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Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Trait databases have become important resources for large-scale comparative studies in ecology and evolution. Here we introduce the AnimalTraits database, a curated database of body mass, metabolic rate and brain size, in standardised units, for terrestrial animals. The database has broad taxonomic breadth, including tetrapods, arthropods, molluscs and annelids from almost 2000 species and 1000 genera. All data recorded in the database are sourced from their original empirical publication, and the original metrics and measurements are included with each record. This allows for subsequent data transformations as required. We have included rich metadata to allow users to filter the dataset. The additional R scripts we provide will assist researchers with aggregating standardised observations into species-level trait values. Our goals are to provide this resource without restrictions, to keep the AnimalTraits database current, and to grow the number of relevant traits in the future.
Serious storytelling as a media genre has the potential to accentuate the benefits of narrative interventions in health and education. To inform its application, it is necessary to identify effects of sensory inputs. Here, we focus on visual stimuli and observe their effects on an anxiety condition. We examine whether serious storytelling incorporating images, a type of basic visual stimuli, may reduce interview performance anxiety. In a double-blind randomised control trial, 69 participants with matched levels of anxiety received serious storytelling interview training and were allocated to exposure (image-based preparation) and control (standard preparation) groups. A week later, participants attended individual interviews with two independent interviewers and reported their interview anxiety. Analyses revealed a positive relationship between generalised anxiety and some dimensions of interview anxiety, but serious storytelling with images predicted a reduction in interview performance anxiety (effect size at the median value of covariates on a visual analogue scale with the range 0–100: -36.7, 95% CI [−54.7, −2.5]). Low participation burden in the brief intervention was confirmed through a deductive thematic analysis. The images were analysed based on format type and origin to inform further inquiries. This study yielded empirical findings with implications of media and technology development for serious storytelling. Seeing images of experiences during interview preparation was associated with a relief of interviewees’ anxiety towards interview performance, but further studies are necessary to consolidate the evidence for visual narrative applications in health and education.
Given that graduate employment is a clear outcome of education success, there is an urgent need to conceptualize course design strategically to maximize students’ chances of employment. In this paper, we present an Australian case study in which we used a structured career information literacy learning approach to build employability in a biological sciences capstone course, through collaboration between the university library, academics, and career service. We report the context, method, measurement, outcomes of collaboration, and roles of contributors in this partnership. This case study lends itself to potential ways of incorporating career information literacy into an academic context.
Mimicry complexes typically consist of multiple species that deter predators using similar anti-predatory signals. Mimics in these complexes are assumed to vary in their level of defence from highly defended through to moderately defended, or not defended at all. Here, we report a new multi-order mimicry complex that includes at least 140 different putative mimics from four arthropod orders including ants, wasps, bugs, tree hoppers and spiders. All members of this mimicry complex are characterised by a conspicuous golden body and an ant Gestalt, but vary substantially in their defensive traits. However, they were similarly effective at deterring predators - even mildly defended mimics were rarely eaten by a community of invertebrate and vertebrate predators both in the wild and during staged trials. We propose that despite the predominance of less defended mimics the three predatory guilds avoid the mimics because of the additive influence of the various defensive traits.
In spring 2014, thousands of green algal balls were washed up at Dee Why Beach, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Reports of algal balls are uncommon in marine systems, and mass strandings on beaches are even more rare, sparking both public and scientific interest. We identified the algal masses as Chaetomorpha linum by using light microscopy and DNA sequencing. We characterize the size and composition of the balls from Dee Why Beach and compare them to previous records of marine algal balls. We describe the environmental conditions that could explain their appearance, given the ecophysiology of C. linum.
The escape response of an organism is generally its last line of defense against a predator. Because the effectiveness of an escape varies with the approach behaviour of the predator, it should be advantageous for prey to alter their escape trajectories depending on the mode of predator attack. To test this hypothesis we examined the escape responses of a single prey species, the ground-dwelling túngara frog (Engystomops pustulosus), to disparate predators approaching from different spatial planes: a terrestrial predator (snake) and an aerial predator (bat). Túngara frogs showed consistently distinct escape responses when attacked by terrestrial versus aerial predators. The frogs fled away from the snake models (Median: 131°). In stark contrast, the frogs moved toward the bat models (Median: 27°); effectively undercutting the bat’s flight path. Our results reveal that prey escape trajectories reflect the specificity of their predators’ attacks. This study emphasizes the flexibility of strategies performed by prey to outcompete predators with diverse modes of attack.
Sexually selected ornaments and signals are costly to maintain if they are maladaptive in nonreproductive contexts. The jumping spider Cosmophasis umbratica exhibits distinct sexual dichromatism with males displaying elaborate UV body markings that signal male quality. Female C. umbratica respond favorably to UV-reflecting males and ignore males that have their UV masked. However, Portia labiata, a UV-sensitive spider-eating specialist and a natural predator of C. umbratica, is known to use UV reflectance as a cue when hunting prey. We investigated the cost of these UV signals in C. umbratica in terms of their predation risk. Under experimental conditions, three choice scenarios were presented to P. labiata individuals. Choices by P. labiata were made between male C. umbratica with and without the UV signal; a UV-reflecting male and non-UV-reflecting female; and a UV-masked male and female. The presence and absence of UV signals was manipulated using an optical filter. Portia labiata exhibited a strong bias toward UV+ individuals. These results suggest the sexually selected trait of UV reflectance increases the visibility of males to UV-sensitive predators. The extent of this male-specific UV signal then is potentially moderated by predation pressure. Interestingly though, P. labiata still preferred males to females irrespective of whether UV reflectance was present or not. This suggests P. labiata can switch cues when conditions to detect UV reflectance are not optimal.
