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“Sweet” ticks - glycobiology of ticks and its potential in management of tick-borne pathogens

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We study glycoproteins, which affect the success of tick feeding on the host (such as humans), or the transmission of pathogens to the host.

When you take a close look on a tick, it seems a little alien. Indeed, it is so resistant, that itis comparable to the Alien itself. You can put it into the vacuum and it survives. You can wash it into a washing machine and...it survives.


Not even Alien is equipped for blood-feeding as perfectly as the tick. Ticks make an incision first, cut the skin and then secrete cement which glues them in the injury. This is of course annoying. Worse is the fact, that ticks transmit a number of pathogens. One for all - tick-borne encephalitis virus.

We study glycoproteins, which affect the success of tick feeding on the host (such as humans), or the transmission of pathogens to the host.


We can identify the glycoproteins made by the tick itself. For example in salivary glands, where they are red, cell nuclei are blue and the green corresponds to the tick chitin skeleton. Similarly, we can view tick glycans in their guts.


For those who do not like ticks, we have a solution - cell cultures.

A new study published in Ecology Letters

What keeps freshwater food webs together?

Freshwater habitats are often structured into physically separated open water, bottom and vegetated inshore mesohabitats. Each of these mesohabitats can host a different local community and rely on different sources of energy. Interestingly, the open water communities are typically dominated by small-bodied taxa and rapid turnover in biomass, while the bottom fauna is usually larger and has a slower turnover in biomass. Previous research proposed that their coexistence is mediated by mobile apex predators that link these communities in so-called multichannel food webs, but mechanistic explanations of this phenomenon were lacking.

A new study published in Ecology Letters provides robust explanations for these empirical phenomena. The research lead by Samuel Dijoux, a PhD student from the Laboratory of Biodiversity and Ecology of Aquatic Insects at the Institute of Entomology and Department of Ecosystem Biology at the Faculty of Science, used a numerical model to assess how asymmetries between the mesohabitats influence the structure and stability of multichannel food webs. The study shows that an interplay between asymmetric habitat productivities and consumer body sizes can either promote species coexistence or lead to cascading extinctions in the community. A ‘symmetry in asymmetries’ maintains multichannel food webs through the two compensatory levels of asymmetry that modulate the energy flows in the different food web channels. The results also demonstrate how anthropogenic disturbances such as the widespread habitat eutrophication can have profound effects on freshwater communities.

Dijoux S., Boukal D. S. (2021) Community structure and collapses in multichannel food webs: Role of consumer body sizes and mesohabitat productivities. Ecology Letters in press: DOI: 10.1111/ele.13772

Figure: Pelagic mesohabitats (blue symbols) are characterised by high productivity and small-bodied consumers, while the bottom habitats (brown symbols) are less productive with larger consumers. These two levels of asymmetry between habitats compensate each other and result in a balanced energy flow when reaching the top predator, promoting stability of the entire multichannel food web.

An uphill struggle: the break-down of an ant-plant protection mutualism with elevation

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In the tropics, many plant species benefit from hosting ant “partners” which protect them from herbivores in return for food and shelter. However, not much is known about how environmental context can affect the balance of costs and benefits for species in this mutualistic relationship. In more stressful environments, do plants provide enough resources for their ant partners, and do ants provide enough protection to their plant hosts? If the balance shifts, then the mutualism could break down.

A team of researchers from the University of South Bohemia and the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences explored this question on the forested slopes of Mount Wilhelm in Papua New Guinea. They surveyed small trees in the understory for evidence of ant inhabitation, recording levels of herbivory to discover how well ants protect their host trees along an elevational gradient. They also observed ant behaviour to compare how actively they protected plants at different elevations. 

They found that at higher elevations ant-plants were far less abundant than in lowlands where ants-plants were more abundant and species rich. Furthermore they discovered that plants suffered more herbivory damage with increasing elevation, and ants were less abundant and active on their host plants. These findings suggest that this symbiosis breaks down with elevation, where temperatures are cooler and ants are less effective plant protectors.

Plowman N.S., Hood A.S.C., Moses J., Redmond C., Novotny V., Klimes P., Fayle T.M. (2017) Network reorganization and breakdown of an ant–plant protection mutualism with elevation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: published online 15th March 2017. DOI:10.1098/rspb.2016.2564.


Archaeobotanical research in Prague castle and Hradčany

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Archaeobotanists from Faculty of Science on University of South Bohemia cooperate long time on analyses from Prague castle with the Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech republic, Prague, v.v.i.

Two important archaeological sites with rare unique plants dated to the early modern age are represented below.

Salm palace – cesspit from 17th century

Between Salm and Schwarzenberg courtyard connected by renaissance part of Salm palace the cesspit was detected. It is dated by dendrochronological analysis and rich assortment of glass artefacts to the 17th century. The analysis of macro-remains provides the abundant set of useful plants which documented the diet. Other plant species reflects anthropogenic environment. 

The cesspit bordered on basement of eastern cornered part of Schwarzenberg palace, today belonging to back couryard of Salm palace. Photo: K. Chlustíková

The cesspit bordered on basement of eastern cornered part of Schwarzenberg palace, today belonging to back couryard of Salm palace.  

Photo: K. Chlustíková

Beside common fruit species (fig, strawberry, vine etc.), oil plants (poppy, hemp, flax), cereals (millet, rye), pulses (lentil, peas, vetch) and spices (coriander, cumin, juniper) the rare and special plants were also detected – rice, tobacco and even the first record of lucerne weed – white ballmustard.

