How the forest soils recover after fires, what helps molluscs live in freshwaters and seawater, what do the lines and undulations on our palms tell us about - these are just some of the topics the current issue of the Biological Communications focuses on.  

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Monkeys` ‘life line’

The biologists from Moscow State University and Paleontological Institute of the RAS Mellin Novikova and Aleksandr Kuznetsov have studied what fingers of the South African monkeys move together by examining their lines on the palms that are furrows or wrinkles in the skin just like those of the humans.

Biological Communications is a renewed Vestnik of St Petersburg University. Series 3. Biology that has been published in Russian since 1946. In May 2017, it became a broad scope journal that publishes research across all areas of biology and aims to communicate the advances of Russian science abroad. The editor-in-chief is Candidate of Biology, SPbU Associate Professor Egor Malashichev, and the editorial board comprises the world’s leading scientists from Russia, the USA, Germany, the UK, Poland, Italy, and others.

“The palmists have long since read our past and divination of the future by interpreting  the lines and undulations on the palm of the hand and credulous people believe it without good evidence, — said leading research fellow of the Paleontological Institute Aleksandr Kuznetsov. — We decided to take a scientific approach to the issue and studied the lines (life, fate, heart, head lines and so on) as the external factors of how the functions of the fingers relate to each other and as markers of how the apes have learned to grasp by hands. The science obviously had little or nothing to do with those aspects. Although the scientific interest was on the surface – on the surface of the palm of the monkeys”.

The study reveals that by reading the lines we can get insight into the evolutionary scenario of how the monkey started to use their hands for grasping.  For example, the life line that curves around the thumb is the most ancient and typical to all monkey species. The fate line that runs down the palm appeared just when the monkey hands had formed. As we had been developing the function to hold the objects by our hands, there appeared vertical lines. For example, the heart line independently appeared in humans and South African monkeys, while the head line is typical only to humans.

Snails in seawater  

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SPbU biologists are studying the snails that inhabit in the intertidal areas of the White Sea that are a part of the shore above water at low tide and under water at high tide (in other words, the area between tide marks). This area is a habitat for two related species of intertidal snails Littorina saxatilis and L. obtusata. Although they live together on the shore, they are completely different in how they adapt to low salinity. The ability to adapt is critical for these populations as salinity can change significantly in these areas.  For example, in spring snowmelt causes water freshening. How these related species can adapt to these changes is different, and it made scientists get to know the reasons behind it.

“We know that both species can live in waters with normal level of salinity, — said the Head of the Department of Zoology of Invertebrates, SPbU Professor Andrei Granovich. — L. saxatilis can inhabit in the areas where salinity is extremely low, while L. obtusata is weaker and tries to avoid low salinity. How these species adapt to the salinity variations differ significantly, our research has shown: they have different sets of proteins that are generated in response to low salinity”.

The White Sea has salinity of 22–24 ‰.

During the experiments, the snails that normally live in the While Sea were put into the containers with seawater of salinity 14 ‰. Although the species can live in such seawaters, they have to adapt to such conditions as they are far from being optimal. The scientists found out that the response of L. saxatilis was much milder and involved weaker proteomic changes. Among proteins potentially involved in adaptation to low salinity, they identified enzymes of energetic metabolism and antioxidant response, chaperones, proteins of extracellular matrix and cytoskeleton, ion channels and regulators of cell growth and proliferation. The proteomic response of the second species, L. obtusata, was weaker than that of L. saxatilis and engaged a mostly different set of proteins.

The research findings, as the scientists say, can help us get insight into how related species develop their mechanisms to adapt to the changing conditions. It has a practical dimension as well: for example, the research findings can be used in breeding different species of the aquatic organisms.

Soil after fire

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The experts in soil ecology – SPbU Professor Evgeny Abakumov and engineer-researcher of the Department of Applied Ecology at SPbU and post-graduate student at the Institute of Ecology of Volga Basin of the RAS Ekaterina Maksimova – have published the study of Soil organic matter quality and composition in a postfire Scotch pine forest in Tolyatti. The extreme summer temperatures of 2010 were critically important to the appearance of wildfires across Russia.

Tolyatti is a city that is surrounded by the forests: all its three districts are divided by the pine forests.

Engineer-researcher of the Department of Applied Ecology at SPbU Ekaterina Maksimova

“Since 2010, each year I come to Tolyatti and take soil plots to see the recovery of the soils and postpyrogenic succession, that is a postfire change of biogeocenosis”, — said Ekaterina Maksimova.

We can see a positive trend, says the researcher: the communities of microorganisms, unlike the soil organic matter, are quicker to restore. The postfire soils contain increased potassium and phosphorus that are the key nutrient elements. Accumulated ash however makes these concentrations abnormal for the environment. The forest ecosystem affected by fires can significantly accelerate water erosion.

“The study can help us build up a model of how the organic matter is recovered during postpyrogenic succession, — said Ekaterina Maksimova. — We therefore will be able to develop a scheme to monitor the consequences of fires and give recommendations as to how restorer the ecosystems: how to fertilize, what to plant, and what measures to take”.