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Transcripts and their expression levels link an organism's genotype and phenotype, so understanding this relationship can aid our understanding of phenotypic evolution at the gene-expression level. The emerging field of functional genomics is concerned primarily with understanding how allelic and gene-expression variation is linked to observable, biologically relevant phenotypes. Insects are particularly well studied in this area because they are good laboratory systems and have incredible biodiversity and agricultural and public-health importance. Technology developed over the last decade or so permits gene expression studies in any insect system, thus advancing the field of functional genomics beyond traditional genetic model systems such as Drosophila. In this article we provide an overview of commonly used non-microarray gene-expression techniques in insect systems and review several empirical studies that use each technique. We also discuss RNA interference as a means to test the link between gene expression and phenotype for candidate loci. We end with a discussion of how new high-throughput sequencing methods are advancing the field of functional genomics.
Innovative uses of advanced sensors and sensor networks are starting to be translated into new ecological knowledge. These sensors are providing a new set of “eyes” through which researchers may observe the world in new ways, extend spatial and temporal scales of observation, more accurately estimate what cannot be observed, and, most important, obtain unexpected results or develop new paradigms. Automated sensors are widely deployed by members of the Organization of Biological Field Stations, yet some needs—particularly for chemical and biological sensors—are not currently being met. There are additional opportunities for developing sensor networks at synoptic, regional, continental, and global scales. Although we are seeing more uses of sensor systems and, in particular, sensor networks, the opportunities for these systems are just beginning to be realized, with much more work to be done, including formulation of new questions, development of new sensors, better software, and new ways for researchers to work together across large distances.
There is a growing consensus among ecologists that ecological facilitation comprises a historically overlooked but crucial suite of biotic interactions. Awareness of such positive interactions has recently led to substantial modifications in ecological theory. In this article we suggest how facilitation may be included in evolutionary theory. Natural selection based on competition provides a conceptually complete paradigm for speciation, but not for major evolutionary transitions—the emergence of new and more complex biological structures such as cells, organisms, and eusocial populations. We find that the successful theories developed to solve these specific problematic transitions show a consistent pattern: they focus on positive interactions. We argue that facilitation between individuals at different levels of biological organization can act as a cohesive force that generates a new level of organization with higher complexity and thus allows for major evolutionary transitions at all levels of biological hierarchy.
Lake Baikal—the world's largest, oldest, and most biotically diverse lake—is responding strongly to climate change, according to recent analyses of water temperature and ice cover. By the end of this century, the climate of the Baikal region will be warmer and wetter, particularly in winter. As the climate changes, ice cover and transparency, water temperature, wind dynamics and mixing, and nutrient levels are the key abiotic variables that will shift, thus eliciting many biotic responses. Among the abiotic variables, changes in ice cover will quite likely alter food-web structure and function most because of the diverse ways in which ice affects the lake's dominant primary producers (endemic diatoms), the top predator (the world's only freshwater seal), and other abiotic variables. Melting permafrost will probably exacerbate the effects of additional anthropogenic stressors (industrial pollution and cultural eutrophication) and could greatly affect ecosystem functioning.
Despite policies and calls for scientists to make data available, this is not happening for most environmental- and biodiversity-related data because scientists' concerns about these efforts have not been answered and initiatives to motivate scientists to comply have been inadequate. Many of the issues regarding data availability can be addressed if the principles of “publication” rather than “sharing” are applied. However, online data publication systems also need to develop mechanisms for data citation and indices of data access comparable to those for citation systems in print journals.
The responses of biology majors in their first year of college differed significantly from those of first-year non-biology majors on only 3 of the 20 items on the Measure of Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution survey instrument. Despite these differences, and regardless of whether students were or were not biology majors, several findings from the survey stand out: (a) surprisingly high percentages of students accepted creationism-based claims, (b) students' views of evolution and creationism when they entered college were strongly associated with the treatment of evolution and creationism in the students' high-school biology classes, and (c) on average, incoming biology majors' views of evolution and creationism were similar to those of nonmajors. In this article, these results are discussed relative to the ongoing popularity of creationism among biology majors and biology teachers.