Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) captures a tasty antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni). 
From http://www.lastocean.org/Commercial-Fishing/About-Toothfish-/All-about-Antarctic-toothfish-__I.2445; photo by Jessica Meir.

Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) captures a tasty antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni). 

From http://www.lastocean.org/Commercial-Fishing/About-Toothfish-/All-about-Antarctic-toothfish-__I.2445; photo by Jessica Meir.

scientificillustration:

“The phylogenetic position of Cetacea relative to other extant mammals. Parsimony analysis of 26 nuclear loci (Goloboff weighting with k = 2) position Cetacea deep within Artiodactyla and distantly related to other obligately aquatic mammals (Sirenia). For the placements of aquatic mammals and for relationships among higher-level placental groups, circles at nodes indicate >90% bootstrap support. Branches are proportional to the number of substitutions optimized to branches; long basal branches with cross bars were truncated for aesthetics. The cladogram is rooted by vertebrate outgroups to Mammalia (Gallus, Taeniopygia, Anolis, Xenopus, Danio). Artwork is by Carl Buell.”
A phylogenetic blueprint for a modern whale. Gatesy J, Geisler JH, Chang J, Buell C, Berta A, Meredith RW, Springer MS, McGowen MR. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2012 Oct 26. pii: S1055-7903(12)00418-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2012.10.012. (pdf)

scientificillustration:

“The phylogenetic position of Cetacea relative to other extant mammals. Parsimony analysis of 26 nuclear loci (Goloboff weighting with k = 2) position Cetacea deep within Artiodactyla and distantly related to other obligately aquatic mammals (Sirenia). For the placements of aquatic mammals and for relationships among higher-level placental groups, circles at nodes indicate >90% bootstrap support. Branches are proportional to the number of substitutions optimized to branches; long basal branches with cross bars were truncated for aesthetics. The cladogram is rooted by vertebrate outgroups to Mammalia (Gallus, Taeniopygia, Anolis, Xenopus, Danio). Artwork is by Carl Buell.”

A phylogenetic blueprint for a modern whale. Gatesy J, Geisler JH, Chang J, Buell C, Berta A, Meredith RW, Springer MS, McGowen MR. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2012 Oct 26. pii: S1055-7903(12)00418-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2012.10.012. (pdf)

rhamphotheca:

Jay and Pine Intertwined
by Elizabeth Blaker
Russ Benford felt bad about it, but trying to get mates to cheat on each other was part of his job as an ornithologist. Pinyon Jays are thought to be monogamous, as are humans, but are they any better at it than we are? To find out, Benford—a behavorial ecologist at Northern Arizona University—separated mated pairs of Pinyon Jays captured from forests in northern Arizona and placed them in aviaries with attractive members of the opposite sex. And he waited…
The cheating study is just one facet of research that Benford and other scientists across the western United States are exploring to learn more about Pinyon Jays. Much of the research these days focuses on how populations of these dusty-blue jays—a bit stouter than a scrub-jay, with a sharp beak adapted specifically for extracting seeds from the cones of pinyon pines—are faring as their favored habitat declines. After the U.S. Forest Service deemed pinyon-juniper woodlands to be of no commercial value, land managers from the 1940s to the 1960s set about trying to eradicate this habitat across the Southwest. Pinyon Jay populations plummeted.
The 21st century is setting up to be another tough time for pinyon pines, with frequent droughts and wildfires. Because of dwindling habitat, Pinyon Jays are classified as a species of concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service…
(read more: Cornell Lab of Ornithology)         (Photo: Marie Read)

rhamphotheca:

Jay and Pine Intertwined

by Elizabeth Blaker

Russ Benford felt bad about it, but trying to get mates to cheat on each other was part of his job as an ornithologist. Pinyon Jays are thought to be monogamous, as are humans, but are they any better at it than we are? To find out, Benford—a behavorial ecologist at Northern Arizona University—separated mated pairs of Pinyon Jays captured from forests in northern Arizona and placed them in aviaries with attractive members of the opposite sex. And he waited…

The cheating study is just one facet of research that Benford and other scientists across the western United States are exploring to learn more about Pinyon Jays. Much of the research these days focuses on how populations of these dusty-blue jays—a bit stouter than a scrub-jay, with a sharp beak adapted specifically for extracting seeds from the cones of pinyon pines—are faring as their favored habitat declines. After the U.S. Forest Service deemed pinyon-juniper woodlands to be of no commercial value, land managers from the 1940s to the 1960s set about trying to eradicate this habitat across the Southwest. Pinyon Jay populations plummeted.

The 21st century is setting up to be another tough time for pinyon pines, with frequent droughts and wildfires. Because of dwindling habitat, Pinyon Jays are classified as a species of concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service…

(read more: Cornell Lab of Ornithology)         (Photo: Marie Read)

Seafood “Monster” Has Male Organ Branching Four

Our friends in the Langerhans lab recently published work describing a new species of mosquitofish, Gambusia quadruncus. Of note, the males of the species have a series of four hooks on their genitalia that likely represent the outcome of an evolutionary “arms race” between the sexes. 