Aztec tobacco (Nicotiana rustica L.)

 Aztec tobacco is annual herb with yellow blossom from Solanaceae family originate from Mexico. The oldest picture of smoking man came from Mayans Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque dated 400 A.D. In Bohemia is known from the second half of 16th century not only as a smoking stuff but medicine and ornamental plant even.        

Asian rice (Oryza sativa L.)

Asian rice is annual bunchy cereal from Poaceae family originate from China and south-eastern Asia. Domestication of rice started back to 9000 BC and today is essential food for 1/3 of global population. Although rice in Bohemia was available in Middle Ages more common became in the early modern age.


Archaeobotanists from Faculty of Science on University of South Bohemia cooperate long time on analyses from Prague castle with the Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech republic, Prague, v.v.i. Two important archaeological sites with rare unique plants dated to the early modern age are represented below.

Vladislav hall – waste vault infill from 16th/17th century

During the wooden floor reconstruction in Vladislav hall the waste vault infill was revealed. Plentiful archaeological artefacts were dated to the end of 16th century up to modern age.

The most precious finds belong to the age of King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. who relocated the Habsburg capital from Vienna to Prague in 1583-1597. Vladislav hall became the centre of royal representations, ceremonies, tournaments and also marketplace with luxury goods. It pawed the way to unknown exotic and rare botanical species to emerge in Prague. Some of that species were captured by macro remains analysis.

There are plenty of nutshells (almond, pistachio, hazel, walnut), sweet chestnut, stones of plum, cherries, apricot, peach, olive, seeds of citrus fruit, vine, apple, pear, melon, pumpkin etc. give evidence about variety and profusion food in the early modern age. For the first time in central Europe were found the carob tree seeds. All seeds have the same weight so the unit carat was derived from them. First records in Central Europe are also the coffee bean and peanut which represent the first record in whole Europe even.


Coffee (Coffea arabica L.)

Coffee is evergreen shrub or low tree from Rubiaceae family originate in Ethiopia. The first coffee was made by Arabian physician Rhazes in the 10th century. Drinking coffee in Europe starts at the end of the 16th century. The first coffee house was build in Vienna in 1685 used the coffee beans abandoned by defeated Turk. In Prague the first coffee house was opened by Arab Georgius Deodatus Damascenus in 1714.

Peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.)

Peanut is annual herb from Fabaceae family originate in South America. It was domesticated around 3000 BC. Later was peanut spread to West Africa, Brazil and Spain whence came the first written record from spanish historian Oviedo y Valdés. Via Spanish trade is probable way how is peanut reached Prague.


Biosensors as a public health tool

Research by a team of scientists from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences has been published by the prestigious Journal of Travel Medicine

Scientists from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences have published the results of extensive research in the field of public health. Their aim was to map the occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 virus in Prague public transport during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team from the Laboratory of Functional Biointerfaces, led by Hana Lísalová, developed special biosensors for testing. Their use has provided new insights into the fight against infectious diseases.  The research, which has recently been published inJournal of Travel Medicine, was implemented in collaboration with the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, Taiwanese Academia Sinica, ELI ERIC and Prague Public Transit Company.

The study confirmed the potential of biosensors as a tool for virus detection in public environments. Specifically, it focused on virus detection in hundreds of diverse complex samples prepared from swabs of surfaces in public transport. The research builds on the team's previous work published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, which provided a novel biosensor design and demonstrated its effectiveness in detecting SARS-CoV-2 virus in clinical samples from patients with COVID-19. Now the team has extended their method to significantly more diverse swab samples from surfaces of exposed sites in public spaces.

Hana Lísalová, head of the research team, said: "We are excited about the results of our research and believe that our findings can have a significant impact on public health. Biosensors are proving to be a promising tool for monitoring the presence of viruses and infectious risks in public spaces, allowing for the rapid and effective setting of adequate measures to reduce the possibility of disease spread."

"I greatly appreciate the courage of Hana Lísalová and her team to break into the public health field and embark on research into the ways SARS-CoV-2 virus can be spread even in such a turbulent and uncertain time as the COVID-19 pandemic. All the logistics of sample collection were made possible by the collaboration of the entire interdisciplinary team of the Division of Optics, including the involvement of our students," said Alexandr Dejneka, head of the Division of Optics of the Institute of Physics.

The biosensor system is highly adaptable and can be used to detect a wide range of viruses. The result could not have been achieved without collaboration with the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice.

 "While testing the samples collected in public transport, several were positive for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 virus. Subsequently, we were interested in whether this was an infectious virus or already inactivated viral particles. We verified the infectivity of the virus by culture experiments in our BSL3 laboratory. A laboratory with this classification has to meet very strict biosafety criteria, so that even these high-risk pathogens can be studied there," said Václav Hönig from the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

 "Our research team is interested in the development of universal biosensors that are able to detect a wide range of pathogens, so we were pleased to be involved in the collaboration with Dr. Lísalová and her research team using this uniquely designed biosensor. The COVID-19 pandemic enabled the collection of a large number of samples that were used not only to test the sensitivity and specificity of the biosensors, but also to analyse the importance of the much-discussed transmission of infection through surfaces in everyday life. Dr. Lísalová's biosensor confirmed its versatility, and we believe that it has the potential to be used for the detection of other pathogens and thus contribute to the protection of human health worldwide," summarises Ján Štěrba from the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice.

