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How is organismal biology changing in the era of genomics? Here, I discuss one example, the changes and trends in the systematics of reptiles and amphibians. The polymerase chain reaction, automated sequencing, and genomic tools now make it possible to apply a vast number of molecular characters to questions of phylogeny and species limits. At higher taxonomic levels, recent studies using these data have revealed some unexpected relationships, but also strong support for many traditionally recognized groups. At lower levels, molecular studies suggest that numerous species have been hidden by misleading taxonomy and morphological conservatism. However, the computational tools for analyzing multilocus data for phylogenetics and species delimitation are in need of further development, including greater integration with population genetics. Given current trends, much of reptile and amphibian phylogeny may soon be resolved. Although opportunities for tree-making by future systematists may shrink, opportunities for using phylogenies to address evolutionary and ecological questions should blossom.
Insects live in a highly complex odorant world. Within a variety of odor blends, they need to locate potential food sources, mates, and oviposition sites to gain reproductive success. In nature, volatile cues leading to a resource are always present with numerous other volatiles—here referred to as background odor—which may affect the parasitoid's response to resource-indicating cues. Three different types of background odor are discussed in this article: (a) irrelevant background odor, (b) background odor that may mask the resource-indicating signals, and (c) background odorants that may “sharpen the view” for resource-indicating odor and enhance the response to these. Odor orientation to resources especially in herbivorous and parasitic insects are addressed.
China has undergone enormous economic growth in the last 25 years, largely as a result of greatly increased international trade. This burgeoning trade has triggered environmental threats from an expanding list of biological invaders: nonnative species previously unknown in China (e.g., the American vegetable leaf miner, the fall webworm) have arrived and are already causing damage to China's environment and economy. Huge construction projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam and the recently completed rail link to Tibet, could further spread invasive species to once-isolated portions of the country. The environmental risks from this onslaught are immense: China is one of the world's hotspots of biodiversity with about 30,000 native species of vascular plants and at least 2340 species of native terrestrial vertebrates. Fostering governmental and public awareness in China of the costs of invasive species and the multiple benefits of their prevention and control will be key to countering this menace.
Although mountains often constitute only a small fraction of river basin area, they can supply the bulk of transported materials and exert strong regulatory controls on the ecological characteristics of river reaches and floodplains downstream. The Amazon River exemplifies this phenomenon. Its muddy waters and its expansive and highly productive white-water floodplains are largely the products of forces originating in distant Andean mountain ranges. The Amazon's character has been shaped by these influences for more than 10 million years, and its present form and host of diverse organisms are adapted to the annual and interannual cycles of Andean inputs. Although the Andes constitute only 13% of the Amazon River basin, they are the predominant source of sediments and mineral nutrients to the river's main stem, and Andean tributaries form productive corridors extending across the vast Amazonian lowlands. Many of the Amazon's most important fish species rely on the productivity of Andean tributaries and main-stem floodplains, and annual fish migrations distribute Andean-dependent energy and nutrient resources to adjacent lower-productivity aquatic systems. Mountain-lowland linkages are threatened, however, by expanding human activities in the Andean Amazon, with consequences that are eventually felt thousands of kilometers away.
The US government has multiple responsibilities for the protection of endangered species, many of them stemming from its role as the nation's largest landowner. To explore how endangered and imperiled species are distributed across the federal estate, we carried out a geographic information system (GIS)-based analysis using natural heritage species occurrence data. In this 10-year update of a previous analysis, we found that the Department of Defense and the USDA Forest Service harbor more species with formal status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) than other US agencies. The densities of ESA status species and imperiled species are at least three times higher on military lands—2.92 and 3.77, respectively, per 100,000 hectares—than on any other agency's lands. Defense installations in Hawaii are especially significant; more than one-third of all ESA status species on military lands are Hawaiian. These findings highlight the continued importance of public lands for the survival of America's plant and animal species.
Integrative biology is a label frequently used to describe various forms of cross-disciplinary and multitaxon research. The term is ill defined, but in fact it does rely on principles that are transforming 21st-century science. Collaborative and integrative biology generates new information and new ideas by bringing diverse expertise to problems, so that individual and institutional expertise becomes broader and more exploratory as a consequence. Both research and education modes must change to facilitate new approaches to resolving complex questions.