Journal Club

Highlighting recently published papers selected by Academy members

Category Archives: Evolution

Insects, not just wind, offer an ancient mechanism of orchid seed dispersal

On Yakushima Island, at the southern tip of Japan, an orchid employs a very unusual strategy to disperse its seeds. Crickets visit the orchid at night, eat its fruits, and defecate the seeds in the vicinity. The discovery, reported recently … Continue reading

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Seasonality shapes coevolution of parasites and hosts

Parasites and their hosts coevolve in an arms race influenced by environmental conditions. Seasonal change, for example, can shape the course of evolution, but precisely how has been something of a mystery. A recent study used lab experiments and mathematical … Continue reading

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Snake venom evolved in fits and spurts

The cocktail of toxins in snake venom experienced constant change with pulses of rapid evolution over the last 60 million years, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Venom, the researchers report, has changed … Continue reading

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A combination of living and nonliving selective forces drive local adaptation across species

Both living and nonliving factors can interact to shape local adaptation, according to a recent study in The American Naturalist. The metaanalysis also entailed the use of a method, borrowed from the social and medical sciences, that identified common themes and research gaps … Continue reading

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Molecular evidence supports Darwin’s adaptationist view, informing the debate over what drives evolution

Myriad genetic differences distinguish the genomes of two species. What fraction of those differences arises by positive natural selection versus random genetic drift is a central question and topic of debate in evolutionary biology. A recent study in Nature Ecology … Continue reading

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Cooperative defense against disease may have helped insects evolve complex societies

The lifestyles of insects, such as bees and wasps, range from simple solitary arrangements to more recently evolved, highly complex family social structures. One major factor that allowed social complexity to evolve may have been insects’ ability to defend their … Continue reading

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Models shift blame for Neanderthal extinction away from modern humans

Neanderthals vanished about 40,000 years ago, but the reasons for their demise remain shrouded in mystery and a source of debate among archaeologists. The timing coincides with the arrival of modern humans in Europe, which has led some researchers to … Continue reading

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Common features of domestic animals suggest caveats to evolutionary theory

White patches on fur coats, floppy ears, and curly tails are some of the traits frequently seen in domesticated animals. A group of researchers has now put forth a theory as to why these traits so often evolve in association … Continue reading

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For choices involving uncertainty, the brain simplifies the math that drives our decisions

Every day, people make countless decisions, big and small: Should I buy that new house? Do I want chocolate or vanilla ice cream? A recent study suggests that when faced with uncertainty regarding a choice, how a person evaluates their … Continue reading

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Smarter birds speciate faster

Evolution favors brainier birds. The most crowded branches of the avian tree of life generally hold the most intelligent birds because larger-brained birds split into new species faster than smaller-brained ones, according to recent work published in Evolution. “Being smart … Continue reading

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By separating life stages, metamorphosis may circumvent harmful evolutionary tradeoffs

  There’s no guarantee evolution will bestow the best version of every trait. The benefits of one trait may impose a cost when an unfavorable trait, correlated genetically, comes along for the ride. In a recent study on wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) … Continue reading

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