Tag Archives: evolution

Triffids Underground

Carnivorous plants are (to put it bluntly) pretty darn dope. I mean what’s cooler than the idea that ‘boring’ and ‘unremarkable’ plants have upgraded themselves from prey to predator!?! These carnivorous beasties have served as inspiration for an array of scary monsters in the world of fiction, such as the Triffids, Audrey II and more recently the Demogorgon from Stranger Things (I really want to add Bulbasaur and his evolutionary lineage to the list but I don’t think that’s more a symbiotic relationship).

But it turns out that we could’ve made these creatures even more terrifying, but still biologically plausible, by making them capable of haunting not only those living above ground but those below ground too…

Read more: First record of functional underground traps in a pitcher plant: Nepenthes pudica (Nepenthaceae), a new species from North Kalimantan, Borneo

A new species of carnivorous plants from Borneo (described only this year) have been found to have underground (yes you read that correctly) pitchers, the acid-filled tubs into which unsuspecting insects often fall. Not only is this really neat but it also shows we have so much left to discover and learn about the natural world…

But also just imagine carnivorous plant inspired monsters with the ability to move swiftly underground like the sandworms from Dune


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Can Fishes Adapt To Our Warming Oceans?

Low potential for evolutionary rescue from climate change in a tropical fish (2020) Morgan et al., PNAS, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2011419117

The Crux

As the planet warms thanks to climate change, the massive bodies of water that are our oceans grow hotter. Since they’re larger, and much poorer conductors of heat, they don’t tend to vary in temperature as much as the land does, which means many species will have to get used to longer, warmer periods.

If species can adapt to hotter temperatures through thermal acclimation, ecosystems may not be too harshly affected. However if they’re unable to adapt, marine ecosystems may undergo rapid changes as they lose native species. Today’s researchers looked at a key study species – the zebrafish – in order to figure out how well fish can respond to increasing temperatures.

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Buzz Show

To start this interview is 100% the Zootopia version of the Graham Norton show – featuring Bunnydict Cumberbatch because why not (we’re pretty sure that’s his real name anyway). On the docket for tonight’s interviews – Graham the Gerbil/Hamster looks into the history of the human-biting ‘London Underground mosquitoes’ – more specifically how they probably did not evolve in London. Check out the lead author’s thread below for a more in-depth take!


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Getting Hot Hot Hot

How melanism affects the sensitivity of lizards to climate change (2022) Mader et al. , Functional Ecology, https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.13993

Image credit: Tony Rebelo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Crux

Climate change is a fact of life. Every day we uncover more of the negative effects it will have on the various animals, plants, and fungi in the natural world. Species range contractions are one such effect, and they occur when the area that a given species normally occupies shrinks. They are directly linked to a species’ risk of extinction, with this risk growing as a species inability to adapt to new environments grows. Though the theory sounds logical, many of the exact mechanisms behind range contractions are still unknown.

Ectotherms are organisms that depend on the surrounding environment to regulate their own body temperature, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change. Many different biological mechanisms are involved in regulating temperature, but the ability to reflect solar radiation is a key player. Indeed, the ability of organisms to reflect solar radiation (aka energy from sunlight) is part of the thermal melanism hypothesis (see Did You Know?). Melanistic (darker) organisms may be favored under climate change, due to the protection against UV radiation provided by melanin. However, melanistic individuals are more prone to increased heating, which can be bad. Today’s authors sought to understand how climate change would affect melanistic organisms.

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Why Are There So Many Species?

The causes and ecological context of rapid morphological evolution in birds (2022) Crouch & Tobias, Ecology Letters, https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13962

Image credit: Andrej Chudý , CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Crux

One of the biggest questions facing evolutionary ecologists is why some groups of organisms contain SO MANY species, while others are relatively sparse in comparison. We’ve discussed adaptive radiations on Ecology for the Masses before, which is when a burst of speciation occurs within a group, with new species adapting to fill new ecological niches. It could be that the reason for such uneven groups is that some clades, or related groups of organisms, are more prone to such adaptive radiations than others. If this is true, it would mean that such clades experience not only an increase in the number of lineages (species) that they contain, but also the number of traits they exhibit.

Increases in the speciation rate and trait evolution are the hallmarks of adaptive radiations, but they may not occur at the same time, which can lead to some different outcomes. Clades may diversify rapidly, without really evolving new traits, and this is known as a “non-adaptive radiation“. In contrast, a lineage may quickly evolve new traits without speciating, which is known as an “adaptive non-radiation“. To understand the causes and context of such evolutionary scenarios, today’s authors studied the history of bird evolution.

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Bigger is Better

Population size impacts host-pathogen coevolution (2021) Papkou et al. 2021, Proc B, https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.2269

Image credit: Kbradnam, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The Crux

Host-pathogen interactions are maybe best characterized as a battle – a pathogen (a parasite that causes disease) doing what it can to maximize how much it can get from a given host organism, and a host doing what it can to defend itself from this endless attack. As a result, hosts and pathogens are locked in an endless evolutionary battle, whereby hosts evolve to better defend themselves and pathogens evolve to better attack the host. A key factor in this battle is population size, as this affects the evolutionary potential of a given population of organisms to respond to selection.

The larger a population of hosts, the more novel genetic variants there are, which are simply organisms with different genetic make-ups, which can be the result of mutations popping up or through combinations with other genetic variants within the population. The more variation there is, the more diverse the population is, and the more chance it has of carrying the genes that could help it respond to a new threat, like a pathogen.

This means that a larger host population is more likely to have a genetic variant that is able to defend itself from these pathogens. That variant will then be selected for and the host population will become more resistant to that pathogen over time. While a lot of theory has been dedicated to understanding these coevolutionary battles, actual experimental evidence is lacking. Today’s authors used a model system to conduct evolutionary experiments to test the effect of host population size on host-pathogen coevolution.

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The Fascinating Lives of Colonial Animals

A physonect siphonophore colony observed during an exploration of the Central Pacific Basin. (Image Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research)

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The Species On The Globe Go Round And Round

Today we associate lions with Africa, but they used to be widespread around the northern hemisphere (Image Credit: MLbay, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped)

While I continuously hear my little one’s nursery rhyme about a certain stuff going round and round, I think, what else moves round and round in my field? Species! 

They move around as they are looking for a mate, food, to avoid cold weather, the list goes on. They occupy a reasonable range that can be handled by their bodily functions, and either stay in that range or move when the environment changes. A species’ historical movement is one of the most important aspects of its natural history.

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Better Means Faster

Species interactions have predictable impacts on diversification (2021) Zeng and Wiens, Ecology Letters. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13635

Image Credit: MacNeil Lyons/NPS, CC BY 2.0

The Crux

No organism on the planet lives in complete isolation from other organisms. Many organisms serve as a food source for others, and even apex predators have to compete for their food. Species interactions like predation, competition, and parasitism directly impact organisms in their daily lives, but there is also a possibility that these same species interactions have had an impact on much longer timescales. That is, species interactions may have had a direct effect on the diversity of life on our planet.

Species interactions have been previously shown to affect diversification rates (see Did You Know?), so the question that today’s authors asked was whether there is a general trend to the effects of species interactions on diversification rates? Specifically, do species interactions with negative fitness (such as being killed by a predator) impacts decrease diversification rates, and do species interactions with positive fitness (such as successfully parasitizing a host) impacts increase diversification rates?

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