The Science of Nature

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ISSN / EISSN : 0028-1042 / 1432-1904
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, , , Vince P. Schneider, , Brian W. Zimmer
Published: 2 July 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-17; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01733-1

The Placerias/Downs’ Quarry complex in eastern Arizona, USA, is the most diverse Upper Triassic vertebrate locality known. We report a new short-faced archosauriform, Syntomiprosopus sucherorum gen. et sp. nov., represented by four incomplete mandibles, that expands that diversity with a morphology unique among Late Triassic archosauriforms. The most distinctive feature of Syntomiprosopus gen. nov. is its anteroposteriorly short, robust mandible with 3–4 anterior, a larger caniniform, and 1–3 “postcanine” alveoli. The size and shape of the alveoli and the preserved tips of replacement teeth preclude assignment to any taxon known only from teeth. Additional autapomorphies of S. sucherorum gen. et sp. nov. include a large fossa associated with the mandibular fenestra, an interdigitating suture of the surangular with the dentary, fine texture ornamenting the medial surface of the splenial, and a surangular ridge that completes a 90° arc. The external surfaces of the mandibles bear shallow, densely packed, irregular, fine pits and narrow, arcuate grooves. This combination of character states allows an archosauriform assignment; however, an associated and similarly sized braincase indicates that Syntomiprosopus n. gen. may represent previously unsampled disparity in early-diverging crocodylomorphs. The Placerias Quarry is Adamanian (Norian, maximum depositional age ~219 Ma), and this specimen appears to be an early example of shortening of the skull, which occurs later in diverse archosaur lineages, including the Late Cretaceous crocodyliform Simosuchus. This is another case where Triassic archosauriforms occupied morphospace converged upon by other archosaurs later in the Mesozoic and further demonstrates that even well-sampled localities can yield new taxa.
Published: 1 July 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-12; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01738-w

In ant–plant defense mutualisms, plants known as myrmecophytes provide food and shelter to ant partners in exchange for defense against herbivores and pathogens. To ensure interaction pay-off, myrmecophytes must regulate their investment in ant-rewards depending on local conditions and herbivore pressure. We investigated how myrmecophyte investment in multiple ant-rewards relates to herbivory, ant defense, and ant occupancy over time. Specifically, we examined the plasticity of ant-rewards produced by swollen-thorn acacias (Vachellia collinsii) under different ant occupancy and herbivory conditions. We compared food rewards (number of extrafloral nectaries and pinnules as a proxy for food bodies) and housing rewards (domatia dimensions) of V. collinsii for three conditions: (1) occupied (defended by the obligate mutualist Pseudomyrmex spinicola) versus unoccupied trees, (2) occupied trees subject to an experimental herbivory manipulation versus control trees, and (3) trees occupied by different ant species varying in their level of defense (P. spinicola, P. simulans, Crematogaster crinosa). We found that food rewards were more likely to vary in time depending on ant occupancy and resident species. Conversely, housing rewards varied with the condition (occupancy or species of partner) and less through time. A one-time herbivory manipulation did not cause any changes to the ant-rewards produced. Our results reveal short-term plasticity in V. collinsii ant-rewards and demonstrate that myrmecophytes with constitutive rewards can adjust their investment in ant-rewards depending on the presence and identity of ant partners.
Olga S. Golosova, Marina V. Kholodova, , Elena V. Volodina, Eugeny Y. Likhatsky, András Náhlik, Tamás Tari
Published: 29 June 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-18; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01742-0

This study investigates a population of red deer Cervus elaphus, founded by 10 individuals introduced in the nineteenth century from Germany to the Voronezh region of the European part of Southern Russia and then developed without further introductions. We characterize for the first time the vocal phenotype of the Voronezh red deer male rutting calls in comparison with similar data on the Pannonian (native Central European) and Iberian (native West European) red deer obtained by the authors during preceding studies. In addition, we provide for the first time the genetic data on Pannonian red deer. In Voronezh stags, the number of roars per bout (2.85 ± 1.79) was lower than in Pannonian (3.18 ± 2.17) but higher than in Iberian (2.11 ± 1.71) stags. In Voronezh stags, the duration of main (the longest within bouts) roars was longer (2.46 ± 1.14 s) than in Pannonian (1.13 ± 0.50 s) or Iberian (1.90 ± 0.50 s) stags. The maximum fundamental frequency of main roars was similar between Voronezh (175 ± 60 Hz) and Pannonian (168 ± 61 Hz) but higher in Iberian stags (223 ± 35 Hz). Mitochondrial cytochrome b gene analysis of red deer from the three study populations partially supports the bioacoustical data, of closer similarity between Voronezh and Pannonian populations. In contrast, microsatellite DNA analysis delineates Voronezh red deer from either Pannonian or Iberian red deer. We discuss that population bottlenecking might affect the acoustics of the rutting roars, in addition to genotype.
, Maria Sachs, Lois Rancilhac, Henner Brinkmann, Jörn Petersen, Sven Künzel, Anja Schwarz, Hartmut Arndt, Ryan Kerney, Miguel Vences
Published: 28 June 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-20; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01734-0

