Navigation Links
Using engineering plus evolutionary analyses to answer natural selection questions

AMHERST, Mass. Introducing a new approach that combines evolutionary and engineering analyses to identify the targets of natural selection, researchers report in the current issue of Evolution that the new tool opens a way of discovering evidence for selection for biomechanical function in very diverse organisms and of reconstructing skull shapes in long-extinct ancestral species.

Evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Dumont and mechanical engineer Ian Grosse at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with evolutionary biologist Liliana Dvalos of Stony Brook University and support from the National Science Foundation, studied the evolutionary histories of the adaptive radiation of New World leaf-nosed bats based on their dietary niches.

As the authors point out, adaptive radiations, that is, the explosive evolution of species into new ecological niches, have generated much of the biological diversity seen in the world today. "Natural selection is the driving force behind adaptation to new niches, but it can be difficult to identify which features are the targets of selection. This is especially the case when selection was important in the distant past of a group whose living members now occupy very different niches," they note.

They set out to tackle this by examining almost 200 species of New World leaf-nosed bats that exploit many different food niches: Insects, frogs, lizards, fruit, nectar and even blood. The bats' skulls of today reflect this dietary diversity. Species with long, narrow snouts eat nectar, while short-faced bats have exceptionally short, wide palates for eating hard fruits. Species that eat other foods have snouts shaped somewhere in between.

Dumont explains further, "We knew diet was associated with those things, but there was no evidence that natural selection acted to make those changes in the skull. The engineering model allowed us to identify the biomechanical functions that natural selection worked on. Some form or function helps an animal to perform better in its environment, but it can be hard to demonstrate exactly what that form or function is. We studied the engineering results using the evolutionary tree, which is a very cool new thing about this work."

She and colleagues built an engineering model of a bat skull that can morph into the shape of any species, and used it to create skulls with all possible combinations of snout length and width. Then they ran engineering analyses on all the models to assess their structural strength and mechanical advantage, a measure of how efficiently and how hard bats can bite.

Analyzing the engineering results over hundreds of evolutionary trees of New World leaf-nosed bats revealed three optimal snout shapes favored by natural selection, they report. One was the long, narrow snout of nectar feeders, the second was the extremely short and wide snout of short-faced bats, and the third optimum included all other species. Overall, selection for mechanical advantage was more important in determining the optima than was selection for structural strength, they add.

"Thanks to this new approach," Dumont says, "we were able to answer our original question about natural selection in the evolution of these bats. It favored the highest mechanical advantage in short-faced bats, which gives them the high bite forces needed to pierce through the hardest figs. Nectar feeders have very low mechanical advantage, which is a trade-off for having long, narrow snouts that fit into the flowers in which they find nectar."


Contact: Janet Lathrop
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Related biology news :

1. International deal to screen potential cancer drugs using DNA barcodes
2. Trial to test using ultrasound to move kidney stones
3. Who is using MyPlate?
4. Scientists have been able to grow artificial skin using stem cells from the umbilical cord
5. Using data to fight malaria
6. Using morphine after abdominal surgery may prolong pain, CU-Boulder researchers find
7. New look identifies crucial clumping of diabetes-causing proteins
8. Sons of cocaine-using fathers may resist addiction to drug, Penn Medicine study suggests
9. NIH funds researchers using light to control and monitor neural activity
10. Companies close to reusing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide
11. WUSTL engineer using Jello to study waves in brain from traumatic impact
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Using engineering plus evolutionary analyses to answer natural selection questions
(Date:11/17/2015)... 2015 Paris from 17 ... Paris from 17 th until 19 ... innovation leader, has invented the first combined scanner in the ... same scanning surface. Until now two different scanners were required: one ... capture both on the same surface. This innovation is ...
(Date:11/16/2015)... , Nov 16, 2015  Synaptics Inc. (NASDAQ: ... interface solutions, today announced expansion of its TDDI ... touch controller and display driver integration (TDDI) ... smartphones. These new TDDI products add to the ... resolution), TD4302 (WQHD resolution), and TD4322 (FHD resolution) ...
(Date:11/11/2015)... , Nov. 11, 2015   MedNet Solutions , an ... of clinical research, is pleased to announce that it will ... Trials (PCT) event, to be held November 17-19 in ... to view live demonstrations of iMedNet , ... how iMedNet has been able to deliver time ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... November 24, 2015 SHPG ) announced today ... the Piper Jaffray 27 th Annual Healthcare Conference in ... 2015, at 8:30 a.m. EST (1:30 p.m. GMT). --> ... Officer, will participate in the Piper Jaffray 27 th Annual ... on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, at 8:30 a.m. EST (1:30 p.m. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 2015  Twist Bioscience, a company focused on ... Twist Bioscience chief executive officer, will present at ... 1, 2015 at 3:10 p.m. Eastern Time at The Lotte ... --> --> About ... is on Twitter. Sign up to follow our ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 24, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - ProMetic Life Sciences Inc. (TSX: ... Mr. Pierre Laurin , President and Chief Executive Officer ... upcoming Piper Jaffray 27 th Annual Healthcare Conference to ... 1-2, 2015. st , at 8.50am (ET) ... throughout the day. The presentation will be available live via ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , November 24, 2015 , ... in a European healthcare ... the companies will work closely together in identifying European breakthrough ... medical need. The collaboration is underpinned by a significant investment ... This is the first investment by Bristol-Myers Squibb in a ...
Breaking Biology Technology: