recent increased exposure to parasitism. Our results demonstrate that this avian morphological trait can change rapidly over time. 
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  3. Ruiz-Rodriguez, Magdalena (Ed.)
    Nutritionally-based mutualisms with bacteria are known to occur in a wide array of invertebrate phyla, although less commonly in the Platyhelminthes. Here we report what appears to be a novel example of this type of association in two geographically disparate and phylogenetically distant species of tapeworms of eagle rays—the lecanicephalidean Elicilacunosus dharmadii off the island of Borneo and the tetraphyllidean Caulobothrium multispelaeum off Senegal. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy revealed that the grooves and apertures on the outer surfaces of both tapeworms open into expansive cavities housing concentrations of bacteria. This led us to reject the original hypothesis that these structures, and their associated mucopolysaccharides, aid in attachment to the host mucosa. The cavities were found to be specialized in-foldings of the tapeworm body that were lined with particularly elongate filitriches. Given tapeworms lack a gut and employ filitriches to assist in nutrient absorption, enhanced nutrient uptake likely occurs in the cavities. Each tapeworm species appeared to host different bacterial monocultures; those in E . dharmadii were coccoid-like in form, while those in C . multispelaeum were bacillus-like. The presence of bacteria in a specialized structure of this nature suggests the structure is a symbiotic organ. Tapeworms are fully capable of obtaining their own nutrients, and thus the bacteria likely serve merely to supplement their diet. Given the bacteria were also extracellular, this structure is more consistent with a mycetome than a trophosome. To our knowledge, this is not only the first evidence of an external symbiotic organ of any type in a nutritionally-based mutualism, but also the first description of a mycetome in a group of invertebrates that lacks a digestive system. The factors that might account for the independent evolution of this unique association in these unrelated tapeworms are unclear—especially given that none of their closest relatives exhibit any evidence of the phenomenon. 
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