RVC Research Online

    Saigas on the brink: Multidisciplinary analysis of the factors influencing mass mortality events

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    In 2015, more than 200,000 saiga antelopes died in 3 weeks in central Kazakhstan. The proximate cause of death is confirmed as hemorrhagic septicemia caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida type B, based on multiple strands of evidence. Statistical modeling suggests that there was unusually high relative humidity and temperature in the days leading up to the mortality event; temperature and humidity anomalies were also observed in two previous similar events in the same region. The modeled influence of environmental covariates is consistent with known drivers of hemorrhagic septicemia. Given the saiga population’s vulnerability to mass mortality and the likely exacerbation of climate-related and environmental stressors in the future, management of risks to population viability such as poaching and viral livestock disease is urgently needed, as well as robust ongoing veterinary surveillance. A multidisciplinary approach is needed to research mass mortality events under rapid environmental change

    Tempo and mode of performance evolution across multiple independent origins of adhesive toe pads in lizards

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    Understanding macroevolutionary dynamics of trait evolution is an important endeavor in evolutionary biology. Ecological opportunity can liberate a trait as it diversifies through trait space, while genetic and selective constraints can limit diversification. While many studies have examined the dynamics of morphological traits, diverse morphological traits may yield the same or similar performance and as performance is often more proximately the target of selection, examining only morphology may give an incomplete understanding of evolutionary dynamics. Here, we ask whether convergent evolution of pad‐bearing lizards has followed similar evolutionary dynamics, or whether independent origins are accompanied by unique constraints and selective pressures over macroevolutionary time. We hypothesized that geckos and anoles each have unique evolutionary tempos and modes. Using performance data from 59 species, we modified Brownian motion (BM) and Ornstein–Uhlenbeck (OU) models to account for repeated origins estimated using Bayesian ancestral state reconstructions. We discovered that adhesive performance in geckos evolved in a fashion consistent with Brownian motion with a trend, whereas anoles evolved in bounded performance space consistent with more constrained evolution (an Ornstein–Uhlenbeck model). Our results suggest that convergent phenotypes can have quite distinctive evolutionary patterns, likely as a result of idiosyncratic constraints or ecological opportunities

    Do Female Dogs Age Differently Than Male Dogs?

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    Humans, as well as their closest ancestors, the higher African primates, exhibit female-biased survival and multiple sex differences in causes of death. However, the effects of sex on aging and longevity in an excellent model of human health, the companion dog, have not been well explored. Using two large independent databases on companion dog longevity and causes of death, we performed the most extensive analysis of sex differences in dog aging to date. Unlike the findings in humans, we observed only a small effect of sex on canine longevity. When broken down by neutering status, we discovered a small male advantage in survival among intact dogs but a clear female survival advantage among neutered dogs. Overall, the effect of neutering on life span was greater than the effect of sex. However, we found few sex differences in causes of death in either intact or neutered dogs. The results of this study suggest limited sex effects on either longevity or causes of death in the companion dog. Our analysis suggests that the majority of apparent sex differences in the wider canine populations may be due to the effects of neutering
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