 The study also focused on the comparison of the results of SARS-CoV-2 detection using the biosensor and the standard PCR method. The results showed that the combination of two sensitive and reliable methods based on different detection principles can monitor the risk of the virus spread in public spaces much more accurately than using only one method. The results of the study have the potential to revolutionise the way we monitor and detect viruses in public spaces and demonstrate the potential of biosensors as a complementary screening tool in epidemic monitoring and forecasting. They could pave the way for further breakthroughs in public health.


The research by the team from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences not only provides revolutionary findings in the field of biosensors, but also underlines the importance of collaboration between research institutions and universities. The published work is proof that this collaboration allows to cross the boundaries of individual disciplines.

Consequences of differential nutrient limitation of plants and soil microorganisms

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Plants and soil microbes are different in many ways, in particular in their biomass composition. Plant biomass is rich in nitrogen, but has less phosphorus, compared to microbial biomass.

This means that these organisms require different diets to thrive – richer in nitrogen for plants and richer in phosphorus for microbes. In soils, where both plants and microorganisms harvest the nutrients they need, nitrogen and phosphorus can be found in varying amounts. This creates a range of possible conditions, from poor in nitrogen but relatively rich in phosphorous, to poor in phosphorus but relatively rich in nitrogen. Fertilization further changes the relative availability of one nutrient or the other, potentially creating dangerous nutrient imbalances that may inhibit plant growth. In most cases fertilization is beneficial, as it provides the most needed nutrients for both plants and microorganisms, but in some cases it does not.

“Because soil microorganisms need relatively more phosphorus than plants, adding phosphorus to soil allows them to grow faster and use the soil nitrogen that would otherwise be available for plants. As a result, plants will run out of nitrogen and grow less”, says Stefano Manzoni, senior lecturer at the Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, and co-author of this study. Thus, the diet of soil microorganisms is key to understand fertilization effects, but that is not enough to explain experimental findings from the more than 50 studies considered by Čapek and co-authors.

Plants and soil microorganisms are not always competing for soil nitrogen and phosphorus – they often form symbiotic associations that allow plants to benefit from the presence of soil microorganisms. “When symbiotic associations are present, the negative effects created by nutrient imbalances disappear, because plants and soil microorganisms cooperate and share resources, instead of competing” says Stefano Manzoni. This study thus shows that maintaining a healthy relation between plants and microbes based on natural symbiotic associations is the key to sustain ecosystem services such as productivity of fields and forests.

The article “Nutrient effects on plant primary production dependent on plant-microbe relationship” is published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Further reading:https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/users/174968-petr-capek/posts/38664-consequences-of-differential-nutrient-limitation-of-plants-and-soil-microorganisms

Department of Ecosystem Biology as a partner in the International Applied Soil and Plant Ecology Knowledge project (IntASEK)

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The IntASEK project brings together five partners from four counties across Europe: Estonia, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. It focusses on teaching, research and employability for students in the field of soil and plant sciences. Project is funded by ERASMUS+ and European commission

The project runs for 33 months between December 2017 and August 2020.

As part of the project we continue to organize the international summer school "Soil and Water", which has already had 6 successful years (information about previous years here). Summer schools are attended by students and teachers from all partner countries and each year held in another country.This year, the summer school will take place on 1st-14th September at the Haute-Provance Observatory St. Michel in Southern France. If you are interested in attending the summer school, contact Z. Urbanová (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), for more information in the leaflet here.

The project involves Ulm University (Germany), Aix-Marseille Université (France) and the Estonian University of Life Sciences (Estonia). We provide our students with the opportunity to travel to a partner university and expand their knowledge during a study stay or a professional internship, or to develop a diploma thesis under the supervision of a trainer from a partner organization. You can find an overview of the possibilities of study, internship or thematic focus of individual workplaces here.

Effect of personality on a bird’s ability to categorize a predator

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Despite the fact that encounters with predators are always threatening, there is a considerable variablity among individuals in how they cope with these situations.

Jana Nácarová, Petr Veselý, and Roman Fuchs rom the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science performed a series of laboratory experiments with wild-caught great tits (Parus major), in which they tested the effect of exploratory behaviour (performance in novel food, object and environment test, startle test) on the ability of individual birds to assess the threat represented by a predator. They presented a wooden dummy of the European sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), an extremely dangerous predator, and its visual modifications (chimeras), changing the beak or head to be non-threatening (those of a pigeon – Columba livia f. domestica).

Their study showed that the differences between ‘slow’ and ‘fast explorers’ are not very distinct, but that ‘slow explorers’ generally tended to be more cautious in the presence of an unmodified sparrowhawk dummy, while the ‘fast explorers’ tended to observe the dummy. On the contrary, ‘slow explorers’ tended to treat both chimaeras (and the pigeon dummy as well) as less-threatening than ‘fast explorers’. Since ‘slow explorers’ are usually considered to be more sensitive to environmental cues, it came as no surprise that most of them correctly assessed the unmodified sparrowhawk dummy as threatening, while they probably subjected the chimeras to a detailed inspection and were not confused by the presence of sparrowhawk features and assessed them as non-threatening.

Nácarová, J.Veselý, P.Fuchs, R. 2018. Effect of the exploratory behaviour on a bird’s ability to categorize a predator. Behavioural Processes 151: 89–95.

Faculty of Science was successful in the GACR projects this year again.

