Thursday, March 24, 2016

LAWRENCE — For about 60 million years during the Eocene epoch, the Indian subcontinent was a huge island. Having broken off from the ancient continent of Gondwanaland, the Indian Tectonic Plate drifted toward Eurasia.

During that gradual voyage, the subcontinent saw a blossoming of exceptional wildlife, and when the trove of unique biodiversity finally made contact with bigger Eurasia, the exchange of animals and plants between these areas laid the foundations for countless modern species.

“Today, mainland Asia and India have all this unique biodiversity — but did the mainland Asian biodiversity come from India, or did the Indian biodiversity come from other regions of Asia?” asked Jesse Grismer, doctoral candidate with the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas.

Grismer claims the answer depends on the organism in question.

“If you picked Asian freshwater crabs, you’d see they started in India and made their way to Asia, but if you picked dragon lizards you’d get the opposite answer,” he said. “The opposing distribution patterns created a lot of conflict for a while. You’d see papers saying, ‘Everything came from India,’ and others saying, ‘No, everything came from Indochina and Southeast Asia.’ But they were looking at opposite ends of the same pattern, just with different animals.”

Now, Grismer has authored research appearing in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology showing that before the final collision of Eurasia and the Indian subcontinent, land bridges between the landmasses may have served as “freeways” of biodiversity exchange that flowed in both directions.

“Our paper shows that as India was approaching Eurasia, it was connecting by ephemeral land bridges,” Grismer said. “It was these land bridges that allowed for dispersal and exchange of all these species. There were two areas of suitable habitat separated by unsuitable oceans. But once that new area was exposed, species were allowed to disperse into mainland Asia or India, respectively, areas that these species had not been able to previously exploit.”

To arrive at their conclusion, Grismer and his co-authors performed a phylogenomic analysis of Indian Dragon Lizards, revealing multiple origins in Southeast Asia. The researchers included Alana Alexander, Phillip Wagner, Scott L. Travers, Matt D. Buehler, Luke J. Welton and Rafe M. Brown from KU and James A. Schulte II from Clarkson University. Grismer also credits his KU lab mates Chan Kin Onn, Robin Abraham and Carl Hutter with help on the research via “a lot of fruitful discussion.”

Importantly, the team showed that two land bridges connected the Indian subcontinent to Eurasia at two different times during the early to middle Eocene, some 35 to 40 million years ago.

“This hypothesis is based on evolutionary relationships between the species used in this study,” he said. Grismer added that his team blended new genomic data with previous studies and combined that analysis with new geologic studies about Eocene geology.

The KU researcher said Indian Dragon Lizards, or the Draconinae subfamily of the lizard family Agamidae, are an ideal species to study in order to piece together a picture of the exchange of biodiversity that took place due to the land bridges.

“Dragon lizards added new light because of the previous work that has been done on them, plus our new samples,” Grismer said. “They’re quite diverse as a group, distributed equally, and so they’re great study system for testing a new hypotheses.”

He added that conservation of certain species of Dragon Lizards and keeping them out of the international pet trade would help make possible more opportunities for understanding the history of this unique group of family of lizards.

“We were only able to do this because we had all these species to work with, and a future study with more data and new species could find a new result to this question ” he said. “Animals in general tell us a lot about our world and how we fit into it. I think protecting them is just as important as anything else we do.”

Top photo: Jesse Grismer, doctoral candidate with the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas, recently published research in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. Photo by Meg Kumin, KU Marketing Communications.

Top right image: A map shows the distribution of Draconinae and the four biogeographic area (differently colored borders) used in ancestral range reconstructions. Image courtesy Jesse Grismer.

Bottom right image: b Hypothesized position of the ISC and an early Eocene land bridge allowing for the first inferred dispersal event (D#1 in a) from Eurasia into India, 50–55 MYA. c. Hypothesized position of the ISC and a middle-late Eocene land bridge allowing for the second first inferred dispersal event (D#2 in a) from Eurasia into India between 35–50 MYA (paleomaps modified from Klaus et al.) Image courtesy Jesse Grismer.

-Brendan M. Lynch

- See more at: http://news.ku.edu/2016/03/14/land-bridges-linking-ancient-india-and-eur...

Herpetology
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Hispaniolan trunk anole photographed at La Palma, Dominican Republic. Photo credit: Rich Glor

 

With a recent four-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a University of Kansas researcher is undertaking the most-detailed analysis ever carried out of how reptiles branch into various species.