Amphibian clutches are colonized by diverse but poorly studied communities of micro-organisms. One of the most noted ones is the unicellular green alga, Oophila amblystomatis, but the occurrence and role of other micro-organisms in the capsular chamber surrounding amphibian clutches have remained largely unstudied. Here, we undertook a multi-marker DNA metabarcoding study to characterize the community of algae and other micro-eukaryotes associated with agile frog (Rana dalmatina) clutches. Samplings were performed at three small ponds in Germany, from four substrates: water, sediment, tree leaves from the bottom of the pond, and R. dalmatina clutches. Sampling substrate strongly determined the community compositions of algae and other micro-eukaryotes. Therefore, as expected, the frog clutch-associated communities formed clearly distinct clusters. Clutch-associated communities in our study were structured by a plethora of not only green algae, but also diatoms and other ochrophytes. The most abundant operational taxonomic units (OTUs) in clutch samples were taxa from Chlamydomonas, Oophila, but also from Nitzschia and other ochrophytes. Sequences of Oophila “Clade B” were found exclusively in clutches. Based on additional phylogenetic analyses of 18S rDNA and of a matrix of 18 nuclear genes derived from transcriptomes, we confirmed in our samples the existence of two distinct clades of green algae assigned to Oophila in past studies. We hypothesize that “Clade B” algae correspond to the true Oophila, whereas “Clade A” algae are a series of Chlorococcum species that, along with other green algae, ochrophytes and protists, colonize amphibian clutches opportunistically and are often cultured from clutch samples due to their robust growth performance. The clutch-associated communities were subject to filtering by sampling location, suggesting that the taxa colonizing amphibian clutches can drastically differ depending on environmental conditions.
Published: 21 June 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-8; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01739-9

Despite representing the majority of bee species, non-eusocial bees (e.g. solitary, subsocial, semisocial, and quasisocial species) are comparatively understudied in learning, memory, and cognitive-like behaviour compared to eusocial bees, such as honeybees and bumblebees. Ecologically relevant colour discrimination tasks are well-studied in eusocial bees, and research has shown that a few non-eusocial bee species are also capable of colour learning and long-term memory retention. Australia hosts over 2000 native bee species, most of which are non-eusocial, yet evidence of cognitive-like behaviour and learning abilities under controlled testing conditions is lacking. In the current study, I examine the learning ability of a non-eusocial Australian bee, Lasioglossum (Chilalictus) lanarium, using aversive differential conditioning during a colour discrimination task. L. lanarium learnt to discriminate between salient blue- and yellow-coloured stimuli following training with simulated predation events. This study acts as a bridge between cognitive studies on eusocial and non-social bees and introduces a framework for testing non-eusocial wild bees on elemental visual learning tasks using aversive conditioning. Non-eusocial bee species are far more numerous than eusocial species and contribute to agriculture, economics, and ecosystem services in Australia and across the globe. Thus, it is important to study their capacity to learn flower traits allowing for successful foraging and pollination events, thereby permitting us a better understanding of their role in plant-pollinator interactions.
Giacomo Rosa, , Julien Renet, Antonio Romano, Luca Roner, Sebastiano Salvidio
Published: 17 June 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-6; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01741-1

In vertebrates, the main tissue devoted to energy storage is the adipose tissue. In salamanders, energy reserves can also be stored in the adipose tissues of the tail. Therefore, we evaluated if energy storage in salamanders’ tails is related to individual body condition, life cycle and environmental constraints. We calculated a scaled measure of tail width for 345 salamanders belonging to six Mediterranean taxa exhibiting wide phylogenetic, behavioural and ecological variation. We related this measure to the Scaled Mass Index (SMI), a body condition index which reliably predicts body fat. We found significant relationships between the SMI and scaled tail width in the terrestrial Spectacled salamander and Alpine salamanders, independently of sex. At the same time, we found that energy storage in the tail is maximum in Alpine Salamanders, which experience reduced activity periods and restricted access to resources. Conversely, we found a significant effect of sex in Imperial cave salamanders, where females store reserves in the tail to counterbalance resource investment in parental care, and in Corsican Brook Newts, where the reproductive function of males’ tails may imply a greater tail width. Finally, in the biphasic Great Crested Newt, tail width was not related to SMI in both sexes.
Published: 11 June 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-12; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01736-y

