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This article is an overview of concepts relating to the integration of the genotype and phenotype. One of the major goals of evolutionary developmental biology, or evo-devo, is to understand the transformation of morphology in evolution. This goal can be accomplished by synthesizing the data pertaining to gene regulatory networks and making use of the increasingly comprehensive knowledge of phylogenetic relationships and associated phenotypes. I give several examples of recent success in connecting these different biological levels. These examples help illuminate the “black box” between genotype and phenotype and illustrate a few of the technical and bioinformatic challenges ahead. The key concept of modularity unites genetic, developmental, and evolutionary approaches, because modules are the units of evolution. Primitive and derived network modules interact in development to create the phenotype. To obtain a systems-level understanding of evolutionary phenotypic change, bioinformatics approaches involving ontologies need to be applied, and new methods of visualization need to be developed.
In this article we focus on the vital ecological services provided by insects. We restrict our focus to services provided by “wild” insects; we do not include services from domesticated or mass-reared insect species. The four insect services for which we provide value estimates—dung burial, pest control, pollination, and wildlife nutrition—were chosen not because of their importance but because of the availability of data and an algorithm for their estimation. We base our estimations of the value of each service on projections of losses that would accrue if insects were not functioning at their current level. We estimate the annual value of these ecological services provided in the United States to be at least $57 billion, an amount that justifies greater investment in the conservation of these services.
It is commonly assumed that metabolic rate scales with body mass to the 3/4 power. However, during ontogeny, the metabolic rate of pelagic (open-water) animals often scales isometrically (in a 1:1 proportion) with body mass. This is a robust pattern, occurring in five different phyla. It can also be seen by comparing pelagic and benthic (bottom-dwelling) species within phyla, as well as pelagic larvae and benthic adults within species. High energy costs of continual swimming to stay afloat or of rapid rates of growth and reproduction in response to high levels of mortality (predation) in open water, or both, may contribute to the isometric or nearly isometric metabolic scaling of pelagic animals. The observation of isometric scaling and other kinds of metabolic scaling both within and among species suggests that metabolic scaling is not simply the result of physical constraints, but is an evolutionarily malleable trait that responds to ecological circumstances.
Peer review is the standard that journals and granting agencies use to ensure the scientific quality of their publications and funded projects. The peer-review process continues to be criticized, but its actual effectiveness at ensuring quality has yet to be fully investigated. Here we use probability theory to model the peer-review process, focusing on two key components: (1) editors' prescreening of submitted manuscripts and (2) the number of referees polled. The model shows that the review process can include a strong “lottery” component, independent of editor and referee integrity. Focusing on journal publications, we use a Bayesian approach and citation data from biological journals to show that top journals successfully publish suitable papers—that is, papers that a large proportion of the scientific community would deem acceptable—by using a prescreening process that involves an editorial board and three referees; even if that process is followed, about a quarter of published papers still may be unsuitable. The element of chance is greater if journals engage only two referees and do no prescreening (or if only one editor prescreens); about half of the papers published in those journals may be unsuitable. Furthermore, authors whose manuscripts were initially rejected can significantly boost their chances of being published by resubmitting their papers to other journals. We make three key recommendations to ensure the integrity of scientific publications in journals: (1) Use an editor or editorial board to prescreen and remove manuscripts of low suitability; (2) use a three-of-three or four-of-four decision rule when deciding on paper acceptance; and (3) use a stricter decision rule for resubmissions.
Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America, written by E. LucyBraun and published in 1950, included a map depicting “original” (virgin) forest pattern. Her classification of forest regions remains an influential reference, though it was shaped by ecological assumptions that researchers consider outdated today. In this article, I present a new map of forest regions, using a data set from an extensive network of contemporary forest plots. Although there are differences between the two maps, including the homogenization of forests in the central section of the deciduous forest formation, the geography of Braun's forest regions is largely maintained. The similarities between the maps are noteworthy, considering the methodological differences in their creation and the intensive land use changes, fire suppression, introduction of exotic species, and changes in atmospheric chemistry that have occurred since Braun's work.