Hexbyte Glen Cove Male fairy-wrens show looks can be deceiving thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Male fairy-wrens show looks can be deceiving

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The researchers found that all male superb fairy-wrens produced and maintained vibrant colours, regardless of their ‘natural quality’. Credit: Alex McQueen

In many animals, female preference for males with the most elaborate appearance is an important factor in the evolution of bright and dramatic colors.

Females are thought to prefer colorful males because only ‘high-quality’ males—those with the most resources, superior foraging skills or social status—can produce and maintain the most vibrant colors.

By choosing these high-quality males, may ensure a good father or good genes for their offspring.

But do high quality males that are preferred by females invest more in their appearance?

A new study by Monash University ornithologists suggests not necessarily.

Led by Ph.D. graduate Dr. Alex McQueen, from the Monash University School of Biological Sciences the study published in Behavioural Ecology examined whether conspicuous colors of superb fairy-wrens signal male quality.

“We examined whether only the best quality males with excellent resources can produce the most vibrant colors and whether only the best quality males can maintain their colors in pristine condition,” said Alex. “We also tested this in an experiment, by administering testosterone to some males which caused them to produce breeding colors in winter.”

“Surprisingly, we found that all male superb fairy-wrens produced and maintained vibrant colors, regardless of their ‘natural quality’. Also the males that had to produce breeding colors in challenging winter conditions displayed vibrant colors that were indistinguishable from other males,” she said.

Every year male superb fairy-wrens change color by molting from a brown non-breeding to an ultraviolet blue and black breeding plumage.

While they are in their breeding plumage, males flaunt their colors to females by performing elaborate sexual displays.

“We predicted that maintaining their colors would be especially important in this species for two reasons: first, males that are preferred by females produce their breeding plumage earlier than all other males, many months before the start of breeding, meaning that those early males display their breeding colors for the longest each year; and second, ultraviolet blue feathers have been shown to readily fade over time in other birds,” said Alex.

The research team measured the colors of the same, wild male fairy-wrens several times a year.

And they recorded how much time males spent preening when they were in their brown non-breeding plumage and colorful breeding plumage.

“We were very surprised to find that male breeding colors do not fade with time,” said Alex.

“Despite keeping their colors in pristine condition, males did not spend more time preening while in breeding plumage,” she said.

The research team found that instead males ‘retouched’ their breeding colors by replacing a few blue feathers at a time throughout the breeding season.

“Our study shows that the vibrant breeding colors of male superb fairy-wrens are unlikely to signal male quality to females,” said Alex.

“We also found that are careful to keep their feather colors in excellent condition for sexual displays.”

Male fairy-wrens show looks can be deceiving (2020, December 22)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Study resolves the position of fleas on the tree of life thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Study resolves the position of fleas on the tree of life

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A living flea. Credit: NIGPAS

A study of more than 1,400 protein-coding genes of fleas has resolved one of the longest standing mysteries in the evolution of insects, reordering their placement in the tree of life and pinpointing who their closest relatives are.

The University of Bristol study, published in the journal Palaeoentomology, drew on the largest insect molecular dataset available. The dataset was analysed using new statistical methods, including more sophisticated algorithms, to test all historically proposed hypotheses about the placement of fleas on the insect and search for new potential relationships.

The findings overturn previously held theories about fleas, the unusual anatomy of which has meant that they eluded classification in evolutionary terms. According to the authors of the study, contrary to popular belief, fleas are technically scorpionflies, which evolved when they started feeding on the blood of vertebrates sometime between the Permian and Jurassic, between 290 and 165 million years ago.

The closest living relatives of fleas are the members of the scorpionfly family Nannochoristidae, a rare group with only seven species native to the southern hemisphere. Unlike the blood-thirsty fleas, adult nannochoristid scorpionflies lead a peaceful existence feeding on nectar.

“Of all the parasites in the animal kingdom, fleas hold a pre-eminent position. The Black Death, caused by a -transmitted bacterium, was the deadliest pandemic in the recorded history of mankind; it claimed the lives of possibly up to 200 million people in the 14th century,” says lead author and undergraduate student Erik Tihelka from the School of Earth Sciences.

The results have fundamental implications for our understanding of the origin of parasitism in insects and the early evolution of the group. Credit: NIGPAS

“Yet despite their medical significance, the placement of fleas on the tree of life represents one of the most persistent enigmas in the evolution of insects.”

It used to be thought that all blood-feeding parasitic insects began life as either predators or by living alongside vertebrate hosts in their nests. In actual fact, blood feeding can evolve in groups that originally fed on nectar and other plant secretions.