In doing so, Richard Glor, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU and associate curator of herpetology at KU’s Biodiversity Institute, is questioning some of the very methods scientists use to define species.

Further, by combining laboratory studies with fieldwork and genomic sequence data, Glor and his team hope to determine the genetic basis for species differences and why these species diverged in the first place.

Glor said biologists traditionally employ the idea of “reproductive isolation,” or the inability of one kind of animal to fruitfully breed with another, to determine boundaries defining individual species.

“Every student in biology has learned the philosophy of what a species is — something that can’t reproduce with other species,” Glor said. “So when someone describes a new species, you’d think they’ve done a bunch of crossing experiments [to see if a species can reproduce with another], but the answer is that nobody ever does that.”

He said more laboratory studies should be conducted to verify assumptions about boundaries between species and less reliance should rest on how animals look to the eye. His new grant is based on the idea that conventional methods have overlooked recent and ongoing speciation events.

“Traditional taxonomists say that if species exhibit differences in their appearance — this one is green, and this one is red — they likely aren't reproducing with one another,” Glor said. “I saw that as an understudied area in speciation research. We always talk about reproductive isolation, but we never test it.”

Glor has revealed this shortcoming in part by conducting crossing experiments on a group of lizards called bark anoles found on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These lizards are notable for the remarkable variation of their “dewlap,” or flap of skin along the throat, that can be found in different colors and patterns.

“The dewlap is colorful, kind of like a fancy car or jewelry in the human population,” Glor said. “It shows the female you’re attractive and helps her recognize her own species, so it’s critical to sexual selection. The group that I study is particularly noteworthy because a single species exhibits very different dewlap colors and patterns (i.e., some populations are yellow, while others are red). Most anole species exhibit only a single color.”

Previous biologists have relied on variation in dewlaps to separate bark anoles into different subspecies.

“When herpetologists drove across Haiti's mountainous Tiburon Peninsula more than 50 years ago, they saw bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps at the beginning of their journey, bark anoles with orange and then wine red dewlaps further along, and then started seeing bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps again by the time they reached the far tip of the peninsula,” Glor said. “As a result, they described these populations with different dewlap colors as distinct subspecies.”

But as Glor and his colleagues obtained genomic data from the lizards, they found dewlap colors weren’t a trustworthy sign of the underlying genetic differences scientists expect to find in distinct species.
“These populations don’t seem to be genomically differentiated,” he said. “Some of those taxa that traditional methods show to be different species probably aren’t different species. Natural selection is driving them to have different dewlap color and appearance for reasons not related to them being different species.”

In other cases, Glor said traditional methods missed species that appear to be strongly differentiated genetically because they are nearly impossible to distinguish externally.

Glor’s work represents the most detailed and integrated analysis ever performed on squamate reptiles — a group of almost 10,000 species, including all lizards and snakes. The research will result in the establishment of a new laboratory model organism, the first squamate genome assembled through linkage mapping and the first “estimates of heritability and the genomic basis for phenotypic traits” vital to systematically studying reptiles in general.

Further, the research has resulted in a public exhibit now on display at the KU Museum of Natural History.

Ultimately, however, Glor said that evolution in species is an unending and fluid process that biologists might always struggle to catalogue and measure.
“All of these ideas like reproductive isolation or morphological divergence are all just benchmarks that occur as new species are forming,” he said. “It could be that some species exhibit all these benchmarks, and some display only one or two. The problem identifying species is that we're trying to put discrete start and stop points on a process we know is continuous.”

- Brendan Lynch, KU News

Herpetology
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Hispaniolan trunk anole photographed at La Palma, Dominican Republic. Photo credit: Rich Glor

 

With a recent four-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a University of Kansas researcher is undertaking the most-detailed analysis ever carried out of how reptiles branch into various species.

In doing so, Richard Glor, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU and associate curator of herpetology at KU’s Biodiversity Institute, is questioning some of the very methods scientists use to define species.

Further, by combining laboratory studies with fieldwork and genomic sequence data, Glor and his team hope to determine the genetic basis for species differences and why these species diverged in the first place.

Glor said biologists traditionally employ the idea of “reproductive isolation,” or the inability of one kind of animal to fruitfully breed with another, to determine boundaries defining individual species.