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On Monday, the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic published the results of the grant competition. Faculty of Science has recently received funding for 12 new standard projects and 4 junior grants.

Two international grants received support by the Czech side and we are waiting for the results of the competitions from the partner countries. Together with running projects, it is 58 grants for the next year.

Congratulations to successful teams!

Foreign research and centers

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The Faculty of Science allows those who are interested in scientific work to work in scientific teams during their studies, where they can participate in international research projects and often celebrate their first research achievements.

Researchers and students from the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia participate in several projects at field stations located in extreme environments. These are mainly stations in Papua New Guinea and Svalbard. In both of these locations, the Faculty of Science has its own terrain stations, which provide excellent facilities for research in various fields of science, especially in the fields of ecology, entomology, algology or parasitology. It is also possible to visit the field station as part of the annual Tropical Ecology Course and the Polar Ecology Course, designed for students of all levels.

Genes, bones and behavior reveal phylogenetic relationships of dogs and their extinct relatives

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Dogs (subfamily Caninae) is one of the most charismatic groups of mammals and ecologically important predators and scavengers.

They originated in the Oligocene, more than 30 million years ago in the North American continent. In the late Tertiary, two main groups of Caninae – fox-like Vulpini and dog-like Canini – spread across the Bering Strait to Eurasia and Africa, where they gave rise to many species, ranging from fennec fox to Arctic fox, from golden jackal to grey wolf. One group of Canini in the North America spread through the newly-formed Isthmus of Panama to the South America, giving rise a large group called Cerdocyonina, that includes distinctive species such as the bush dog, the maned wolf or the Falkland Islands wolf, extinct in the 19th century.

In spite of considerable attention being paid to wild relatives of “man’s best friends”, their phylogenetic relationships remain unclear. The main points of contention concern the relationship between recent and extinct species, phylogenetic placement of distinct species such as the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), the bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis), or the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), and the phylogenetic placement of the so-called hypercarnivorous species. Most dogs are omnivores, but some species, such as the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), have become top predators with a diet consisting of more than 75% meat. It is unclear whether these species are related.

A team of researchers from the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia, led by Jan Zrzavý, reconstructed phylogenetic relationships of 80 species of extant and extinct dogs, based on a combination of genetic, morphological and behavioral characters. Phylogenetic analysis has shown that the fox-like Vulpini form a group of successively diverging lineages that includes foxes of the genus Vulpes as well as the bat-eared fox and the raccoon dog. The gray fox represents the oldest surviving lineages of dogs, related to extinct genus Metalopex, not to other foxes. The dog-like Canini includes, besides a well-defined South American Cerdocyonina and a group that includes wolves and jackals of the Old and New World, a couple of isolated lineages: the African wild dog and two species of small African jackals of the genus Lupulella, that are not immediately related to other jackals. Recent hypercarnivorous species are not closely related. Hypercarnivory evolved at least four times independently in the evolution of dogs.

A series of experimental analyses, based on “turning off” characters that do not fossilize well and that are associated with hypercarnivory revealed an important issue: Characters that fossilize well (e.g., teeth, parts of the skull, or long bones) are often indicative of ecological (dietary) adaptations and are less reliable for phylogenetic reconstruction. It is a paradoxical that the only characters that allow us to infer a comprehensive phylogeny of both extant and extinct species are likely those that tend to muddle true phylogenetic relationships. Phylogenetic trees based on these characters groups together species that are ecologically similar (e.g., hypercarnivorous species) but not actually related, as evident from the conflict with other morphological and molecular-based characters. Our current knowledge of phylogeny and evolution of dogs is to some extent affected by this issue. This issue is by no means trivial. Extinct North American dogs have recently become an important model group for studying general evolutionary topics such as adaptive radiation, evolution of body size, and evolution of ecological adaptations. A reliable phylogeny is crucial for investigation of these questions.

Zrzavý, J., Duda, P., Robovský, J., Okřinová, I., & Pavelková Řičánková, V. (2018). Phylogeny of the Caninae (Carnivora): Combining morphology, behaviour, genes and fossilsZoologica Scripta.

Hemiparasitic plants

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The Hemiparasitic Orobanchaceae Research Team at the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia work mostly on root‑hemiparasitic plants, i. e. green photosynthesic plants that however parasitize hosts by attaching to their roots.

Parasitic plants are plants acquiring some of the essential resources (water, mineral nutrients, organic carbon) by parasitic means.


Hausotria represent the key structure of parasitic plants dedicated to uptake of resources from the host plant.


Hemiparasite - host interactions

Root hemiparasites might look boring at the first sight – just as normal green plants. They however display a unique combination of ecological interactions based on parasitism below ground and competition for light above ground. Infection by hemiparasite can however substantially suppress growth and hence competitive ability of the host.

Ecosystem engineering

Root hemiparasites are currently not used for any “practical” purpose. Yet, they can act as ecosystem engineers suppressing aggressive species or weeds. We test the ability of rattle species (Rhinanthus) to parasitize and suppress wood small-reed (Calamagrostis epigejos) representing a major conservation issue due to its expansion to grassland communities.


Hemiparasites of Western Australia

The root hemiparasites occur worldwide, especially in temperate and subtropical regions. One of their diversity hostspots lies in Western Australia where many species of Santalaceae grow. Our team is involved in research of these interesting plants thanks to a cooperation with the University of Western Australia.


