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Top picks in Evolutionary Biology

In partnership with the release of today's blog interview with Tom Tregenza, we're also pleased to highlight his top picks of articles in Evolutionary Biology (selected from those which he has overseen as the Academic Editor). He has provided some insight into why each one was of interest to him. We welcome more submissions from this community.

Attitudes Toward Consumption and Conservation of Tigers in China by Gratwicke B et al. This paper reports on a very straightforward, but thorough and well designed survey, which provides chilling data on just how vast the market for Tiger product in China is. It makes a very powerful case that allowing a lifting on the ban on the trafficking of tiger products would be a huge mistake.

Do Individual Females Differ Intrinsically in Their Propensity to Engage in Extra-Pair Copulations? by Forstmeier W. This paper addresses the woefully neglected question of whether certain female birds (in this example, Zebra Finches) are simply more willing to mate than other females. Studies of sexual selection have typically asked whether females have preferences for particular males, and sometimes ask whether females differ in their preferences for particular males. However, the much simpler question of whether some females are simply more ready to mate has rarely been examined.

A Preference for a Sexual Signal Keeps Females Safe by Kim TW et al. This is a nice piece of classic behavioural ecology. The question of why females choose to mate with certain males has many potential answers. Among the most straightforward potential explanations, but one that has received less attention than it probably should have, is that the signals that females find attractive actually provide females directly with a benefit. In this study, structures made by male fiddler crabs become more attractive to females when there is more perceived risk from predators, indicating that the structures provide females with shelter from predators.

Swordtail Fry Attend to Chemical and Visual Cues in Detecting Predators and Conspecifics by Coleman SW and Rosenthal GG. This is a well designed study that examines the possibility that young fish can use both chemical and visual cues to detect predators and conspecfics. The work shows that baby swordtails use both chemical and visual sources of information, and that together they have a larger effect than if one of the two is presented on its own. This suggests that baby fish may on the one hand have the capacity to use multiple cues, and on the other hand may actually need both types of cue to respond maximally, with implications for understanding effects of disturbance on their environment.

Phylogeny of Diving Beetles Reveals a Coevolutionary Arms Race between the Sexes by Bergsten J and Miller KB. I love this paper because it describes what at first glance seems a potentially rather dull subject – a phylogeny of diving beetles. However, as it turns out males and females of these beetles are involved in an ongoing arms-race in which males have evolved suction cups on their feet for gripping females and females in turn have evolved patterns of pits and furrows that prevent these suckers from allowing males to grab hold of females. Where males have big suctions cups, females have concomitantly larger patterns of depressions, and a closely related pair of species from Japan suggest that this battle of the sexes may have driven speciation in the group.

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