“Every student in biology has learned the philosophy of what a species is — something that can’t reproduce with other species,” Glor said. “So when someone describes a new species, you’d think they’ve done a bunch of crossing experiments [to see if a species can reproduce with another], but the answer is that nobody ever does that.”

He said more laboratory studies should be conducted to verify assumptions about boundaries between species and less reliance should rest on how animals look to the eye. His new grant is based on the idea that conventional methods have overlooked recent and ongoing speciation events.

“Traditional taxonomists say that if species exhibit differences in their appearance — this one is green, and this one is red — they likely aren't reproducing with one another,” Glor said. “I saw that as an understudied area in speciation research. We always talk about reproductive isolation, but we never test it.”

Glor has revealed this shortcoming in part by conducting crossing experiments on a group of lizards called bark anoles found on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These lizards are notable for the remarkable variation of their “dewlap,” or flap of skin along the throat, that can be found in different colors and patterns.

“The dewlap is colorful, kind of like a fancy car or jewelry in the human population,” Glor said. “It shows the female you’re attractive and helps her recognize her own species, so it’s critical to sexual selection. The group that I study is particularly noteworthy because a single species exhibits very different dewlap colors and patterns (i.e., some populations are yellow, while others are red). Most anole species exhibit only a single color.”

Previous biologists have relied on variation in dewlaps to separate bark anoles into different subspecies.

“When herpetologists drove across Haiti's mountainous Tiburon Peninsula more than 50 years ago, they saw bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps at the beginning of their journey, bark anoles with orange and then wine red dewlaps further along, and then started seeing bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps again by the time they reached the far tip of the peninsula,” Glor said. “As a result, they described these populations with different dewlap colors as distinct subspecies.”

But as Glor and his colleagues obtained genomic data from the lizards, they found dewlap colors weren’t a trustworthy sign of the underlying genetic differences scientists expect to find in distinct species.
“These populations don’t seem to be genomically differentiated,” he said. “Some of those taxa that traditional methods show to be different species probably aren’t different species. Natural selection is driving them to have different dewlap color and appearance for reasons not related to them being different species.”

In other cases, Glor said traditional methods missed species that appear to be strongly differentiated genetically because they are nearly impossible to distinguish externally.

Glor’s work represents the most detailed and integrated analysis ever performed on squamate reptiles — a group of almost 10,000 species, including all lizards and snakes. The research will result in the establishment of a new laboratory model organism, the first squamate genome assembled through linkage mapping and the first “estimates of heritability and the genomic basis for phenotypic traits” vital to systematically studying reptiles in general.

Further, the research has resulted in a public exhibit now on display at the KU Museum of Natural History.

Ultimately, however, Glor said that evolution in species is an unending and fluid process that biologists might always struggle to catalogue and measure.
“All of these ideas like reproductive isolation or morphological divergence are all just benchmarks that occur as new species are forming,” he said. “It could be that some species exhibit all these benchmarks, and some display only one or two. The problem identifying species is that we're trying to put discrete start and stop points on a process we know is continuous.”

- Brendan Lynch, KU News

Herpetology
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Hispaniolan trunk anole photographed at La Palma, Dominican Republic. Photo credit: Rich Glor

 

With a recent four-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a University of Kansas researcher is undertaking the most-detailed analysis ever carried out of how reptiles branch into various species.

In doing so, Richard Glor, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU and associate curator of herpetology at KU’s Biodiversity Institute, is questioning some of the very methods scientists use to define species.

Further, by combining laboratory studies with fieldwork and genomic sequence data, Glor and his team hope to determine the genetic basis for species differences and why these species diverged in the first place.

Glor said biologists traditionally employ the idea of “reproductive isolation,” or the inability of one kind of animal to fruitfully breed with another, to determine boundaries defining individual species.

“Every student in biology has learned the philosophy of what a species is — something that can’t reproduce with other species,” Glor said. “So when someone describes a new species, you’d think they’ve done a bunch of crossing experiments [to see if a species can reproduce with another], but the answer is that nobody ever does that.”

He said more laboratory studies should be conducted to verify assumptions about boundaries between species and less reliance should rest on how animals look to the eye. His new grant is based on the idea that conventional methods have overlooked recent and ongoing speciation events.

“Traditional taxonomists say that if species exhibit differences in their appearance — this one is green, and this one is red — they likely aren't reproducing with one another,” Glor said. “I saw that as an understudied area in speciation research. We always talk about reproductive isolation, but we never test it.”

