I'm just back from the Ichs and Herps meetings in Montreal. Overall, the meetings were a bit of a let-down. They suffered in particular by comparison to the Evolution meetings just a few weeks previously. At Evolution, I saw lots of phylogenies reconstructed with 10-20 nuclear loci as well as a range of exciting new phylogenetic and comparative methods. At Ichs and Herps, phylogenies from mitochondrial DNA plus 0-5 nuclear loci were the norm and hardly anybody was doing innovative or novel analyses.
The coolest science talk I saw was Todd Castoe's talk about mtDNA evolution in snakes. Apparently, the remarkably rapid rate of mtDNA evolution in snakes is due primarily to non-synonymous substitutions in cytochrome oxidase (a transmembrane protein complex that is esstential for cellular respiration). In their recent PLoS One paper, Todd and his colleagues reasonably suggested that this is due to the radical shift in niche and diet that accompanied snake evolution, and their tendency to endure long fasts punctuated by the occasional very large meal in particular.
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