Is the Southern Ocean ecosystem primed for change or at the cliff edge?

New editorial by Sally and Jan in Global Change Biology (full article here), explores the unprecedented environmental risks and consequences that the Southern Ocean is experiencing from current climate change. They also outlined that knowing how benthic fauna persisted through environmental extremes in the past may inform future predictions. Right now, understanding and preserving current genetic diversity and connectivity between populations will give species the best chance to adapt.

Townsville bulletin news story: Study needs DNA of deer

Matt was recently interviewed by the local newspaper about his PhD project on chital deer. Did you know that the Australian chital deer population, currently in the tens of thousands, was originated from only four introduced individuals?! He is looking for leads that can help him collect tissue samples to understand their movement patterns from a genomic perspective!  

Evolutionary innovations in Antarctic brittle stars linked to glacial refugia

New paper by Sally, Catarina and Jan in Ecology & Evolution, uses COI sequences to investigate the population genetic patterns of the Antarctic brittle stars Ophionotus victoriae and O. hexactis with contrasting life histories (broadcasting vs brooding) and morphology (5 vs 6 arms). They found that, throughout the Pleistocene glacial maxima, O. victoriae likely persisted in deep sea refugia; whereas O. hexactis likely persisted in Antarctic island refugia. This work proposes the evolutionary innovations in O. hexactis (increase in arm number and a switch from broadcast spawning to brooding) could be linked to survival within island refugia, which open up new avenues for future genomic research!   

Global drivers of recent diversification in a marine species complex

New paper by Catarina and Jan in Molecular Ecology, (full article here), investigates genome-wide divergence, introgression patterns and inferred demographic history between species pairs of all six extant rock lobster species within the genus Jasus – species with a larval duration of up to two years. Funded by the Australian Research Council, this work shows the important effect of habitat and demographic processes on the recent divergence of species in the genus.

Reference Genome and Population Genomics of coral (Acropora tenuis) on the inshore Great Barrier Reef

New paper by Ira, Jan and Jia in Science Advances (full article here), uses shallow whole genome sequencing to look at demographic history and selection for Acropora tenuis. The main findings are outlined in this tweet thread. Maria Nayfa also made this nice video of Ira explaining why genomes are so useful for understanding the history of the GBR.

ampir a new R package from the group

Antimicrobial peptides are part of the innate immune system and help defend the host against pathogens and regulate the microbiome. Antimicrobial peptides occur in all life, are incredibly diverse, mostly quite small (< 200 amino acids), and only comprise of a small proportion in a genome (~ 1%). This makes them very difficult to find. We created a classification model implemented in an R package, ampir, to predict antimicrobial peptides from protein sequences on a genome-wide scale. ampir was tested on multiple test sets (including complete proteomes) and performed with high accuracy. ampir can be used to narrow down the search space for novel antimicrobial peptides in genomes.

ampir was recently published in Bioinformatics and is available on CRAN and github . Legana has also created a companion repository to accompany the paper and document the thinking behind ampir’s model building process.

Detecting Glacial Refugia in the Southern Ocean

Throughout the Plio-Pleistocene glacial cycles, the Antarctic ice sheets expanded and contracted repeatedly, which led to the repeated erosion of the Antarctic continental shelf throughout glacial maxima. Even though molecular and paleontological evidence suggests most extant Antarctic benthos persisted in situ in the Southern Ocean during Plio-Pleistocene, where and how they survived remain mostly hypothesised.

Our paper recently published in Ecography synthesises current geological and ecological evidence to understand where and how benthos might have survived glacial cycles and how this challenging period might have impacted past species demography. We also examined current molecular evidence of glacial refugia in the Southern Ocean, as well as discussed future directions for employing testable frameworks and genomic methods in Southern Ocean molecular studies.