Glor has revealed this shortcoming in part by conducting crossing experiments on a group of lizards called bark anoles found on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These lizards are notable for the remarkable variation of their “dewlap,” or flap of skin along the throat, that can be found in different colors and patterns.

“The dewlap is colorful, kind of like a fancy car or jewelry in the human population,” Glor said. “It shows the female you’re attractive and helps her recognize her own species, so it’s critical to sexual selection. The group that I study is particularly noteworthy because a single species exhibits very different dewlap colors and patterns (i.e., some populations are yellow, while others are red). Most anole species exhibit only a single color.”

Previous biologists have relied on variation in dewlaps to separate bark anoles into different subspecies.

“When herpetologists drove across Haiti's mountainous Tiburon Peninsula more than 50 years ago, they saw bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps at the beginning of their journey, bark anoles with orange and then wine red dewlaps further along, and then started seeing bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps again by the time they reached the far tip of the peninsula,” Glor said. “As a result, they described these populations with different dewlap colors as distinct subspecies.”

But as Glor and his colleagues obtained genomic data from the lizards, they found dewlap colors weren’t a trustworthy sign of the underlying genetic differences scientists expect to find in distinct species.
“These populations don’t seem to be genomically differentiated,” he said. “Some of those taxa that traditional methods show to be different species probably aren’t different species. Natural selection is driving them to have different dewlap color and appearance for reasons not related to them being different species.”

In other cases, Glor said traditional methods missed species that appear to be strongly differentiated genetically because they are nearly impossible to distinguish externally.

Glor’s work represents the most detailed and integrated analysis ever performed on squamate reptiles — a group of almost 10,000 species, including all lizards and snakes. The research will result in the establishment of a new laboratory model organism, the first squamate genome assembled through linkage mapping and the first “estimates of heritability and the genomic basis for phenotypic traits” vital to systematically studying reptiles in general.

Further, the research has resulted in a public exhibit now on display at the KU Museum of Natural History.

Ultimately, however, Glor said that evolution in species is an unending and fluid process that biologists might always struggle to catalogue and measure.
“All of these ideas like reproductive isolation or morphological divergence are all just benchmarks that occur as new species are forming,” he said. “It could be that some species exhibit all these benchmarks, and some display only one or two. The problem identifying species is that we're trying to put discrete start and stop points on a process we know is continuous.”

- Brendan Lynch, KU News

Herpetology
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Thompson Reuters recently named three KU scientists as the only KU researchers ranked "Highly Cited Researchers" for 2015.

Biodiversity Institute scientists Jorge Soberon and A. Townsend Peterson, as well as incoming professor James Bever, were selected for the list, which represents some of world’s most influential scientific minds. About three thousand researchers earned the distinction by writing the greatest number of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as “highly cited papers.” This ranked them among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact.

Soberon’s interests are in documenting and understanding large-scale spatial patterns in the biodiversity of terrestrial species, using tools such as Geographical Information Systems software, mathematical models and software specifically for niche modeling. He also studies the political and institutional aspects of biodiversity governance. 

Together with Robert Guralnick, Soberon and Peterson edit the online, open access journal Biodiversity Informatics

Peterson’s research is diverse, ranging from systematic ornithology and species-level distributional ecology to spatial epidemiology, and the ecology of zoonotic diseases in natural systems. The general focus is on the geography of biodiversity, in a context of international collaboration and education.

James Bever, professor of biology at Indiana University, will join the KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) in January 2016. He is considered a world leader in microbiology, especially plant-soil microbial interactions.

Biodiversity Modeling & Policy
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Thompson Reuters recently named three KU scientists as the only KU researchers ranked "Highly Cited Researchers" for 2015.

Biodiversity Institute scientists Jorge Soberon and A. Townsend Peterson, as well as incoming professor James Bever, were selected for the list, which represents some of world’s most influential scientific minds. About three thousand researchers earned the distinction by writing the greatest number of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as “highly cited papers.” This ranked them among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact.

Soberon’s interests are in documenting and understanding large-scale spatial patterns in the biodiversity of terrestrial species, using tools such as Geographical Information Systems software, mathematical models and software specifically for niche modeling. He also studies the political and institutional aspects of biodiversity governance. 

