UF study: ‘Rules’ may govern genome evolution in young plant species

January 19th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows a hybrid plant species may experience rapid genome evolution in predictable patterns, meaning evolution repeats itself in populations of independent origin.

Researchers analyzed genes of a naturally occurring hybrid species, Tragopogon miscellus, and the study, published online today in Current Biology, suggests genome evolution in hybrid plants may follow a set of “rules” that determine which parental genes are lost. The research may be used to create higher and more stable yields in other hybrid polyploid plants, including agricultural crops such as wheat, corn, coffee and apples. (more…)

UF researchers discover ‘green’ pesticide effective against citrus pests

January 17th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – University of Florida researchers have discovered a key amino acid essential for human nutrition is also an effective insecticide against caterpillars that threaten the citrus industry.

The Lime Swallowtail, or Citrus Swallowtail, is a well-known agricultural pest from southern Asia discovered in the Caribbean in 2006, and researchers say its potential impact on the U.S. citrus industry is cause for serious concern.

“Everything that’s in the Caribbean eventually gets to Florida – Florida is an invasive magnet,” said UF lepidopterist Delano Lewis, lead author of the study published in the current issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology. “That’s why we’re trying to make the first strike to see how to stop it.” (more…)

UF research on newly formed plants could lead to improved crop fertility

January 7th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows genomes of a recently formed plant species to be highly unstable, a phenomenon that may have far-reaching evolutionary consequences.

Published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the first to document chromosomal variation in natural populations of a recently formed plant species following whole genome doubling, or polyploidy. Because many agricultural crops are young polyploids, the data may be used to develop plants with higher fertility and yields. Polyploid crops include wheat, corn, coffee, apples, broccoli and some rice species.

“It could be occurring in other polyploids, but this sort of methodology just hasn’t been applied to many plant species,” said study co-author Pam Soltis, distinguished professor and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “So it may be that lots of polyploids – including our crops – may not be perfect additive combinations of the two parents, but instead have more chromosomes from one parent or the other.” (more…)

Hellbender salamander study seeks answers for global amphibian decline

December 19th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study co-authored by University of Florida researchers on the endangered Ozark Hellbender giant salamander is the first to detail its skin microbes, the bacteria and fungi that defend against pathogens.

Published today in the online journal PLoS One, the study details changes in the salamander’s declining health and habitat, and could provide a baseline for how changing ecosystems are affecting the rapid decline of amphibians worldwide.

“Scientists and biologists view amphibians as kind of a ‘canary in the coal mine’ and their health is often used as a barometer for overall ecosystem health, including potential problems that may affect humans,” said study co-author Max Nickerson, herpetology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. (more…)

UF researchers document caterpillars that mimic one another for survival

December 14th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In the world of insects, high risk of attack has led to the development of camouflage as a means for survival, especially in the larval stage. One caterpillar may look like a stick, while another disguises itself as bird droppings. Though crypsis may have its advantages, University of Florida researchers uncovered some of the most extensive evidence of caterpillars using another strategy previously best-known in adult butterflies: mimicry.

Insects use camouflage to protect themselves by looking like inanimate or inedible objects, while mimicry involves one species evolving similar warning color patterns to another.

The study in the current issue of The Annals of the Entomological Society of America helps scientists better understand how organisms depend upon one another, an important factor in predicting how disturbance of natural habitats may lead to species extinctions and loss of biodiversity. (more…)

UF study names new ancient crocodile relative from the land of Titanoboa

September 14th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Did an ancient crocodile relative give the world’s largest snake a run for its money?

In a new study appearing Sept. 15 in Palaeontology, University of Florida researchers describe a new 20-foot extinct species discovered in the same Colombian coal mine with Titanoboa, the world’s largest snake. The findings help scientists better understand the diversity of animals that occupied the oldest known rainforest ecosystem, which had higher temperatures than today, and could be useful for understanding the impacts of a warmer climate in the future. (more…)

Researchers discover oldest evidence of nails in modern primates

August 15th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – From hot pink to traditional French and Lady Gaga’s sophisticated designs, manicured nails have become the grammar of fashion.

But they are not just pretty – when nails appeared on all fingers and toes in modern primates about 55 million years ago, they led to the development of critical functions, including finger pads that allow for sensitive touch and the ability to grasp, whether it’s a nail polish brush or remover to prepare for the next trend.

In a new study co-authored by University of Florida scientists, researchers recovered and analyzed the oldest fossil evidence of fingernails in modern primates, confirming the idea nails developed with small body size and disproving previous theories nails evolved with an increase in primate body size. More than 25 new specimens of Teilhardina brandti – an extinct primate originally described from a single lower molar – include pieces of upper teeth and ankle bones that show the mammal lived in trees. Its nails allowed the lemur-like animal to grasp onto branches and move through the trees with more agility, researchers said. (more…)

New study documents first cookiecutter shark attack on a live human

June 30th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study co-authored by University of Florida researchers provides details on the first cookiecutter shark attack on a live human, a concern as warm summer waters attract more people to the ocean.

The study currently online and appearing in the July print edition of Pacific Science warns that swimmers entering the cookiecutter’s range of open ocean tropical waters may be considered prey. The sharks feed near the surface at night, meaning daytime swimmers are less likely to encounter them. The species is small, with adults reaching about 2 feet, but their unique jaws specialize in scooping out a piece of flesh, leaving victims with a crater-like wound.

(more…)

UF researchers link oceanic land crab extinction to colonization of Hawaii

May 17th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers have described a new species of land crab that documents the first crab extinction during the human era.

The loss of the crab likely greatly impacted the ecology of the Hawaiian Islands, as land crabs are major predators, control litter decomposition and help in nutrient cycling and seed dispersal. Their disappearance was caused by the arrival of humans to the islands and resulted in large-scale changes in the state’s ecosystem. Researchers said the full impact of the extinction on Hawaii is unknown, but they are certain it led to changes in the diversity of the food web, a continuing concern to conservationists studying species loss in other habitats. The study will be published online May 16 in PLoS ONE. (more…)

UF study finds cats No. 1 predator to urban mockingbird nests

May 5th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows cats are the dominant predator to mockingbird eggs and nestlings in urban areas, prompting conservationists to urge pet owners to keep felines indoors at night.

The findings challenge assumptions that urban areas are places of refuge for nesting mockingbirds, a species researchers say plays an important role in controlling insect pests and serving as environmental indicators for metropolitan areas. (more…)

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