Jiří Kratochvíl from the Department of Physics was awarded the Young Scientist Award

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Jiří Kratochvíl, a research fellow at the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, Charles University and a PhD student at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Charles University in Prague, received the Young Scientist Award.

At the same time, he received a 450 euro, both in recognition of his excellent contribution in the form of a lecture entitled "Antibacterial thin films with antibacterial agents" presented at the prestigious EMRS Spring Meeting 2018 in Strasbourg, France. The presented work, which was based on close cooperation of the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia and the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of Charles University, deals with reservoir / diffusion barrier surfaces that are able to gradually release antibacterial agents such as antibiotics or metal ions released from nanoparticles. Mgr. In this way, Jiří Kratochvíl continued the success of last year, when he was awarded the "Euro CANTAREL STUDENT GRANT" award of 300 euros for a lecture at the ITFPC 2017 International Conference in Nancy, France.

Jiří Kratochvíl, who works at the Laboratory of Plasma Physics led by associate professor Vítězslav Straňák, is also the author of 11 scientific publications in acclaimed impact journals.

Josef Elster was elected as a Chairman of the International Arctic Science Committee

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The Center of Polar Ecology of the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia represents the Czech Republic in the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC).

At its annual meetings, the Commission responds to the challenges stemming from the Arctic Council (https://www.arctic-council.org) and from members of the various IASC panels. At a meeting held on May 22-30 in Archangelsk, Russia (https://www.en.assw2019.science), the head of the Polar Ecology Center, Josef Elster, was elected Chairman of the Terrestrial Panel.

Marsh Award for Insect Conservation for Professor Vojtech Novotny

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Professor Vojtech Novotny was awarded the Marsh Award for Insect Conservation for his outstanding contribution to insect conservation on the basis of lifetime achievement.

This Award is run in partnership with the Royal Entomological Society and recognises an outstanding contribution to the field of insect conservation. The Award can be given on the basis of ‘lifetime achievement’, or ‘considerable and exemplary contribution’ to a significant project or undertaking. In exceptional circumstances two prizes may be awarded to reflect each criterion.

Vojtech Novotny is an entomologist at the Czech Academy of Sciences and at University of South Bohemia and internationally renowned tropical insect ecologist. He divides his time between the Czech Republic and Papua New Guinea, where he has led the conservation of large areas of tropical forest and supported local scientists and the community towards the sustainable support of the environment with its rich insect communities. 

Persistence of species in trophic chains depends on temperature-size responses of individuals

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Body size reductions of ectotherms–such as insects, fish and bacteria–are among the main responses of organisms to climate change. However, the ecological consequences of this phenomenon are little explored. An international tem lead by researchers at the Institute of Entomology of the Biology Centre CAS and University of South Bohemia has simulated long-term consequences of changes in body size on the persistence and structure of trophic chains. They show that body size reductions can increase the survival of populations and hence mitigate the consequences of climate change. Their findings published in the July issue of Ecology Letters underlie the importance of phenotypic responses of individual organisms to changing temperature and show that these changes must be considered if we want to fully understand how climate change will affect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Example of the effect of temperature on individuals across three trophic levels: dragonfly larvae feeding on cladocerans that in turn feed on green algae. Size of all individuals decreases with temperature.

Three main organismal responses to climate change are currently recognized: (1) changes in the spatial distribution of species, (2) changes in phenology and (3) changes in body size of ectotherms. While the first two phenomena have been widely recognized and studied, the ecological consequences of body size reductions are relatively little understood. At the same time, temperature-dependent changes in body size depend on the body size itself and differ between unicellular and multicellular organisms and between terrestrial and aquatic ectotherms. This makes general predictions of the impact of these changes on ecosystems difficult.

The new study by Arnaud Sentis, Amrei Binzer and David Boukal used simulation modelling to unravel the effect of temperature, habitat productivity, body size and temperature-size responses on the stability and persistence of a simple food chain. The food chain consisted of three ectotherm populations–consumers, intermediate predators and top predators–that potentially differed in body size and size response to warming. The results revealed that changes in body size can substantially increase (but also decrease) the probability that the predator populations will survive increased temperatures predicted by the current climate change scenarios. The predicted effects were strongest for aquatic ectotherms and for food chains with high body size ratios at adjacent trophic levels.

In summary, this study shows that individual phenotypic plasticity can have strong effects on the community level, and that temperature-size responses should be included in future models of climate change effects on ecosystems and biodiversity.

A. Sentis, A. Binzer, D. S. Boukal (2017) Temperature-size responses alter food chain persistence across environmental gradients. Ecology Letters 20: 852-862. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.12779/full

Secret stock of organic carbon in arctic permafrost. Time bomb of global climate change?

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Permafrost is permanently frozen soil where temperature does not rise above 0°C during two year period. Because of the repeating thawing of transient and active soil layer the upper organic soil horizon can be burried during process of cryoturbation. Also many unique geological structures are formed (polygons, ice wedges, etc.)