Generally when interesting work is published, the institution will put out a press release, which in turn gets reused, rewritten, and retranslated across the web, often with unintentionally hilarious consequences:

"Men of types that have sex like a creature because of a similar four-pronged male organ formed like a connect. Vagina branching four men seafood can help to get over hurdles and efficiently exchange ejaculation to the women system. Species with the originality of her genitals is not the first time found. Last September, scientists released the conclusions of a seafood with sex in the head…" 

It helps that the original research was about sex and genitalia, of course…

Some of our work gets coverage in a new perspective article in Science on cichlids as a model system for research, or as the authors put it, “a role model not only for adaptive radiation and explosive speciation but also for the survey of interactions at all levels of biological organization.”
How Cichlids Diversify
M. Emília Santos and  Walter Salzburger

Some of our work gets coverage in a new perspective article in Science on cichlids as a model system for research, or as the authors put it, “a role model not only for adaptive radiation and explosive speciation but also for the survey of interactions at all levels of biological organization.”

How Cichlids Diversify

M. Emília Santos and  Walter Salzburger

“No single species, no matter how highly engineered, can ever serve as a universal model: every species has unique features that may be assets or faults, depending on the question being asked. For instance, the lack of developmental plasticity in Drosophila and of genetic variability in inbred rats limit what these models can tell us about ecological effects on development, but make them powerful tools for studying gene function during development.
We also need to broaden our range of models to include species such as Antarctic icefish, comb jellies, cichlids, dune mice and finches that are naturally endowed by evolution with features relevant to human diseases. Studying the basis of unique adaptive traits in these animals may yield insight into human disorders such as osteoporosis, cataracts and cancer.” - Jessica Bolker
Illustration by Phil Disley
Model organisms: There’s more to life than rats and flies.

No single species, no matter how highly engineered, can ever serve as a universal model: every species has unique features that may be assets or faults, depending on the question being asked. For instance, the lack of developmental plasticity in Drosophila and of genetic variability in inbred rats limit what these models can tell us about ecological effects on development, but make them powerful tools for studying gene function during development.

We also need to broaden our range of models to include species such as Antarctic icefish, comb jellies, cichlids, dune mice and finches that are naturally endowed by evolution with features relevant to human diseases. Studying the basis of unique adaptive traits in these animals may yield insight into human disorders such as osteoporosis, cataracts and cancer.” - Jessica Bolker

Illustration by Phil Disley

Model organisms: There’s more to life than rats and flies.

genannetics:

Yakkity Yak: The Yak Genome Sequenced
Nature Genetics has published a new paper relating to the recently sequenced domestic Yak genome (scientifically known as Bos grunniens). Yaks are closely related to low-altitude cattle, and by comparing their genomes, scientists have identified genes that play important roles in adaptation to high altitudes.  Their research will be not only shed light on mammalian adaptation and evolution, but also will inform our understanding of hypoxia-related diseases in humans.
Photo: Venn diagram showing unique and shared gene families between the yak, cattle, dog and human genomes. (Qiu, et.al., 2012)
Un-Sciencey Note:  AWWWWWW!!!!  I LOVE YAKS!  YAY SCIENCE!

genannetics:

Yakkity Yak: The Yak Genome Sequenced

Nature Genetics has published a new paper relating to the recently sequenced domestic Yak genome (scientifically known as Bos grunniens). Yaks are closely related to low-altitude cattle, and by comparing their genomes, scientists have identified genes that play important roles in adaptation to high altitudes.  Their research will be not only shed light on mammalian adaptation and evolution, but also will inform our understanding of hypoxia-related diseases in humans.

Photo: Venn diagram showing unique and shared gene families between the yak, cattle, dog and human genomes. (Qiu, et.al., 2012)

Un-Sciencey Note:  AWWWWWW!!!!  I LOVE YAKS!  YAY SCIENCE!

These are three Gouldian finches, showing off the head color polymorphism present in this endangered species. Both males and females exhibit black, red, and yellow headed morphs - and there are incredibly interesting behavioral interactions based on color morph. Among the females, the redheads are the most aggressive, dominating both black and yellow morph females. Though, when red morphs are experimentally pigmented to look like black morphs, they lose to other red females. These birds are also choosy about mates, preferring to mate with other individuals of the same morph. In an interesting intersection of behavior and sensory input, they specifically need to use their right eye to reliably make this mate choice. Since mating with individuals of the same color morph produces more viable and robust offspring, it appears that there may exist the kind of selective pressure that could lead to a speciation event - where each color morph becomes a distinct species. Much of the fascinating work on this species comes from Sarah Pryke and her research group. 

These are three Gouldian finches, showing off the head color polymorphism present in this endangered species. Both males and females exhibit black, red, and yellow headed morphs - and there are incredibly interesting behavioral interactions based on color morph. Among the females, the redheads are the most aggressive, dominating both black and yellow morph females. Though, when red morphs are experimentally pigmented to look like black morphs, they lose to other red females. These birds are also choosy about mates, preferring to mate with other individuals of the same morph. In an interesting intersection of behavior and sensory input, they specifically need to use their right eye to reliably make this mate choice. Since mating with individuals of the same color morph produces more viable and robust offspring, it appears that there may exist the kind of selective pressure that could lead to a speciation event - where each color morph becomes a distinct species. Much of the fascinating work on this species comes from Sarah Pryke and her research group