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Comparative analyses of mitochondrial (mt) genomes may provide insights into the genetic changes, associated with metabolism, that occur when surface species adapt to living in underground habitats. Such analyses require comparisons among multiple independently evolved subterranean species, with the dytiscid beetle fauna from the calcrete archipelago of central Western Australia providing an outstanding model system to do this. Here, we present the first whole mt genomes from four subterranean dytiscid beetle species of the genera Limbodessus (L. palmulaoides) and Paroster (P. macrosturtensis, P. mesosturtensis and P. microsturtensis) and compare genome sequences with those from surface dytiscid species. The mt genomes were sequenced using a next-generation sequencing approach employing the Illumina Miseq system and assembled de novo. All four mt genomes are circular, ranging in size from 16 504 to 16 868 bp, and encode 37 genes and a control region. The overall structure (gene number, orientation and order) of the mt genomes is the same as that found in eight sequenced surface species, but with genome size variation resulting from length variation of intergenic regions and the control region . Our results provide a basis for future investigations of adaptive evolutionary changes that may occur in mt genes when species move underground.
Endocranial volume was measured in a large sample (n = 128) of free-ranging dingoes (Canis dingo) where body size was known. The brain/body size relationship in the dingoes was compared with populations of wild (Family Canidae) and domestic canids (Canis familiaris). Despite a great deal of variation among wild and domestic canids, the brain/body size of dingoes forms a tight cluster within the variation of domestic dogs. Like dogs, free-ranging dingoes have paedomorphic crania; however, dingoes have a larger brain and are more encephalised than most domestic breeds of dog. The dingo’s brain/body size relationship was similar to those of other mesopredators (medium-sized predators that typically prey on smaller animals), including the dhole (Cuon alpinus) and the coyote (Canis latrans). These findings have implications for the antiquity and classification of the dingo, as well as the impact of feralisation on brain size. At the same time, it highlights the difficulty in using brain/body size to distinguish wild and domestic canids.
To assist the management of the critically endangered woylie (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi), a quantitative study of its diet was conducted across five of the larger subpopulations in south-western Australia. There was a close match between dietary composition established from foregut contents and faecal pellets. Woylies were predominantly mycophagous in all subpopulations, but consumed a broad diet including invertebrates, seeds and other plant material. Individuals in a high-density, fenced subpopulation ate significantly less fungi than free-ranging animals from lower-density subpopulations. Dietary composition did not vary significantly amongst subpopulations in the Upper Warren region, where a range of population densities was observed. Altogether, 79 fungal spore classes were identified, including at least 15 genera from 14 families. Sampling across one year showed that fungi made up a larger fraction of the diet in autumn or winter, and greater diversities of fungi were consumed at these times than at other times of year. This information is essential to provide valuable ecological context for effective population management of woylies, as well as identification and conservation of important habitats.
Early maturation in brook trout males has been a constraint for commercial production of this species in Tasmania. However, control of maturation in males can be achieved by manipulating photoperiod (duration of light phase). To design an appropriate light treatment regime, an assessment of the annual reproductive cycle was initially required under ambient photoperiod as the annual reproductive cycle of male brook trout under ambient Tasmanian conditions of light and temperature was unknown. Here we describe the seasonal variations in testicular development and plasma profiles of testosterone (T), 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) and oestradiol-17β (E2) during the second year in a male brook trout cohort held under ambient light conditions. Brook trout males were recruited for maturation in December when a reduction in daylength presumably stimulated testicular development. Increases in levels of T, 11-KT and gonadosomatic index (GSI) values were observed soon after the summer solstice, corresponding with maturation. The highest GSI mean value (3.44 ± 0.11%) was observed in April when mature males could be manually stripped of milt and such males were present until July. Profiles of sex steroids and histological development observed in this study were finely synchronised with variations in seasonal photoperiod changes. Photoperiod before recruitment during December should be controlled to manipulate maturation in brook trout males during their second year.
Anecdotal observations of captive platypuses (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) suggest that they show a seasonal preference for particular foods, but this has never been rigorously measured. This study aimed to determine seasonal food preferences and energy consumption of captive platypuses so that better protocols for maintaining platypuses in captivity can be developed. Seven platypuses were fed an ad libitum diet with all food items weighed in and out of tanks. Food items were analysed for energy, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Platypuses preferred less mobile prey (mealworms, earthworms and fly pupae) over highly mobile prey (crayfish). There was no significant seasonal change in preference for different dietary items, which is more likely to be driven by prey behaviour. Crayfish contributed the largest percentage (mass) consumed and was highly nutritious. While the relative percentage of items in the diet did not change seasonally, the quantity eaten did. The mean energy intake of platypuses was 921 kJ kg–1 day–1 and varied seasonally, being lowest during the breeding season (810 kJ kg–1 day–1) and highest in the postbreeding season (1007 kJ kg–1 day–1). These changes were associated with preparation and recovery from the breeding season. We conclude that the platypus diet is influenced by nutrition and seasonal factors as well as by prey behaviour. This knowledge will contribute to improving the husbandry and management of platypuses, which are widely recognised as difficult to maintain in captivity.
Genetic mating systems described for squamate reptiles range from primarily monogamous to completely polygynandrous. The presence of female multiple mating is almost ubiquitous among squamates and even occurs, albeit at a low rate, in socially monogamous species. Here we examine the genetic mating system of the territorial tawny dragon lizard (Ctenophorus decresii). Paternity was assigned to captive-born hatchlings using eight microsatellite loci, revealing a 4% rate of multiple paternity. One-quarter of males sired more than one clutch, although multiple mating by males is likely underestimated. The rate of multiple paternity in C. decresii represents one of the lowest among squamates and may be a result of successful male territoriality. However, the observed low rate of multiple paternity does not eliminate the possibility of widespread female multiple mating due to the potential for sperm storage and sperm competition. We conclude that the tawny dragon lizard employs a predominantly polygynous genetic mating system.
One of the largest remaining marsupial predators to persist across the Australian arid zone, despite increasing pressures, is the brush-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus blythi). Although D. blythi populations have declined since European settlement, they are currently considered stable, persisting in small, low-density isolated populations during periods of low rainfall. The main threat to the species is currently thought to be large introduced and feral predators. Through spool and line tracking, we examined how the species utilises its surroundings in relation to access to food resources and exposure to predators during a low-rainfall period. We found that D. blythi uses the open space between vegetation, a microhabitat that is known to support important prey species. We found that some individuals experiencing greater physiological demands consistently used resource-rich patches (such as termite mounds). We also identified the repeated use of great desert skink (Liopholis kintorei) burrows, which may provide access to prey items (such as young skinks), protection from predators and/or thermoregulation benefits. This study shows that D. blythi utilises several components in the landscape to increase access to reliable food resources and shows little active selection for areas that provide protection from predators.