SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Insect

249

A singular adaptive phenotype of a parthenogenetic insect species (Acyrthosiphon pisum) was selected in cold conditions and is characterized by a remarkable apparition of a greenish colour. The aphid pigments involve carotenoid genes well defined in chloroplasts and cyanobacteria and amazingly present in the aphid genome, likely by lateral transfer during evolution. The abundant carotenoid synthesis in aphids suggests strongly that a major and unknown physiological role is related to these compounds beyond their canonical anti-oxidant properties. We report here that the capture of light energy in living aphids results in the photo induced electron transfer from excited chromophores to acceptor molecules. The redox potentials of molecules involved in this process would be compatible with the reduction of the NAD(+) coenzyme. This appears as an archaic photosynthetic system consisting of photo-emitted electrons that are in fine funnelled into the mitochondrial reducing power in order to synthesize ATP molecules.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Electron, Bacteria, Evolution, Adenosine triphosphate, Insect, Redox, Cellular respiration

240

Many cockroach species have adapted to urban environments, and some have been serious pests of public health in the tropics and subtropics. Here, we present the 3.38-Gb genome and a consensus gene set of the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. We report insights from both genomic and functional investigations into the underlying basis of its adaptation to urban environments and developmental plasticity. In comparison with other insects, expansions of gene families in P. americana exist for most core gene families likely associated with environmental adaptation, such as chemoreception and detoxification. Multiple pathways regulating metamorphic development are well conserved, and RNAi experiments inform on key roles of 20-hydroxyecdysone, juvenile hormone, insulin, and decapentaplegic signals in regulating plasticity. Our analyses reveal a high level of sequence identity in genes between the American cockroach and two termite species, advancing it as a valuable model to study the evolutionary relationships between cockroaches and termites.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genome, Insect, Cockroach, Termite, Cockroaches

234

DEET (N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide) is one of the most widely used mosquito repellents. Although DEET has been shown to be extremely effective, recent studies have revealed that certain individual insects are unaffected by its presence. A genetic basis for this has been shown in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, but, for the triatomine bug, Rhodnius prolixus, a decrease in response to DEET occurred shortly after previous exposure, indicating that non-genetic factors may also be involved in DEET “insensitivity”. In this study, we examined host-seeking behaviour and electrophysiological responses of A. aegypti after pre-exposure to DEET. We found that three hours after pre-exposure the mosquitoes showed behavioural insensitivity, and electroantennography revealed this correlated with the olfactory receptor neurons responding less to DEET. The change in behaviour as a result of pre-exposure to DEET has implications for the use of repellents and the ability of mosquitoes to overcome them.

Concepts: Insect, Mosquito, Yellow fever, Aedes aegypti, Aedes, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila, Insect repellent

231

INTRODUCTION: Primitively eusocial halictid bees are excellent systems to study the origin of eusociality, because all individuals have retained the ancestral ability to breed independently. In the sweat bee Halictus scabiosae, foundresses overwinter, establish nests and rear a first brood by mass-provisioning each offspring with pollen and nectar. The mothers may thus manipulate the phenotype of their offspring by restricting their food provisions. The first brood females generally help their mother to rear a second brood of males and gynes that become foundresses. However, the first brood females may also reproduce in their maternal or in other nests, or possibly enter early diapause. Here, we examined if the behavioural specialization of the first and second brood females was associated with between-brood differences in body size, energetic reserves and pollen provisions. RESULTS: The patterns of variation in adult body size, weight, fat content and food provisioned to the first and second brood indicate that H. scabiosae has dimorphic females. The first-brood females were significantly smaller, lighter and had lower fat reserves than the second-brood females and foundresses. The first-brood females were also less variable in size and fat content, and developed on homogeneously smaller pollen provisions. Foundresses were larger than gynes of the previous year, suggesting that small females were less likely to survive the winter. CONCLUSIONS: The marked size dimorphism between females produced in the first and second brood and the consistently smaller pollen provisions provided to the first brood suggest that the first brood females are channelled into a helper role during their pre-imaginal development. As a large body size is needed for successful hibernation, the mother may promote helping in her first brood offspring by restricting their food provisions. This pattern supports the hypothesis that parental manipulation may contribute to promote worker behaviour in primitively eusocial halictids.

Concepts: Insect, Mother, Honey, Bee, Ant, Eusociality, Halictidae, Gyne

225

Wild and managed bees are well documented as effective pollinators of global crops of economic importance. However, the contributions by pollinators other than bees have been little explored despite their potential to contribute to crop production and stability in the face of environmental change. Non-bee pollinators include flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, ants, birds, and bats, among others. Here we focus on non-bee insects and synthesize 39 field studies from five continents that directly measured the crop pollination services provided by non-bees, honey bees, and other bees to compare the relative contributions of these taxa. Non-bees performed 25-50% of the total number of flower visits. Although non-bees were less effective pollinators than bees per flower visit, they made more visits; thus these two factors compensated for each other, resulting in pollination services rendered by non-bees that were similar to those provided by bees. In the subset of studies that measured fruit set, fruit set increased with non-bee insect visits independently of bee visitation rates, indicating that non-bee insects provide a unique benefit that is not provided by bees. We also show that non-bee insects are not as reliant as bees on the presence of remnant natural or seminatural habitat in the surrounding landscape. These results strongly suggest that non-bee insect pollinators play a significant role in global crop production and respond differently than bees to landscape structure, probably making their crop pollination services more robust to changes in land use. Non-bee insects provide a valuable service and provide potential insurance against bee population declines.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Pollination, Flower, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Pollinators