Predators use many different strategies to capture prey, including ambushing, active pursuit and luring . No matter the strategy used, predators usually attempt to make the first physical contact with prey. This is not surprising, as prey, regardless how dangerous, can damage or kill a predator if they initiate contact with the predator [2, 3]. Instead, predators typically minimise risk of harm using superior body size or offences to subdue prey before they can retaliate or escape [1, 4]. Even the anglerfish that stimulates prey to attack its lure, intercepts the prey before substantial contact is made . It would, therefore, seem counterintuitive for a predator to invite prey to physically assault them before the predator will strike. Yet, we here describe the predatory strategy of the nymphs of the ant-eating feather-legged assassin bug Ptilocnemus lemur that requires its often much larger predaceous ant-prey to grab the bugs’ hind legs before the nymph will attack. We propose that this unique physical predatory strategy is surprisingly effective in reducing the threat from a disproportionally dangerous prey animal.
Arthropods have been regarded as good indicators of habitat quality due to their sensitivity to changes in habitat state. However, there are many constraints to working with arthropods that make them inaccessible to land managers and most volunteer-driven initiatives. Our study examined a novel approach for detecting changes in web-building spider communities by focussing on the types of webs that spiders build rather than the spider itself. This method was cost-effective, easy-to-use, and importantly, we found a strong congruency between the diversity of web architecture and the diversity of web-building spider genera. The metrics derived from this method could distinguish differences in web-building communities among habitat types that represented a successional gradient, and thus we concluded that the method was useful for monitoring the progress of restoration. Many other applications for the method are possible such as environmental impact assessment and agricultural pest management, and we encourage development in these areas.
The trichome in ant-feeding Holoptilinae (Insecta: Heteroptera: Reduviidae) comprises remarkable modifications of abdominal sternites 2 and 3. It has been hypothesized that this structure plays a role in attracting and drugging ants. In the present study the trichome of 14 species of Holoptilini, comprising 11 species of Ptilocnemus Westwood and representatives of three additional genera of Holoptilini, is examined using scanning electron and light microscopy. The astoundingly diverse species-level modifications of sternites and vestiture are described and primary homology hypotheses are proposed. The trichome provides species-specific diagnostic characters within Ptilocnemus and evidence for species-groups within the genus, but also for the sistergroup relationship of Ptilocnemus and Smiliopus Bergroth. The comparative morphology establishes a framework for investigations into systematics, functional morphology, and behavioral ecology of these myrmecophagous assassin bugs.
It is rarely cost-effective to survey invertebrates for use in systematic conservation planning activities. The efficiency of sampling methods needs to be improved, and this is especially important at landscape and regional scales. We investigated two methods that could be used to improve regional scale sampling efficiency using a case study of ants, beetles, flies, bugs, spiders and wasps from the semi-arid Pilbara region of Western Australia. First, Generalised Dissimilarity Models (GDMs) were used to divide the region into landscapes with relatively homogeneous communities and environmental conditions. We found that some of these landscapes were large, and a low sampling density could be employed in these areas due to the low spatial turnover in species. Other landscapes were 1–2 orders of magnitude smaller, and a higher sampling density should be employed to capture the high species turnover and unique species in these areas. Variation of sampling density based on landscape dimensions could vastly improve survey efficiency. Second, we investigated whether one large sample or five small samples were a more efficient method to estimate the species composition of each landscape. We found that five small samples captured a higher proportion of landscape scale species richness for a fixed sampling effort, and was therefore a more efficient method to determine the species composition of the landscape. Combining five small samples also resulted in less sample variability than one large sample, which increases statistical power to detect changes. We concluded that GDM was an effective method to increase sampling efficiency, because it allowed sampling density to vary according to the spatial turnover in species. Using many small samples is a more efficient method to capture the species composition of landscapes than a single large sample with an equivalent sample size.
The epidermal transfer cells in developingVicia faba L. cotyledons are highly polarized. Extensive wall ingrowths occur on their outer periclinal walls and extend part way down both anticlinal walls. This ingrowth development serves to increase the surface area of the plasma membrane and thus maximize porter-dependent uptake of sugars from the seed apoplasm. In contrast, the inner periclinal walls of these transfer cells do not form wall ingrowths. We have commenced a study of the mechanisms responsible for establishing this polarity by first analysing the microtubule (MT) cytoskeleton in developing transfer cells. Thin sections of fixed cotyledons embedded in methacrylate resin were processed for immunofluorescence microscopy using monoclonal anti-β-tubulin and counterstained with Calcofluor White to visualize wall ingrowths. In epidermal cells of young cotyledons where wall ingrowths were yet to develop, MT labelling was detected around all cortical regions of the cell. However, in cells where wall ingrowths were clearly established, MT labelling was detected almost exclusively in cortical regions adjacent to the wall ingrowths. Little, if any, MT labelling was detected on the anticlinal or inner periclinal walls of these cells. This distribution of MTs was most prominent in cells with well developed wall ingrowths. In these cells, a subpopulation of MTs were also detected emanating from the subcortex and extending towards the wall ingrowth region. The possible role of MT distribution in establishing transfer cell polarity and wall ingrowth formation is discussed.