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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Open Access Policy Deposits

This series is automatically populated with publications deposited by UC Santa Cruz Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology researchers in accordance with the University of California’s open access policies. For more information see Open Access Policy Deposits and the UC Publication Management System.

Genomic basis for skin phenotype and cold adaptation in the extinct Steller's sea cow.


Steller's sea cow, an extinct sirenian and one of the largest Quaternary mammals, was described by Georg Steller in 1741 and eradicated by humans within 27 years. Here, we complement Steller's descriptions with paleogenomic data from 12 individuals. We identified convergent evolution between Steller's sea cow and cetaceans but not extant sirenians, suggesting a role of several genes in adaptation to cold aquatic (or marine) environments. Among these are inactivations of lipoxygenase genes, which in humans and mouse models cause ichthyosis, a skin disease characterized by a thick, hyperkeratotic epidermis that recapitulates Steller's sea cows' reportedly bark-like skin. We also found that Steller's sea cows' abundance was continuously declining for tens of thousands of years before their description, implying that environmental changes also contributed to their extinction.

Genome Sequencing of a Gray Wolf from Peninsular India Provides New Insights into the Evolution and Hybridization of Gray Wolves.


The gray wolf (Canis lupus) is among the few large carnivores that survived the Late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions. Thanks to their complex history of admixture and extensive geographic range, the number of gray wolf subspecies and their phylogenetic relationships remain poorly understood. Here, we perform whole-genome sequencing of a gray wolf collected from peninsular India that was phenotypically distinct from gray wolves outside India. Genomic analyses reveal that the Indian gray wolf is an evolutionarily distinct lineage that diverged from other extant gray wolf lineages ∼110 thousand years ago. Demographic analyses suggest that the Indian wolf population declined continuously decline since separating from other gray wolves and, today, has exceptionally low genetic diversity. We also find evidence for pervasive and mosaic gene flow between the Indian wolf and African canids including African wolf, Ethiopian wolf, and African wild dog despite their current geographical separation. Our results support the hypothesis that the Indian subcontinent was a Pleistocene refugium and center of diversification and further highlight the complex history of gene flow that characterized the evolution of gray wolves.

Estimating population size when individuals are asynchronous: A model illustrated with northern elephant seal breeding colonies.


Our aim was to develop a method for estimating the number of animals using a single site in an asynchronous species, meaning that not all animals are present at once so that no one count captures the entire population. This is a common problem in seasonal breeders, and in northern elephant seals, we have a model for quantifying asynchrony at the Año Nuevo colony. Here we test the model at several additional colonies having many years of observations and demonstrate how it can account for animals not present on any one day. This leads to correction factors that yield total population from any single count throughout a season. At seven colonies in California for which we had many years of counts of northern elephant seals, we found that female arrival date varied < 2 days between years within sites and by < 5 days between sites. As a result, the correction factor for any one day was consistent, and at each colony, multiplying a female count between 26 and 30 Jan by 1.15 yielded an estimate of total population size that minimized error. This provides a method for estimating the female population size at colonies not yet studied. Our method can produce population estimates with minimal expenditure of time and resources and will be applicable to many seasonal species with asynchronous breeding phenology, particularly colonial birds and other pinnipeds. In elephant seals, it will facilitate monitoring the population over its entire range.

Trade-offs between foraging reward and mortality risk drive sex-specific foraging strategies in sexually dimorphic northern elephant seals.


Sex-specific phenotypic differences are widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Reproductive advantages provided by trait differences come at a cost. Here, we link sex-specific foraging strategies to trade-offs between foraging reward and mortality risk in sexually dimorphic northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). We analyse a decadal dataset on movement patterns, dive behaviour, foraging success and mortality rates. Females are deep-diving predators in open ocean habitats. Males are shallow-diving benthic predators in continental shelf habitats. Males gain six times more mass and acquire energy 4.1 times faster than females. High foraging success comes with a high mortality rate. Males are six times more likely to die than females. These foraging strategies and trade-offs are related to different energy demands and life-history strategies. Males use a foraging strategy with a high mortality risk to attain large body sizes necessary to compete for females, as only a fraction of the largest males ever mate. Females use a foraging strategy with a lower mortality risk, maximizing reproductive success by pupping annually over a long lifespan. Our results highlight how sex-specific traits can drive disparity in mortality rates and expand species' niche space. Further, trade-offs between foraging rewards and mortality risk can differentially affect each sex's ability to maximize fitness.

Why sequence all eukaryotes?


Life on Earth has evolved from initial simplicity to the astounding complexity we experience today. Bacteria and archaea have largely excelled in metabolic diversification, but eukaryotes additionally display abundant morphological innovation. How have these innovations come about and what constraints are there on the origins of novelty and the continuing maintenance of biodiversity on Earth? The history of life and the code for the working parts of cells and systems are written in the genome. The Earth BioGenome Project has proposed that the genomes of all extant, named eukaryotes-about 2 million species-should be sequenced to high quality to produce a digital library of life on Earth, beginning with strategic phylogenetic, ecological, and high-impact priorities. Here we discuss why we should sequence all eukaryotic species, not just a representative few scattered across the many branches of the tree of life. We suggest that many questions of evolutionary and ecological significance will only be addressable when whole-genome data representing divergences at all of the branchings in the tree of life or all species in natural ecosystems are available. We envisage that a genomic tree of life will foster understanding of the ongoing processes of speciation, adaptation, and organismal dependencies within entire ecosystems. These explorations will resolve long-standing problems in phylogenetics, evolution, ecology, conservation, agriculture, bioindustry, and medicine.