Together with Robert Guralnick, Soberon and Peterson edit the online, open access journal Biodiversity Informatics

Peterson’s research is diverse, ranging from systematic ornithology and species-level distributional ecology to spatial epidemiology, and the ecology of zoonotic diseases in natural systems. The general focus is on the geography of biodiversity, in a context of international collaboration and education.

James Bever, professor of biology at Indiana University, will join the KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) in January 2016. He is considered a world leader in microbiology, especially plant-soil microbial interactions.

Biodiversity Modeling & Policy
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Thompson Reuters recently named three KU scientists as the only KU researchers ranked "Highly Cited Researchers" for 2015.

Biodiversity Institute scientists Jorge Soberon and A. Townsend Peterson, as well as incoming professor James Bever, were selected for the list, which represents some of world’s most influential scientific minds. About three thousand researchers earned the distinction by writing the greatest number of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as “highly cited papers.” This ranked them among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact.

Soberon’s interests are in documenting and understanding large-scale spatial patterns in the biodiversity of terrestrial species, using tools such as Geographical Information Systems software, mathematical models and software specifically for niche modeling. He also studies the political and institutional aspects of biodiversity governance. 

Together with Robert Guralnick, Soberon and Peterson edit the online, open access journal Biodiversity Informatics

Peterson’s research is diverse, ranging from systematic ornithology and species-level distributional ecology to spatial epidemiology, and the ecology of zoonotic diseases in natural systems. The general focus is on the geography of biodiversity, in a context of international collaboration and education.

James Bever, professor of biology at Indiana University, will join the KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) in January 2016. He is considered a world leader in microbiology, especially plant-soil microbial interactions.

Biodiversity Modeling & Policy
Friday, January 22, 2016

The University of Kansas Natural History Museum has been named the top natural history museum among public universities by Best College Reviews. In "The 30 Most Amazing Higher Ed Natural History Museums," the museum ranked fourth overall behind private university museums at Harvard, Drexel and Yale.

To be named to the select list of 30 museums, each institution had to be open to the public. Additional ranking criteria included:

• Number of artifacts/specimens in the collection
• Opportunities at the museum for college students
• Community involvement

"We are honored to receive this recognition of nationwide leadership in the study of the life of the planet for science and society,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. “We have the finest scientists, graduate students and public program staff in the country."

The KU Natural History Museum, a part of the Biodiversity Institute, seeks to engage and inspire diverse audiences through nature and science. The museum offers programs for the public, K-12 teachers and students and the university community, and includes four floors of exhibits. It is home to more than 9 million plant, animal and fossil specimens, and 1.5 million archaeological artifacts.

Natural History Museum
Friday, January 22, 2016

The University of Kansas Natural History Museum has been named the top natural history museum among public universities by Best College Reviews. In "The 30 Most Amazing Higher Ed Natural History Museums," the museum ranked fourth overall behind private university museums at Harvard, Drexel and Yale.

To be named to the select list of 30 museums, each institution had to be open to the public. Additional ranking criteria included:

• Number of artifacts/specimens in the collection
• Opportunities at the museum for college students
• Community involvement

"We are honored to receive this recognition of nationwide leadership in the study of the life of the planet for science and society,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. “We have the finest scientists, graduate students and public program staff in the country."

The KU Natural History Museum, a part of the Biodiversity Institute, seeks to engage and inspire diverse audiences through nature and science. The museum offers programs for the public, K-12 teachers and students and the university community, and includes four floors of exhibits. It is home to more than 9 million plant, animal and fossil specimens, and 1.5 million archaeological artifacts.

Natural History Museum
Friday, January 22, 2016

The University of Kansas Natural History Museum has been named the top natural history museum among public universities by Best College Reviews. In "The 30 Most Amazing Higher Ed Natural History Museums," the museum ranked fourth overall behind private university museums at Harvard, Drexel and Yale.

To be named to the select list of 30 museums, each institution had to be open to the public. Additional ranking criteria included:

• Number of artifacts/specimens in the collection
• Opportunities at the museum for college students
• Community involvement

"We are honored to receive this recognition of nationwide leadership in the study of the life of the planet for science and society,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. “We have the finest scientists, graduate students and public program staff in the country."

The KU Natural History Museum, a part of the Biodiversity Institute, seeks to engage and inspire diverse audiences through nature and science. The museum offers programs for the public, K-12 teachers and students and the university community, and includes four floors of exhibits. It is home to more than 9 million plant, animal and fossil specimens, and 1.5 million archaeological artifacts.

Natural History Museum