224

The remarkable maneuverability of flying animals results from precise movements of their highly specialized wings. Bats have evolved an impressive capacity to control their flight, in large part due to their ability to modulate wing shape, area, and angle of attack through many independently controlled joints. Bat wings, however, also contain many bones and relatively large muscles, and thus the ratio of bats' wing mass to their body mass is larger than it is for all other extant flyers. Although the inertia in bat wings would typically be associated with decreased aerial maneuverability, we show that bat maneuvers challenge this notion. We use a model-based tracking algorithm to measure the wing and body kinematics of bats performing complex aerial rotations. Using a minimal model of a bat with only six degrees of kinematic freedom, we show that bats can perform body rolls by selectively retracting one wing during the flapping cycle. We also show that this maneuver does not rely on aerodynamic forces, and furthermore that a fruit fly, with nearly massless wings, would not exhibit this effect. Similar results are shown for a pitching maneuver. Finally, we combine high-resolution kinematics of wing and body movements during landing and falling maneuvers with a 52-degree-of-freedom dynamical model of a bat to show that modulation of wing inertia plays the dominant role in reorienting the bat during landing and falling maneuvers, with minimal contribution from aerodynamic forces. Bats can, therefore, use their wings as multifunctional organs, capable of sophisticated aerodynamic and inertial dynamics not previously observed in other flying animals. This may also have implications for the control of aerial robotic vehicles.

Concepts: Insect, Mass, Force, Classical mechanics, Bat, Flight, Wing, Flying and gliding animals

220

Visual abilities of the honey bee have been studied for more than 100 years, recently revealing unexpectedly sophisticated cognitive skills rivalling those of vertebrates. However, the physiological limits of the honey bee eye have been largely unaddressed and only studied in an unnatural, dark state. Using a bright display and intracellular recordings, we here systematically investigated the angular sensitivity across the light adapted eye of honey bee foragers. Angular sensitivity is a measure of photoreceptor receptive field size and thus small values indicate higher visual acuity. Our recordings reveal a fronto-ventral acute zone in which angular sensitivity falls below 1.9°, some 30% smaller than previously reported. By measuring receptor noise and responses to moving dark objects, we also obtained direct measures of the smallest features detectable by the retina. In the frontal eye, single photoreceptors respond to objects as small as 0.6° × 0.6°, with >99% reliability. This indicates that honey bee foragers possess significantly better resolution than previously reported or estimated behaviourally, and commonly assumed in modelling of bee acuity.

Concepts: Insect, Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Visual acuity, Honey bee, Receptive field, Rod cell

220

The causes of bee declines remain hotly debated, particularly the contribution of neonicotinoid insecticides. In 2013 the UK’s Food & Environment Research Agency made public a study of the impacts of exposure of bumblebee colonies to neonicotinoids. The study concluded that there was no clear relationship between colony performance and pesticide exposure, and the study was subsequently cited by the UK government in a policy paper in support of their vote against a proposed moratorium on some uses of neonicotinoids. Here I present a simple re-analysis of this data set. It demonstrates that these data in fact do show a negative relationship between both colony growth and queen production and the levels of neonicotinoids in the food stores collected by the bees. Indeed, this is the first study describing substantial negative impacts of neonicotinoids on colony performance of any bee species with free-flying bees in a field realistic situation where pesticide exposure is provided only as part of normal farming practices. It strongly suggests that wild bumblebee colonies in farmland can be expected to be adversely affected by exposure to neonicotinoids.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid

220

Wild bees are highly valuable pollinators. Along with managed honey bees, they provide a critical ecosystem service by ensuring stable pollination to agriculture and wild plant communities. Increasing concern about the welfare of both wild and managed pollinators, however, has prompted recent calls for national evaluation and action. Here, for the first time to our knowledge, we assess the status and trends of wild bees and their potential impacts on pollination services across the coterminous United States. We use a spatial habitat model, national land-cover data, and carefully quantified expert knowledge to estimate wild bee abundance and associated uncertainty. Between 2008 and 2013, modeled bee abundance declined across 23% of US land area. This decline was generally associated with conversion of natural habitats to row crops. We identify 139 counties where low bee abundances correspond to large areas of pollinator-dependent crops. These areas of mismatch between supply (wild bee abundance) and demand (cultivated area) for pollination comprise 39% of the pollinator-dependent crop area in the United States. Further, we find that the crops most highly dependent on pollinators tend to experience more severe mismatches between declining supply and increasing demand. These trends, should they continue, may increase costs for US farmers and may even destabilize crop production over time. National assessments such as this can help focus both scientific and political efforts to understand and sustain wild bees. As new information becomes available, repeated assessments can update findings, revise priorities, and track progress toward sustainable management of our nation’s pollinators.

Concepts: Agriculture, Insect, United States, Beekeeping, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator

219

Insect pheromones offer potential for managing pests of crop plants. Volatility and instability are problems for deployment in agriculture but could be solved by expressing genes for the biosynthesis of pheromones in the crop plants. This has now been achieved by genetically engineering a hexaploid variety of wheat to release (E)-β-farnesene (Eβf), the alarm pheromone for many pest aphids, using a synthetic gene based on a sequence from peppermint with a plastid targeting amino acid sequence, with or without a gene for biosynthesis of the precursor farnesyl diphosphate. Pure Eβf was produced in stably transformed wheat lines with no other detectable phenotype but requiring targeting of the gene produced to the plastid. In laboratory behavioural assays, three species of cereal aphids were repelled and foraging was increased for a parasitic natural enemy. Although these studies show considerable potential for aphid control, field trials employing the single and double constructs showed no reduction in aphids or increase in parasitism. Insect numbers were low and climatic conditions erratic suggesting the need for further trials or a closer imitation, in the plant, of alarm pheromone release.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Bacteria, Evolution, Amino acid, Insect, Ant