The skeleton of Balanophyllia coral species suggests adaptive traits linked to the onset of mixotrophy.


The diversity in the skeletal features of coral species is an outcome of their evolution, distribution and habitat. Here, we explored, from macro- to nano-scale, the skeletal structural and compositional characteristics of three coral species belonging to the genus Balanophyllia having different trophic strategies. The goal is to address whether the onset of mixotrophy influenced the skeletal features of B. elegans, B. regia, and B. europaea. The macroscale data suggest that the presence of symbiotic algae in B. europaea can lead to a surplus of energy input that increases its growth rate and skeletal bulk density, leading to larger and denser corals compared to the azooxanthellate ones, B. regia and B. elegans. The symbiosis would also explain the higher intra-skeletal organic matrix (OM) content, which is constituted by macromolecules promoting the calcification, in B. europaea compared to the azooxanthellate species. The characterization of the soluble OM also revealed differences between B. europaea and the azooxanthellate species, which may be linked to diverse macromolecular machineries responsible for skeletal biosynthesis and final morphology. Differently, the crystallographic features were homogenous among species, suggesting that the basic building blocks of skeletons remained a conserved trait in these related species, regardless of the trophic strategy. These results show changes in skeletal phenotype that could be triggered by the onset of mixotrophy, as a consequence of the symbiotic association, displaying remarkable plasticity of coral skeletons which repeatedly allowed this coral group to adapt to a range of changing environments throughout its geological history.

Revisiting the effect of PCR replication and sequencing depth on biodiversity metrics in environmental DNA metabarcoding.


Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding is an increasingly popular tool for measuring and cataloguing biodiversity. Because the environments and substrates in which DNA is preserved differ considerably, eDNA research often requires bespoke approaches to generating eDNA data. Here, we explore how two experimental choices in eDNA study design-the number of PCR replicates and the depth of sequencing of PCR replicates-influence the composition and consistency of taxa recovered from eDNA extracts. We perform 24 PCR replicates from each of six soil samples using two of the most common metabarcodes for Fungi and Viridiplantae (ITS1 and ITS2), and sequence each replicate to an average depth of ~84,000 reads. We find that PCR replicates are broadly consistent in composition and relative abundance of dominant taxa, but that low abundance taxa are often unique to one or a few PCR replicates. Taxa observed in one out of 24 PCR replicates make up 21-29% of the total taxa detected. We also observe that sequencing depth or rarefaction influences alpha diversity and beta diversity estimates. Read sampling depth influences local contribution to beta diversity, placement in ordinations, and beta dispersion in ordinations. Our results suggest that, because common taxa drive some alpha diversity estimates, few PCR replicates and low read sampling depths may be sufficient for many biological applications of eDNA metabarcoding. However, because rare taxa are recovered stochastically, eDNA metabarcoding may never fully recover the true amplifiable alpha diversity in an eDNA extract. Rare taxa drive PCR replicate outliers of alpha and beta diversity and lead to dispersion differences at different read sampling depths. We conclude that researchers should consider the complexity and unevenness of a community when choosing analytical approaches, read sampling depths, and filtering thresholds to arrive at stable estimates.

The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes.


Domestication of horses fundamentally transformed long-range mobility and warfare1. However, modern domesticated breeds do not descend from the earliest domestic horse lineage associated with archaeological evidence of bridling, milking and corralling2-4 at Botai, Central Asia around 3500 BC3. Other longstanding candidate regions for horse domestication, such as Iberia5 and Anatolia6, have also recently been challenged. Thus, the genetic, geographic and temporal origins of modern domestic horses have remained unknown. Here we pinpoint the Western Eurasian steppes, especially the lower Volga-Don region, as the homeland of modern domestic horses. Furthermore, we map the population changes accompanying domestication from 273 ancient horse genomes. This reveals that modern domestic horses ultimately replaced almost all other local populations as they expanded rapidly across Eurasia from about 2000 BC, synchronously with equestrian material culture, including Sintashta spoke-wheeled chariots. We find that equestrianism involved strong selection for critical locomotor and behavioural adaptations at the GSDMC and ZFPM1 genes. Our results reject the commonly held association7 between horseback riding and the massive expansion of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists into Europe around 3000 BC8,9 driving the spread of Indo-European languages10. This contrasts with the scenario in Asia where Indo-Iranian languages, chariots and horses spread together, following the early second millennium BC Sintashta culture11,12.

Cover page of Density-dependent effects on reproductive output in a capital breeding carnivore, the northern elephant seal (<i>Mirounga angustirostris</i>).

Density-dependent effects on reproductive output in a capital breeding carnivore, the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris).


All organisms face resource limitations that will ultimately restrict population growth, but the controlling mechanisms vary across ecosystems, taxa, and reproductive strategies. Using four decades of data, we examine how variation in the environment and population density affect reproductive outcomes in a capital-breeding carnivore, the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris). This species provides a unique opportunity to examine the relative importance of resource acquisition and density-dependence on breeding success. Capital breeders accrue resources over large temporal and spatial scales for use during an abbreviated reproductive period. This strategy may have evolved, in part, to confer resilience to short-term environmental variability. We observed density-dependent effects on weaning mass, and maternal age (experience) was more important than oceanographic conditions or maternal mass in determining offspring weaning mass. Together these findings show that the mechanisms controlling reproductive output are conserved across terrestrial and marine systems and vary with population dynamics, an important consideration when assessing the effect of extrinsic changes, such as climate change, on a population.