Left-right asymmetry patterns in the body shapes of animals and plants have been a continuous source of interest among biologists. Recently, inroads have been made to developing a coherent research programme that makes use of the unique fact that chiral patterns may be studied (and generalities deduced) by comparisons across many unrelated groups, even across Kingdoms. The papers delivered at the symposium ‘Evolution of Chirality’ during the 2011 European congress of evolutionary biology (ESEB) provide examples of the various research programs that are currently developing within this field. The present paper provides a summary of the symposium, an introduction to this Special Issue of Contributions to Zoology, as well as suggestions for further collaboration among left-right asymmetry researchers.
Here we present the first cases of birds using artificial plants as nest material. We report our findings for the common coot (Fulica atra) from Leiden, the Netherlands, in 2019. This is the first population of freshwater birds studied for its use of anthropogenic nest materials, and together with another report from the same year, the earliest case of an entire bird population with plastic in all nests. We also report the first artificial plants used as nesting material by birds, and discuss the implications of their usage as such.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is massively used, resulting in a new wave of litter: protective face masks and gloves. Here we present the first case of a fish entrapped in a medical glove, encountered during a canal clean-up in Leiden, The Netherlands. We also report the first cases of birds using medical face masks as nesting material, which were also found in the Dutch canals. To place these new findings in context, we collected online reported interactions of animals with PPE litter, since the start of the pandemic. This resulted in the first overview of cases of entanglement, entrapment and ingestion of COVID-19 litter by animals and the use of it as nesting material. We signal COVID-19 litter as a new threat to animal life as the materials designed to keep us safe are actually harming animals around us. To understand the full scale of this problem, we welcome anyone to contribute to our overview by submitting their observations online at www.covidlitter.com. To further prevent PPE litter, it is recommended that, when possible, reusable alternatives are used.
Pollination based on insect deception has been debated in the scientific community since it was first reported over two hundred years ago. A vast majority of deceptive syndromes occur within the orchid family. While many cheating flowers have been described and are well known, there are still many curious cases that need further investigation. One prime example of such a case is Cypripedium calceolus, known as European lady’s slipper orchid. While the flower has been of interest to many prominent scientists for over a century, its pollination is still not fully understood. Both visual and olfactory cues seem to play an important role in pollinator attraction. In this study we focussed on the olfactory cues in order to explore their relationship (in future experiments) with floral visual cues, including the unique asymmetry of these flowers. Some of the plants’ floral fragrances were used in Electroantennography experiments. Eleven chemical compounds were applied to the antennae of Bombus terrestris and Apis mellifera. Even though these species are not regular visitors of C. calceolus, we were interested to see whether there were common principles in their responses to the flowers’ scent that might justify extrapolating to other pollinator species such as sand bees that get trapped in these orchids and fly out of the flowers afterwards with pollen smeared on their body. The results show that while both species react similarly to most of the odours, some of the tested acetates induced a significantly greater reaction in B. terrestris antennae. These acetates play an important role in bumblebee pheromones, but their relevance for the natural pollinators of C. calceolus remains to be confirmed to see whether chemical mimicry by these flowers is deliberately employed to attract pollinators.
The typical black coloured ebony wood (Diospyros, Ebenaceae) is desired as a commercial timber because of its durable and aesthetic properties. Surprisingly, a comprehensive wood anatomical overview of the genus is lacking, making it impossible to fully grasp the diversity in microscopic anatomy and to distinguish between CITES protected species native to Madagascar and the rest. We present the largest microscopic wood anatomical reference database for ebony woods and reconstruct evolutionary patterns in the microscopic wood anatomy within the family level using an earlier generated molecular phylogeny. Wood samples from 246 Diospyros species are described based on standardised light microscope observations. For the ancestral state reconstruction, we selected eight wood anatomical characters from 88 Ebenaceae species (including 29 Malagasy Diospyros species) that were included in the most recently reconstructed family phylogeny. Within Diospyros, the localisation of prismatic crystals (either in axial parenchyma or in rays) shows the highest phylogenetic value and appears to have a biogeographical signal. The molecular defined subclade Diospyros clade IX can be clearly distinguished from other ebony woods by its storied structure. Across Ebenaceae, Lissocarpa is distinguishable from the remaining genera by the combined presence of scalariform and simple vessel perforation plates, and Royena typically has silica bodies instead of prismatic crystals. The local deposition of prismatic crystals and the presence of storied structure allow identifying ebony wood species at the subgeneric level, but species-level identification is not possible. In an attempt to improve the identification accuracy of the CITES protected Malagasy woods, we applied computer vision algorithms based on microscopic images from our reference database (microscopic slides from ca. 1000 Diospyros specimens) and performed chemical profiling based on DART TOFMS.