A Surgical Approach to Dissection of an Exotic Animal

Post provided by Aaron T Irving, Justin HJ Ng and Lin-fa Wang

An Australian black flying fox – missing an ear, but fit for release.

Bats. They’re amazing creatures. Long-lived (with relevance to their body size), echolocating (for microbats and some megabats), metabolically-resilient (apparently resilient to most virus infections) flying mammals (with heart beats up to 1200 bpm for hours during flight). There are 1,411 species of this incredible creature. But very little is known about their physiology and unique biological traits. And detailed evolutionary analysis has only just begun.

The problem is, they’re an ‘exotic’ animal (wildlife that most people do not come into contact with). Being a long-lived animal producing minimal offspring (most only have one baby per year), they’re not suited to the kind of experimental studies we do with other animals like mice. Unavoidably, some aspects of biology require the use of tissues and cells. These samples can be used for sequencing, genomics, molecular evolution studies, detailed transcriptomic analysis, functional experiments with specific cell types and much more. Some methodology is beginning to be published – such as capture techniques and wing punch/genomic isolation – but there’s been an absence of protocols for the processing of bats. This is essential for the field to maximise the potential application of each individual and for minimising non-essential specimen collection.

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Associate Editor Profile: LOUISE JOHNSON

Dr Louise Johnson, a population geneticist working on the evolution of genetic systems, has been an Associate Editor for Methods in Ecology and Evolution since October 2013. In that time she has handled a range of manuscripts falling within her areas of expertise (primarily molecular evolution, population genetics and genomes).

Louise Johnson

Dr Louise Johnson

Louise began her academic career with a degree in Genetics at the University of Edinburgh. She then moved south to complete her PhD on the evolution of mating systems in yeast at Imperial College London under the supervision of Professor Austin Burt. Following her successful time in London, she took up post-doctorate positions at the University of Nottingham (working on transposable elements with Professor John Brookfield) and across the Atlantic at the University of Virginia (looking at genome defences with Professor Janis Antonovics and Professor Michael Hood). Louise returned to the UK in 2006 to take up an RCUK Fellowship at the University of Reading and has been there ever since.

As part of our series of Editor Profiles, we asked Louise to tell us about some of her current research:

There are three projects which I am currently working on that I would like to outline. I’ll be discussing the cancer project – or at least the story so far – at the Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5th Anniversary Symposium later this month. Do check out the programme, and I hope to see you there! The whole point of a methods journal is to help each other do our research as well and easily as possible, so there’s a built-in community spirit about MEE, which bodes well for a fun and useful meeting. Before I start I should also say that I’m lucky to have amazing collaborators at Reading and beyond: for the projects below, credit is particularly due to my colleagues Rob Jackson and Tiffany Taylor, who had a huge input, and to Mike Brockhurst at York. Continue reading

New associate editor

Methods is pleased to announce that Matthew Spencer has become the newest member of its editorial board, taking up the role of Associate Editor. Matt is a quantitative biologist at the University of Liverpool and is interested in using stochastic models to understand community dynamics and molecular evolution:

In particular, I want to work with models that are simple, flexible, and can be applied to real data sets.

Welcome on board Matt!

Methods digest – update

A round up of recent methods-relevant research published recently: it is ages since we did this, largely because the journal has been so busy with papers coming in and being published. Do send through links to any new methods papers to me or to the journal, or post a comment below.

In Evolution, Werthelm & Sanderson look at how estimates of diversification rates are influenced by improved estimates of divergence times; Robert Lanfear introduces a new method for comparing rates of molecular evolution on trees.

In Systematic Biology Eric Stone has an extremely interesting article on why common comparative methods are robust to tree misspecification. Martin Linder et al. evaluate Bayesian models of substitution rate evoluton, whist Chung & Ané compare Bayesian methods for gene and species tree reconstructions. Simon Ho et al. have a short paper on Bayesian estimation of substitution rates from ancient DNA sequences.  Leaché & Rannala compare the accuracy of species tree estimation under different methods. Anne Kupczok explores the consequences of different null models for shape bias of supertree methods. John Huelsenbeck et al. compare phylogenetic models with the ‘No Common Mechanisms Model’.

In the Journal of Animal Ecology Andrew Jackson & co. have a paper on a new R package (SIBER) for comparing isotopic niche widths.

Sophie Smout et al. look at how heterogeneity of detection and mark loss affect estimates of survival in grey seals in Journal of Applied Ecology. Issue 1 of 2011 has a special profile introduced by Julia Jones on monitoring species abundance.

Eve McDonald-Madden et al. have a paper in Ecological Applications on how to allocate conservation resources when the persistence of a species in not certain. Mary Beth Rew and colleagues look at the problem of how many genetic markers should be used to tag an individual in the presence of close relatives.

A paper by Adam Algar et al. in Ecology looks at how it is possible to quantify the roles of trait-based filters in determining local and regional species composition. Florent Bled, Andy Royle & Emmanuelle Cam have a paper on testing hypotheses about nesting site dynamics by combining population and fitness data.

In Oikos, Sofia Berg et al. have a paper on the use of sensitivity analysis to identify keystones in foodwebs.

Finally for this update, in Ecography Simon Linke and co look at how multivariate analysis can produce conservation planning that addresses the needs of practitioners. Steinar Engen et al. describe a new approach to measuring the similarity of communities and Canrain Liu et al. have a paper on measuring the accuracy of species distribution models using presence absence data.

I’ll try to do another update in the next couple of weeks to cover some of the journals I have missed in this one.