Selected publications

Nest microhabitats and tree size mediate shifts in ant community structure across elevation in tropical rainforest canopies

The study in Ecography investigates the effects of elevation on tropical arboreal ant communities for the first time. It reveals a strong mid-elevation peak in ant species diversity in rainforest canopies, mediated by shifts in the interspecies competition and nesting preferences. While the main drivers of elevational change in communities are climatic, local factors such as habitat complexity may interact with climate to influence the diversity and composition of communities. In the tropics, ants span a wide elevational range, and as ectotherms are sensitive to climate, and are also some of the most ecologically important and abundant invertebrates in rainforest canopies. We studied entire ant communities and their nests in 1254 trees within 0.2 ha forest plots at three elevations in Papua New Guinea, and assessed the effects of tree size, nest microhabitat use and interspecies competition. We found a surprisingly strong mid-elevation peak in arboreal ant diversity and nest abundance, rather than a linear decline with elevation (Fig. A). Our analyses revealed a complexity of drivers that mediate this pattern. Microhabitat use was a strong factor in shaping the ant diversity and abundance, in combination with climate and competition. With increased elevation, there was an increased use of more insulated nest habitats (epiphytes, twigs) and a decreased influence of dominant ant species. Our models based on randomisation of the species co-occurrences in trees indicate that this increased use of cryptic nest sites contributed to differential co-occurrence patterns of the ant species between small and large trees (Fig B).

Plowman N., Mottl O., Novotný V., Idigel C., Philip F.J., Rimandai M.,  Klimeš P. (2020) Nest microhabitats and tree size mediate shifts in ant community structure acroos elevation in tropical rainforest canopies. Ecography (In press). DOI: 10.1111/ecog.04730


The structure and function of Iristatin, a novel immunosuppressive tick salivary cystatin

To successfully feed, ticks inject pharmacoactive molecules into the vertebrate host including cystatin cysteine protease inhibitors. However, the molecular and cellular events modulated by tick saliva remain largely unknown. Here, we describe and characterize a novel immunomodulatory cystatin, Iristatin, which is upregulated in the salivary glands of feeding Ixodes ricinus ticks. We present the crystal structure of Iristatin at 1.76 Å resolution. Purified recombinant Iristatin inhibited the proteolytic activity of cathepsins L and C and diminished IL-2, IL-4, IL-9, and IFN-γ production by different T-cell populations, IL-6 and IL-9 production by mast cells, and nitric oxide production by macrophages. Furthermore, Iristatin inhibited OVA antigen-induced CD4+ T-cell proliferation and leukocyte recruitment in vivo and in vitro. Our results indicate that Iristatin affects wide range of anti-tick immune responses in the vertebrate host and may be exploitable as an immunotherapeutic.

Kotál, J., Stergiou, N., Buša, M., Chlastáková. A.Beránková, Z., Řezáčová, P., Langhansová, H., Schwarz, A., Calvo, E., Kopecký, J., Mareš, M., Schmitt, E., Chmelař, J., Kotsyfakis, M. 2019. The structure and function of Iristatin, a novel immunosuppressive tick salivary cystatin. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 76: 2003–2013.


Biosynthesis of the neurotoxin domoic acid in a bloom-forming diatom

Oceanic harmful algal blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia diatoms produce the potent mammalian neurotoxin domoic acid (DA). Despite decades of research, the molecular basis for its biosynthesis is not known. By using growth conditions known to induce DA production in Pseudo-nitzschia multiseries, we implemented transcriptome sequencing in order to identify DA biosynthesis genes that colocalize in a genomic four-gene cluster. We biochemically investigated the recombinant DA biosynthetic enzymes and linked their mechanisms to the construction of DA’s diagnostic pyrrolidine skeleton, establishing a model for DA biosynthesis. Knowledge of the genetic basis for toxin production provides an orthogonal approach to bloom monitoring and enables study of environmental factors that drive oceanic DA production.

Brunson, J. K., McKinnie, S. M. K., Chekan, J. R., McCrow, J. P., Miles, Z. D., Bertrand, E. M., Bielinski, V. A., Luhavaya, H., Oborník, M., Smith, G. J., Hutchins, D. A., Allen, A. E., Moore, B. S. 2018. Biosynthesis of the neurotoxin domoic acid in a bloom-forming diatom. Science 361: 1356–1358.


Spatial Variability of Antarctic Surface Snow Bacterial Communities

It was once a long-held view that the Antarctic was a pristine environment with low biomass, low biodiversity and low rates of microbial activity. However, as the intensity of scientific investigation has increased, so these views have started to change. In particular, the role and impact of human activity toward indigenous microbial communities has started to come under more intense scrutiny. During the Subglacial Lake Ellsworth exploration campaign in December 2012, a microbiological survey was conducted to determine the extent and likelihood of exogenous input into the subglacial lake system during the hot-water drilling process. Snow was collected from the surface to represent that used for melt water production for hot-water drilling. The results of this study showed that snow used to provide melt water differed in its microbiological composition from that of the surrounding area and raised the question of how the biogeography of snow-borne microorganisms might influence the potential outcome of scientific analyses. In this study, we investigated the biogeography of microorganisms in snow around a series of Antarctic logistic hubs, where human activity was clearly apparent, and from which scientific investigations have been undertaken. A change in microbial community structure with geographical location was apparent and, notably, a decrease in alpha diversity at more remote southern latitudes. Soil-related microorganisms dominated microbial assemblages suggesting terrestrial input, most likely from long-range aeolian transport into continental Antarctica. We also observed that relic DNA was not a major issue when assessing snow samples. Overall, our observations might have profound implications for future scientific activities in Antarctica, such as the need to establish “no-go” protected areas, the need for better characterization of field sites and improved protocols for sterilization and verification of ice drilling equipment.

Mallard, L. A., Šabacká, M., Magiopoulos, I., Mowlem, M., Hodson, A., Tranter, M., Siegert, M. J., Pearce, D. A. Spatial Variability of Antarctic Surface Snow Bacterial Communities. Frontiers in Microbiology 10: 461.


