263 posts · 211,109 views
Brains, behaviour, and evolution.
It’s too hard to do groundbreaking science. Hutchinson, who self identifies as a student (though what level is not clear) argues in forthcoming paper in BioEssays that the reason it’s hard to do original science is all because of how science is funded.
As it stands, our current system may work well in weeding out technically flawed proposals and advancing incremental work, yet truly novel ideas will rarely be funded or even tolerated.
This is not a particularly new insight. I’ve written a........ Read more »
Nicholson J. (2012) Collegiality and careerism trump critical questions and bold new ideas: A student's perspective and solution. BioEssays. DOI: 10.1002/bies.201200001
“Why aren’t you working harder? Don’t you know there are still people dying from cancer?!” That’s the thrust of a sanctimonious, self-righteous editorial by one Scott Kern. See below for other commentaries on it.
You know, even soldiers fighting actual wars where there is immediate and imminent danger to their comrades are given leave.
Kern has lost the plot; he’s forgotten that the main reason we want to cure cancer is so that people can lead fulfilling liv........ Read more »
Kern, SE. (2010) Where’s the passion?. Cancer Biology , 10(7), 655-657. info:/10.4161/cbt.10.7.12994
Bermuda. Famous for its sun. Sand. Surf. Shorts. Triangles. Lizards.
Okay, maybe not the lizards. Not yet.
Islands and lakes hold a special place in the heart of evolutionary biologists (here’s a few examples from this blog: sticklebacks, crickets). As Jerry Coyne likes to say, island biogeography provides evidence for evolution so strong that most creationists simply ignore it.
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Bermuda formed about two million years ago. It’s small and a long way from the mainland, and ........ Read more »
Brandley, M., Wang, Y., Guo, X., Nieto Montes de Oca, A., Fería Ortíz, M., Hikida, T., & Ota, H. (2010) Bermuda as an evolutionary life raft for an ancient lineage of endangered Lizards. PLoS ONE, 5(6). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011375
Joshua Ward thinks scientists have to embrace social media.
Okay. As a blogger, someone on Twitter, and so on, I guess I can’t disagree with that.
But almost didn’t get to that point, because I just about did a spit-take when I read:
In the face of basic scientist shortages in many of the leading fields(...)
Shortage? What shortage? I rarely read about institutions unable to find good people. I read a lot about institutions with bona fide research positions that are swamped by application........ Read more »
Ward, J. (2010) Recruiting future talent in ecology and evolutionary biology. Trends in Ecology . DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2010.06.002
When things are bad, and I mean really bad, horribly you-are-in-the-jaws-of-death bad, sometimes you have to let go of something.
Like a tail.
This leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) can, when hassled, have its tail fall off. Losing a limb (autotomy) is not a particularly unusual trick for this species. Lots of animals can drop legs and tails if necessary. But this one is noteworthy because if it does so, the tail doesn’t just come off, but it will continue to twist and writhe for up to........ Read more »
Higham T, & Russell A. (2012) Time-varying motor control of autotomized leopard gecko tails: multiple inputs and behavioral modulation. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 215(3), 435-441. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.054460
This picture was making the rounds last week after being reported by the BBC:
The BBC did not mention a species name, and the infographic below suggests that it’s an unknown. On the CRUST-L listserver, however, the general agreement was that this was Alicella gigantea, the biggest known amphipod. This is a deep water, rarely seen species.
This infographic prompted Rebecca Watson to quip:
If you’re wondering how big Superprawn was, this image clearly shows he was about half the size of N........ Read more »
Broyer C, & Thurston M. (1987) New Atlantic material and redescription of the type specimens of the giant abyssal amphipod Alicella gigantea Chevreux (Crustacea). Zoologica Scripta, 16(4), 335-350. DOI: 10.1111/j.1463-6409.1987.tb00079.x
Previously, on NeuroDojo...
(M)igration causes brain size to reduce, rather than the other way around.
The quote might be a bit misleading, though, because that was in reference to bird migration. All manner of animals migrate, and it is possible that birds face pressure other creatures don’t.