The non-mammalian therapsids comprise a paraphyletic assemblage of Permian-Jurassic synapsids closely related to mammals that includes six major clades of largely unresolved phylogenetic affinity. Understanding the early evolutionary radiation of therapsids is complicated by a gap in the fossil record during the Roadian (middle Permian) known as Olson’s gap. Because of its early stratigraphic occurrence and its primitive features, Raranimus dashankouensis, from the Dashankou fauna (Rodian), Qingtoushan Formation (China), is currently considered the best candidate to fill this gap. However, it is known from only a single specimen, an isolated snout, which limits the amount of usable phylogenetic characters to reconstruct its affinities. In addition, understanding of the stratigraphy of the Qingtoushan Formation is poor. Here, we used CT scanning techniques to digitally reconstruct the bones and trigeminal canals of the snout of Raranimus in 3D. We confirm that Raranimus shares a high number of synapomorphies with more derived therapsids and is the only therapsid known so far to display a “pelycosaur”-like maxillary canal bearing a long caudal alveolar canal that gives off branches at regular intervals. This plesiomorphic feature supports the idea that Raranimus is basal to other therapsids.
, A. C. Gaskett, J. C. O’Hanlon
Published: 6 June 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-8; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01737-x

Deception has evolved in a range of taxa. When deception imposes costs, yet persists over generations, exploited species typically have traits to help them bear or minimise costs. The sexually deceptive orchids, Cryptostylis spp., are pollinated by tricking male haplodiploid wasps (Lissopimpla excelsa) into mating with flowers, which offer no reward and often elicit sperm wastage. We hypothesise that by attracting haplodiploid species, orchids have a pollinator ideally suited to withstand the costs of sexual deception—and a selective advantage compared to other orchids. Haplodiploid females can reproduce with or without sperm—albeit when spermless, females can only have sons. Through orchid deception and sperm wastage, deceived haplodiploid populations could become male biased, providing enough males to share between orchids and females. In this way, pollinator populations can persist despite high densities of sexually deceptive orchids. Here, we aim to broadly test this prediction using museum and digital records of the pollinator, L. excelsa, from sites with or without orchids. For robustness, we also analyse the sex ratio of a sister ichneumonid species that occurs in the same areas but is not deceived by orchids. We found that at sites with orchids, L. excelsa was significantly more male biased than at sites without orchids and significantly more male biased than the sister ichneumonid. This survey is the first to test the population-level effects of sexually deceptive orchids on their pollinator. It supports our prediction that orchid deception can drive male-biased sex ratios in exploited pollinators.
Published: 27 May 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-7; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01735-z

Calcium oxalate (CaOx) crystals have challenged human curiosity since the advent of microscopy. These crystals are linked to the control of calcium levels in plant cells, but they have also been attributed several other functions, including protection against herbivory. However, the protection offered by CaOx crystals against herbivory may be overstated, as claims have been mainly based on their shapes and hard and indigestible nature rather than on experimental evidence. I contend that it is improbable that a constitutive defense, present since very early in the evolution of plants, has not been superseded by herbivores, especially insects. Here, I present arguments and evidence that suggest that these crystals have low efficiency in protecting plants against herbivores. First, I argue that insects with chewing mouthparts possess a semipermeable structure that protects their midgut, minimizing damage from crystals. Second, the action of CaOx crystals is purely mechanical and similar to other inert materials such as sand. Therefore, CaOx crystals only provide effective protection from herbivory in very particular cases and should not be considered an effective defense without supporting experimental evidence.
, , , Achim H. Schwermann, Oliver Wings
Published: 16 May 2021
The Science of Nature, Volume 108, pp 1-12; doi:10.1007/s00114-021-01719-z

The Langenberg Quarry near Bad Harzburg has yielded the first Jurassic stem therian mammal of Germany, recovered from Kimmeridgian (Late Jurassic) near shore deposits of a palaeo-island within the Lower Saxony Basin of the European archipelago. The new stem therian is represented by one lower and three upper molars. Hercynodon germanicus gen. et sp. nov. is attributed to the Dryolestidae, a group of pretribosphenic crown mammals that was common in western Laurasia from the Middle Jurassic to the Early Cretaceous. The new taxon is characterised by small size, a reduced cusp pattern in the upper molars lacking a metacone, and enhancement of the shearing crests paracrista and metacrista. Phylogenetic analysis identified Hercynodon gen. nov. as sister taxon of Crusafontia from the Lower Cretaceous (Barremian) of Spain. Both taxa belong to an endemic European clade of dryolestids, including also Achyrodon and Phascolestes from the earliest Cretaceous (Berriasian) of England. Despite its greater geological age, Hercynodon gen. nov. is the most derived representative of that clade, indicated by the complete reduction of the metacone. The discrepancy between derived morphology and geological age may be explained by an increased rate of character evolution in insular isolation. Other insular phenomena have earlier been observed in vertebrates from the Langenberg Quarry, such as dwarfism in the small sauropod Europasaurus, and possible gigantism in the morganucodontan mammaliaform Storchodon and the pinheirodontid multituberculate mammal Teutonodon which grew unusually large.
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