Chance or necessity? Adaptive vs. non adaptive evolution in plant-frugivore interactions
Professor of Conservation Biology
I’m interested in how biology and the environment shape biodiversity in time and space.
- Inter-Species Modeling for Spillback/Spillover Avoidance
- The Very Extended Phenotype: connecting genetics and evolution to ecological function
- Discovering genomic and developmental mechanisms that underlie sensory innovations critical to adaptive diversification
- Uncovering skin immune proteins as predictors of resistance against WNS
- Diversification in Noctilionoid Bats
Despite the widespread notion that animal-mediated seed dispersal led to the evolution of fruit traits that attract mutualistic frugivores, the dispersal syndrome hypothesis remains controversial, particularly for complex traits such as fruit scent. Here, we test this hypothesis in a community of mutualistic, ecologically important neotropical bats (Carollia spp.) and plants (Piper spp.) that communicate primarily via chemical signals. We found greater bat consumption is significantly associated with scent chemical diversity and presence of specific compounds, which fit multi-peak selective regime models in Piper. Through behavioural assays, we found Carollia prefer certain compounds, particularly 2-heptanol, which evolved as a unique feature of two Piper species highly consumed by these bats. Thus, we demonstrate that volatile compounds emitted by neotropical Piper fruits evolved in tandem with seed dispersal by scent-oriented Carollia bats. Specifically, fruit scent chemistry in some Piper species fits adaptive evolutionary scenarios consistent with a dispersal syndrome hypothesis. While other abiotic and biotic processes likely shaped the chemical composition of ripe fruit scent in Piper, our results provide some of the first evidence of the effect of bat frugivory on plant chemical diversity.
Diversity in olfactory receptor repertoires is associated with dietary specialization in a genus of frugivorous bat
Mammalian olfactory receptors (ORs) are a diverse family of genes encoding proteins that directly interact with environmental chemical cues. ORs evolve via gene duplication in a birth-death fashion, neofunctionalizing and pseudogenizing over time. Olfaction is a primary sense used for food detection in plant-visiting bats, but the relationship between dietary specialization and OR repertoire diversity is unclear. Within neotropical Leaf-nosed bats (Phyllostomidae), many lineages are plant specialists, and some have a distinct OR repertoire compared to insectivorous species. Yet, whether specialization on particular plant genera is associated with the evolution of specialized OR repertoires with narrower diversity has never been tested. Using targeted sequence capture, we sequenced the OR repertoires of three sympatric species of short-tailed fruit bats (Carollia), which vary in their degree of specialization on the fruits of Piper plants. We characterized orthologous versus duplicated receptors among Carollia species, and explored the diversity and redundancy of the receptor gene repertoire. At the species level, the most dedicated Piper specialist, Carollia castanea, had lower OR diversity compared to the two generalists (C. sowelli, C. perspicillata), but we discovered a few unique sets of ORs within C. castanea with high redundancy of similar gene duplicates. These unique receptors potentially enable C. castanea to detect Piper fruit odorants better than its two congeners. Carollia perspicillata, the species with the most generalist diet, had a higher diversity of intact receptors, suggesting the ability to detect a wider range of odorant molecules. Variation among ORs may be a factor in the coexistence of these sympatric species, facilitating the exploitation of different plant resources. Our study sheds light on how gene duplication and changes in OR diversity may play a role in dietary adaptations and underlies patterns of ecological interactions between bats and plants.
With over two-hundred species distributed across most of mainland Mexico, Central and South America, and islands in the Caribbean Sea, the Phyllostomidae bat family (American leaf-nosed bats) is one of the world’s most diverse mammalian families in terms of its trophic, or feeding, diversity.
Although cases of independent adaptation to the same dietary niche have been documented in mammalian ecology, the molecular correlates …
Gene duplication is a key source of evolutionary innovation, and multigene families evolve in a birth-death process, continuously duplicating and pseudogenizing through time. To empirically test hypotheses about adaptive expansion and contraction of multigene families across species, models infer gene gain and loss in light of speciation events and these inferred gene family expansions may lead to interpretations of adaptations in particular lineages. While the relative abundance of a gene subfamily in the subgenome may reflect its functional importance, tests based on this expectation can be confounded by the complex relationship between the birth-death process of gene subfamily evolution and the species phylogeny. Using simulations, we confirmed tree heterogeneity as a confounding factor in inferring multi-gene adaptation, causing spurious associations between shifts in birth-death rate and lineages with higher branching rates. We then used the olfactory receptor (OR) repertoire, the largest gene family in the mammalian genome, of different bat species with divergent diets to test whether expansions in olfactory receptors are associated with shifts to frugivorous diets. After accounting for tree heterogeneity, we robustly inferred that certain OR subfamilies exhibited expansions associated with dietary shifts to frugivory. Taken together, these results suggest ecological correlates of individual OR gene subfamilies can be identified, setting the stage for detailed inquiry into within-subfamily functional differences.
Evaluating the performance of targeted sequence capture, RNA-Seq, and degenerate-primer PCR cloning for sequencing the largest mammalian multigene family
Multigene families evolve from single‐copy ancestral genes via duplication, and typically encode proteins critical to key biological …