A good first place to look for a comparison would be bats. Because despite being separate by several hundred millions years of evolution, bats have one very obvious similarity to birds: they fly. And, ........ Read more »
McGuire L., & Ratcliffe J. (2010) Light enough to travel: migratory bats have smaller brains, but not larger hippocampi, than sedentary species. Biology Letters. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0744
This supershort paper contains an interesting fact: there is a population of male stickleback fish out there with big brains. The males fish that have brains 23% larger than the females of approximately equal size.
This is a bit of an unfair characterization. The paper does talk a little bit about how the look for differences in brain size according to the local eco-type that they found the fish and: mud or lava. the nails from allow the environments have bigger brains than those from muddy env........ Read more »
Kotrschal A, Räsänen K, Kristjánsson B, Senn M, & Kolm N. (2012) Extreme sexual brain size dimorphism in sticklebacks: a consequence of the cognitive challenges of sex and parenting?. PLoS ONE, 7(1). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030055
Yesterday, Elizabeth Sandquist posed an hypothesis:
You can't just be good to succeed in #science, you have to be exceptional. Any thoughts?
NeuroPolarBear replied with a post, and Drugmonkey pulled out an older post.
But my post will be the best, for I shall cite peer-reviewed data in the primary literature.
As it happened, Petersen and colleague published a paper yesterday looking at career success in physics. Appropriately enough, even though it’s a career paper, it feels very much like ........ Read more »
Petersen A, Riccaboni M, Stanley H, & Pammolli F. (2012) Persistence and uncertainty in the academic career. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(14), 5213-5218. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1121429109
“See that bear?”
“That one there? Yeah.”
“Go walk up to it.”
“Go on. Just walk up to it.”
That’s the sort of dialogue I heard in my head with I read the title, “Behaviour of solitary adult Scandinavian brown bears (Ursus arctos) when approached by humans on foot.”
Large mammals and humans often don’t get along well, and this is true of bears, too. Bears are a threat to humans, and humans are a threat to bears. This particular bear species i........ Read more »
Moen G, Støen O, Sahlén V, & Swenson J. (2012) Behaviour of solitary adult Scandinavian brown bears (Ursus arctos) when approached by humans on foot. PLoS ONE, 7(2). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031699
It is a sad but true fact that you cannot have it all. This has been known in evolution for a long time, where people often talk about trade-offs.
In a new paper, Cox and Calsbeek test the trade-offs between survival and reproduction experimentally, using female anoles.
Female anoles (Anolis sagrei; pictured) lay one egg at a time, though they do so throughout the breeding season. Cox and Calsbeek captured almost 400 animals, and performed sterilizing surgery on half the females, and sham surg........ Read more »
Cox, R., & Calsbeek, R. (2010) Severe costs of reproduction persist in lizards despite the evolution of a single-egg clutch. Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00906.x
Animals on some islands are famously unafraid of humans (click here to watch an example). In almost every case, this tameness hasn’t lasted long, ending either with the animals become very wary or harvested to extinction.
A new paper by Delibes and colleagues tells a story about the behaviour of an island animal, but it’s too early to tell if this one will have a better ending. Delibes and company were collecting lizards, the orange-throated whiptail (Aspidoscelis hyperythra). As you can se........ Read more »
Delibes M, Blázquez M, Soriano L, Revilla E, & Godoy J. (2011) High antipredatory efficiency of insular lizards: a warning signal of excessive specimen collection?. PLoS ONE, 6(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029312
The Methods section of most papers is the least read part of the paper. You can see this in how some journals print the Methods in a tiny point size. Others have taken to putting the section at the end of the paper, so as not to disrupt the narrative flow with details.
Occasionally, you get a paper – usually in your field – where you need to read the Methods section closely to understand a paper enough to criticize or replicate.
Rare indeed are papers where the story is so unusual that I t........ Read more »
Johns SE, Hargrave LA, & Newton-Fisher NE. (2012) Red is not a proxy signal for female genitalia in humans. PLoS ONE, 7(4). info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0034669
Note: This paper in this post is also being covered by the mighty Scicurious in her weekly Friday Weird Science!