Explaining marriage patterns in a globally representative sample through socio-ecology and population history: A Bayesian phylogenetic analysis using a new supertree

Comparative analyses have sought to explain variation in human marriage patterns, often using predictions derived from sexual selection theory. However, most previous studies have not controlled for non-independence of populations due to shared ancestry. Here we leverage a phylogenetic supertree of human populations that includes all 186 populations in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS), a globally representative and widely-used sample of human populations. This represents the most comprehensive human phylogeny to date, and allows us not only to control for non-independence, but also to quantify the role of population history in explaining behavioral variation, in addition to current socio-ecological conditions. We use multiple imputation to overcome missing data problems and build a comprehensive Bayesian phylogenetic model of marriage patterns with two correlated response variables and eleven minimally collinear predictors capturing various socio-ecological conditions. We show that ignoring phylogeny could lead to both false positives and false negatives, and that the phylogeny explained about twice as much variance as all the predictors combined. Pathogen stress and assault frequency emerged as the predictors most strongly associated with polygyny, which had been considered evidence for female choice of good genes and male intra-sexual competition or male coercion, respectively. Mixed support was found for a polygyny threshold based on variance in male wealth, which is discussed in light of recent theory. Barring caveats, these findings refine our understanding of the evolution of human marriage systems, and highlight the value of combining population history and current socio-ecology in explaining human behavioral variation. Future studies using the SCCS should do so using the present supertree.

Minocher, R., Duda, P., Jaeggi, A. V. 2019. Explaining marriage patterns in a globally representative sample through socio-ecology and population history: A Bayesian phylogenetic analysis using a new supertree. Evolution and Human Behavior 40: 176-187.


Additional row of outer hair cells – The unique pattern of the Corti organ in a subterranean rodent, the Gansu zokor (Eospalax cansus)

Acoustic conditions in burrows are different from those aboveground and restrict hearing of subterranean mammals to low frequencies, which is reflected in the earmorphology. While low-frequency adaptations of the middle ear attracted more attention of researches, the inner ear remained rather understudied. Here, we examined the cochlea of the inner ear of the Gansu zokor (Eospalax cansus), a subterranean rodent from the Tibetan Plateau. We focused on the quantitative parameters of the organ of Corti, which are assumed to determine hearing sensitivity and frequency tuning. Apart from the morphological traits common to the ear of subterranean rodents studied thus far, the Gansu zokor shows two unique features: the presence of a fourth row of outer hair cells along 20% to 50% of the basilar membrane length and almost constant width of the organ of Corti over more than 10% of its spiral length. Both these anomalies occur in the middle of the cochlear spiral. These features are unusual in comparative morphology of the organ of Corti and presumably are reflected in the functional specialization. They are expected to affect sensitivity and /or resolution of hearing in the frequency rangeregistered in the given cochlear segment. The Gansu zokor thus profiles to an interesting candidate for hearing research which might provide further insight not only into morpho-functional adaptations in subterranean mammals in particular but also in the function of outer hair cells in general.

Pleštilová, L.Hrouzková, E., Burda, H., Hua, L., Šumbera, R. 2019. Additional row of outer hair cells – The unique pattern of the Corti organ in a subterranean rodent, the Gansu zokor (Eospalax cansus). Mammalian Biology 94: 11–17.


Recent advances in trypanosomatid research: genome organization, expression, metabolism, taxonomy and evolution.

Unicellular flagellates of the family Trypanosomatidae are obligatory parasites of invertebrates, vertebrates and plants. Dixenous species are aetiological agents of a number of diseases in humans, domestic animals and plants. Their monoxenous relatives are restricted to insects. Because of the high biological diversity, adaptability to dramatically different environmental conditions, and omnipresence, these protists have major impact on all biotic communities that still needs to be fully elucidated. In addition, as these organisms represent a highly divergent evolutionary lineage, they are strikingly different from the common 'model system' eukaryotes, such as some mammals, plants or fungi. A number of excellent reviews, published over the past decade, were dedicated to specialized topics from the areas of trypanosomatid molecular and cell biology, biochemistry, host-parasite relationships or other aspects of these fascinating organisms. However, there is a need for a more comprehensive review that summarizing recent advances in the studies of trypanosomatids in the last 30 years, a task, which we tried to accomplish with the current paper.

Maslov, D. A., Opperdoes, F. R., Kostygov, A. Y., Hashimi, H.Lukeš, J., Yurchenko, V. 2019. Recent advances in trypanosomatid research: genome organization, expression, metabolism, taxonomy and evolution. Parasitology 219: 1–27.


Selfish Immune System

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by Tomas Dolezal and Adam Bajgar - Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics

Immune response is energetically demanding process. Immune cells, upon activation, switch their metabolism to increased aerobic glycolysis to support rapid synthesis of macromolecules; this switch is associated with increased glucose consumption by immune cells. Increased aerobic glycolysis was originally described by Otto Warburg in cancer cells and it is now recognized as being common for proliferating cells (Vander Heiden 2009), for example during development (Tennessen 2011).

Selfish immune system” is a theoretical concept recently articulated by Rainer Straub (Straub 2014) with inspiration of “selfish brain theory”. These concepts put brain and immune system hierarchically above the rest of the organism in allocating energy/nutrition. During the fight-or-flight response or trauma/infection, the organism vitally depends on either the central nervous system or the immune system and thus these organs are privileged in energy allocation.

