Highlights from SICB 2017

The 2017 Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting was held in New Orleans* on January 4th – 8th. This was my first time at SICB and I was amazed at the diversity and number of talks- over 1900 presentations on topics including (but not limited to) larval ecology, thermal adaptation, elastic mechanics, species delimitation, cardiovascular physiology, parental behavior, and the hilariously named session “I Dig Your Tail!” With 146 sessions over four days, I could only see a small slice of the science. Below I summarize my favorite molecular ecology talks and a few talks that had nothing to do with molecular ecology, but whose titles drew me in. You can find tweets about the meeting with the hashtag #SICB2017.

Alex Hernandez, University of Florida Whitney Marine Lab for Marine Bioscience

The proportion of enzymes among genes horizontally transferred from bacteria to three invertebrate taxa.

Alex used the program Alien Index, which employs a blast-based method, to test for genes horizontally transferred from prokaryotes to ctenophores. She found 62% of the transferred genes were enzymes, a pattern repeated in three other invertebrate taxa (figure above). The proportion of enzyme genes in seven bacterial genomes tested was significantly different from the proportion of enzymes in the transferred genes, suggesting that enzymes are preferentially passed from bacteria to animals.

Groves Dixon, University of Texas, Austin

To test for changes in methylation, Groves reciprocally transplanted genetically identical coral replicates between two locations on the Great Barrier Reef that differ in environmentally. Three months after transplantation, methylation had not changed and there was no effect of transplantation, suggesting a strong effect of the native habitat. Groves also found gene body methylation predicts fitness (in terms of weight gain).

Luke Browne, Tulane University

Seedlings of the tropical canopy palm Oenocarpus bataua in the Chocó rainforests of Northwest Ecuador show a rare genotype survival advantage, which over the course of a 5 year field experiment, lead to higher genetic diversity than expected by chance.

Finding empirical examples of frequency-dependent selection is difficult, but Luke is testing for this pattern in Ecuadorian trees. He found seedlings with rare genotypes had increased survival and common genotypes declined over generations. Luke’s results suggest we should include intraspecific genetic diversity into tropical forest dynamics theory.

Sheila Kitchen, Penn State University

Previous thought to be an evolutionary “dead end,” Sheila used 894 SNP loci to show the coral hybrid Acropora prolifera can backcross with both its parents, A. cervicornis and A. palmata, and with other A. prolifera individuals to create an F2 generation.

Daniela Flores, Iowa State University

Female painted turtle Chrysemys picta nesting at a field site at Thomson Causeway Recreation Area in Thomson, Illinois

Daniela tested the effect of methylation on environmental sex determination in turtles. She found a decrease in methylation over life stages from eggs to juveniles to adults. There was some evidence for a predisposition for sex in global methylation patterns, motivating the next step in Daniela’s work- testing for gene specific methylation patterns in candidate loci.

Bonus Round! Non-ME type talks below…

Talia Weiss, Virginia Tech

Talia studies locomotion at the water interface in animals and showed amazing videos of the skittering frog Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis jumping across the surface of a pond. Watch a video about her work here.

Shane Campbell Staton, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and University of Montana, Missoula

Shane tested for morphological and physiological changes in Anolis populations living in natural versus urbanized environments. He found lizards in urban areas experienced higher temperatures than rural lizards and could maintain normal functions at higher temperatures.


*I fell in love with New Orleans and its music, culture, and food during the eight years I lived in Louisiana. Usually before a conference, I make a list of talks to attend and people to meet. For SICB, I also made a list of places to eat, music to hear, and things to see. For the double bonus round, here are some places to check out if you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself in Nola. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

EAT: Cochon Butcher, Peche, Mother’s, Slim Goodies, Saint James Cheese Company, Seed, Willa Jean, Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe

LISTEN:  Maple Leaf Bar (Rebirth Brass Band plays every Tuesday), The Spotted Cat, Bacchanal, Fritzel’s European Jazz Club

LOOK: Ogden Museum of Southern Art, National World War II Museum, Audubon Park, Magazine Street, Lafayette Cemetery

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About Melissa DeBiasse

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience. As an evolutionary ecologist I am interested in the processes that generate biodiversity in marine ecosystems. My research uses experimental methods and genomic and phenotypic data to test how marine invertebrate species respond to biotic and abiotic stressors over ecological and evolutionary timescales.
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