Last week, I wrote about women and red. To recap: Men think that women wearing red look smokin’ hawt. (That’s the technical term.)
There’s a lot of questions you can ask about that fact. Last week's paper tried to figure out if red was sexy because it reminded men of the colour of female sex organs. (No.) Another question, tested here, is whether women use red to show their ........ Read more »
Elliot, A., & Pazda, A. (2012) Dressed for Sex: Red as a Female Sexual Signal in Humans. PLoS ONE, 7(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034607
This week, the focus is not so much on what a crustacean looks like as what it can do.
Waach this little speck – a copepod – faced with being eaten by a fish.
According to Gemmell and colleagues, when a copepod leaps out of the water this, only one fish out of all they tested was then able to catch the escaping crustacean.
And here is is in high speed. It’s too bad that it’s so fast that you can’t get in any closer, because the beast would immediately have it go out of foc........ Read more »
Gemmell B, Jiang H, Strickler J, & Buskey E. (2012) Plankton reach new heights in effort to avoid predators. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0163
Distinguishing your own species from other species is useful: for one thing, it prevents a lot of potentially embarrassing mating attempts.
“Um. You mean we don’t belong to, er... that is to say... you’re not my species? I am so sorry...”
But how fine a distinction can a species draw? Does it stop at, “You’re not my species,” or can it extend to, “You’re species B, not C or D”? And would species be able to distinguish other species outside of r........ Read more »
Schuchmann M, & Siemers B. (2010) Behavioral evidence for community‐wide species discrimination from echolocation calls in bats. The American Naturalist, 176(1), 72-82. DOI: 10.1086/652993
In the world of neurons, bigger may not be better, but it is usually faster – which is almost as good.
The wider an axon, the faster a signal travels along it. You can see this readily by playing around with a computer simulations. This is the traditional explanation for why the largest, fattest neurons are almost always found in escape circuits. Escape systems push neurons to the limit of what is physically possible to shave off every possible microsecond in the response time, because every........ Read more »
Perge JA, Niven JE, Mugnaini E, Balasubramanian V, & Sterling P. (2012) Why do axons differ in caliber?. The Journal of Neuroscience, 32(2), 626-638. info:/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4254-11.2012
I recently described myself as a “crustacean biologist” for a project I was working on. But whenever I do, I feel like such a sham, because I barely have a clue about critters like these...
I look at these and have a hard time believing that some of these are even animals.
These are examples of tanaidaceans. Haven’t heard of them? Don’t worry. I was at best only vaguely aware of their existence, too.
A recent paper by Blazewicz-Paszkowycz and colleagues is a nice little introduction ........ Read more »
Blazewicz-Paszkowycz M, Bamber R, & Anderson G. (2012) Diversity of Tanaidacea (Crustacea: Peracarida) in the world's oceans – how far have we come?. PLoS ONE, 7(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033068
Bugs used to be bigger. Much bigger.
That’s right: fossils from the Carboniferous and Permian times had insects with single wing lengths of more than 30 cm (that’s a foot for those of you still using Imperial measurements).
One hypothesis for why insects were able to be much bigger was that there was more oxygen in the atmosphere then. A new paper by Clapham and Karr suggests that’s true... up to a point.
Looking at the fossil record and that for oxygen, they find a good correlation b........ Read more »
Clapham M. E., & Karr J. A. (2012) Environmental and biotic controls on the evolutionary history of insect body size. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(27), 10930. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1204026109
Anyone who’s thought about science knows the promise and perils of simplification. People joke about physicists who begin working on an applied problem by saying, “Assume the cow is a perfect sphere...”
Working on an animal in a lab is a little like assuming a cow is a perfect sphere. You can get a pretty long way by simplifying the situation. But as I’ve talked about before, you often get many unexpected and delightful findings when you let an animal be an animal, in the environment an........ Read more »
Kostarakos K, & Römer H. (2010) Sound transmission and directional hearing in field crickets: neurophysiological studies outdoors. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 196(9), 669-681. DOI: 10.1007/s00359-010-0557-x
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