According to Straub, insulin resistance, leading to lower consumption of glucose and hyperglycemia, is a physiological way for the brain or immune system to usurp energy/nutrition during acute stress from the rest of the organism because brain and immune cells themselves do not become insulin resistant. Chronic insulin resistance, caused by chronic inflammation or by chronic mental activation, then leads to various pathologies such as diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome or chronic inflammatory diseases.

Experimental evidence demonstrating the selfish behavior of immune system, especially during physiological reactions and not during disease state, is largely missing. We have recently found that immune cells release adenosine which causes a systemic metabolic switch leading to suppression of development. Results were published in PLoS Biology.

We use infection of fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) larvae by a parasitoid wasp Leptopilina boulardi (you can watch YouTube video with infection here). Wasp injects its egg into Drosophila larva and if larva does not destroy the egg, the emerged wasp larva consumes the host – the parasitoid can be seen as an alien in the insect world. However, the host larva can mount a robust immune response and destroy the egg before the alien emerges from the egg. The host must rapidly produce specialized immune cells called lamellocytes which will encapsulate the parasitoid egg and destroy it by melanization – a toxic reaction within the capsule.

Fig 1. e-Ado-mediated systemic metabolic switch during parasitoid wasp infection of Drosophila larva.
Parasitoid egg is first recognized by circulating hemocytes which activate proliferation and differentiation of specialized immune cells, called lamellocytes, from pro-hemocytes. Lamellocytes eventually encapsulate and destroy the egg. Activated pro-hemocytes increase aerobic glycolysis, increasing thus significantly glucose consumption. They usurp the glucose from the rest of the organism by releasing adenosine. Extracellular adenosine (e-Ado) suppresses metabolism of other tissues by signaling via adenosine receptor (AdoR) and this slows down the larval development.

Such a robust immune response requires a significant amount of energy. Developing Drosophila larva obtains this energy by slowing down the development, leaving thus the energy to immune response. During the infection, activated immune system is allowed to behave selfishly. We have shown that activated immune cells, which must proliferate and differentiate into lamellocytes, produce adenosine that serves as a “selfish signal”. Extracellular adenosine (e-Ado) then suppresses the rest of the organism, leading to lower consumption of glucose by non-immune tissues and thus to a delay in development. This systemic metabolic switch is crucial for rapid production of lamellocytes and thus for effective immune response against the parasitoid egg. When we block adenosine transport from immune cells or when we block adenosine signaling, infected larva does not slow down the development, consumes the energy required by immune system and thus the resistance to parasitoid drastically drops. This represents a clear experimental evidence for a trade-off between development and immune response and a “selfish” behavior of immune system during stress. The selfishness of the immune system is crucial for effective immune response.


Bajgar A, Kucerova K, Jonatova L, Tomcala A, Schneedorferova I, et al. (2015) Extracellular Adenosine Mediates a Systemic Metabolic Switch during Immune Response. PLoS Biol 13(4): e1002135. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002135

Vander Heiden MG, Cantley LC, Thompson CB. Understanding the Warburg Effect: The Metabolic Requirements of Cell Proliferation. Science. 2009;324: 1029–1033.

Straub RH. Insulin resistance, selfish brain, and selfish immune system: an evolutionarily positively selected program used in chronic inflammatory diseases. Arthritis Res Ther. 2014;16: S4.

Tennessen JM, Baker KD, Lam G, Evans J, Thummel CS. The Drosophila estrogen-related receptor directs a metabolic switch that supports developmental growth. Cell Metab. 2011;13: 139–148.

Sex chromosomes of the iconic moth Abraxas grossulariata

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New publication of Magda Zrzava and her colleagues in Genes.

112 years ago, Doncaster and Raynor published a paper on an interesting mode of inheritance of a light morph (“lacticolor”) in the magpie moth, Abraxas grossulariata, occurring more frequently in females. Based on their observations, they introduced the concept of female heterogamety (i.e. ♀WZ/♂ZZ and derived sex chromosome systems). However, despite the following cytogenetic studies, the sex chromosomes of this iconic species remained unknown. We took advantage of modern methods of molecular cytogenetics and identified and analyzed the chromosomes in this iconic moth and its congener, A. sylvata. The study revealed a pair of molecularly well-differentiated WZ sex chromosomes in both species. Although these species split only around 9.5 million years ago, their W chromosomes differ greatly, and our results suggest their rapid molecular divergence by independent spreading of female-specific repetitive sequences. Our article was selected for the cover story of the June 2018 Issue of the Genes journal:

Zrzavá M., Hladová I., Dalíková M., Šíchová J., Õunap E., Kubíčková S., Marec F. (2018) Sex chromosomes of the iconic moth Abraxas grossulariata (Lepidoptera, Geometridae) and its congener A. sylvata. Genes 9: 279.

The magpie moth, Abraxas grossulariata (photo Andrej Makara) and its sex chromosomes W and Z. (a) The wild-type form of A. grossulariata. (b) WZ bivalent at the pachytene stage of meiotic prophase I. The W chromosome is highlighted by FISH with a W-painting probe (green), clusters of genes for ribosomal RNA (rDNA, red) are immersed into nucleoli (grey circles in the schematic drawing). (c) Mitotic metaphase chromosomes. The W chromosome was identified by FISH with the W-painting probe (not shown). Bar = 10 μm.

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