“It seems that the elongate mouthparts that are specialized for nectar feeding from flowers can become co-opted during the course evolution to enable sucking blood,” says Mattia Giacomelli, a Ph.D. student at the University of Bristol who participated in the study.

Previous studies had suggested a connection between fleas and anatomically unusual groups of scorpionflies, but their exact relationships remained unresolved. The mystery was prolonged by the fact that flea genomes underwent rapid evolution, which makes reconstructing ancient evolutionary relationships challenging. Moreover, the nannochoristids are a quite rare and little-studied group that only occurs in New Zealand, southeastern Australia, Tasmania, and Chile, so they are easy to overlook.

“The new results suggest that we may need to revise our entomology textbooks. Fleas no longer deserve the status of a separate insect order, but should actually be classified within the scorpionflies,” says Chenyang Cai, associate professor at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (NIGP) and a research fellow at the University of Bristol specialising on Mesozoic insects.

“We have exceptionally preserved fossil fleas from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. In particular, some Jurassic fleas from China, about 165 million years old, are truly giant and measure up to two centimetres. They may have fed on dinosaurs, but that is exceedingly difficult to tell. What is more interesting is that these ancient fleas share important characters with modern scorpionflies.”

More information:

Fleas are parasitic scorpionflies

, Palaeoentomology (2020). DOI: 10.11646/palaeoentomology.3.6.16 , dx.doi.org/10.11646/palaeoentomology.3.6.16

Study resolves the position of fleas on the tree of life (2020, December 21)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Ivory Coast creates first marine protected area thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Ivory Coast creates first marine protected area

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Fishing boats in the early morning off the coast of Grand-Béréby. Credit: CEM

Ivory Coast has announced the creation of its first Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The MPA will cover 2,600 km2 (1,000 square miles) of pristine ocean off the coast of Grand-Béréby, protecting marine biodiversity including threatened shark and .

The announcement is the culmination of years of work by the Ivorian government, the Abidjan Convention, Swedish Government and local non-governmental organisation Conservation des Espèces Marines (CEM), supported by the University of Exeter and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

This work was done alongside communities in Grand-Béréby to strengthen protection of marine biodiversity and fisheries resources, and to enhance local livelihoods.

The Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Professor Joseph Seka Seka said: “Today I announce our decision to create Cote d’Ivoire’s first Marine Protected Area in Grand-Béréby, a ‘partially protected’ area that will include an integrally protected zone closed to all activities, and an eco-development zone that will support sustainable fishing practices and ecotourism activities.”

In September, the Ivorian government stated its intention to create five MPAs—and today’s announcement confirms the first of these.

A rich variety of species live in the waters of the new MPA. Credit: CEM

A will now take place before the MPA rules come into effect.

The MPA location includes important sea-bed habitats and reef ecosystems, as well as globally significant nesting and foraging grounds for the leatherback, green and olive ridley turtles.

It will also protect more than 20 species of sharks and rays, including hammerheads, and guitarfish—a group of rays now considered the world’s most threatened .

Abou Bamba, Executive Secretary of the UNEP Abidjan Convention, said: “The government of Cote d’Ivoire should be widely applauded for this truly momentous decision, which shows tremendous leadership that we hope will resonate and be replicated across the Atlantic facade of Africa to unlock the economic potential of the continent coastal zones.”

Alexandre Dah, President of CEM, said: “The government of Cote d’Ivoire should be congratulated for translating our science into policy, with this new MPA both safeguarding globally important populations of threatened marine species, as well as supporting the livelihoods of local communities who depend on fisheries resources.”

The creation of the MPA relied on detailed scientific data collected by a team including the University of Exeter, who were supported by funding from the UK government’s Darwin Initiative and the Rainforest Trust.

Underwater image from the new MPA area. Credit: CEM

The research included participatory work with local communities to collect data on the biodiversity and health of the waters, including underwater surveys of marine habitats and previously undocumented reefs, and satellite tagging of sea turtles.

“This MPA is in a really unique area of marine biodiversity, whose reefs provide a natural refuge that will now be complemented by legal protection,” said Dr. Kristian Metcalfe, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“The political will for protecting and supporting sustainable resource use has been exemplary, and so we are delighted that our collaborative efforts have been able to underpin such a massive step in marine conservation.

“Levels of marine protection in West Africa are generally low, so the Ivorian government’s creation of a Marine Protected Area is a big statement that will hopefully act as a regional exemplar.”

The Exeter team were invited to Ivory Coast after working on marine conservation projects, first in Gabon and then in the Republic of the Congo.

Ivory Coast creates first marine protected area (2020, December 21)
retrieved 21 December 2020
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