Denim and Tweed

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I'm a doctoral student in evolutionary ecology; D & T is my personal 'blog, and my top topics are science, religion, and politics, with particular interest in the interface between science and religion.

Jeremy Yoder
161 posts

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  • August 9, 2011
  • 09:06 AM
  • 1,527 views

Flowers stay open for pollinators, not daylight

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed


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A honeybee explores the depths of a dandelion, one of the species used in Fründ et al.'s experiments. Photo by je-sa.If you've ever stopped to admire morning glory flowers opening first thing in the morning, then noticed they've closed by evening, you're at least dimly aware of one of the longest-established ideas in p........ Read more »

  • July 26, 2011
  • 09:53 AM
  • 1,669 views

Of mice and men, making a living in rarefied air

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed


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High-elevation populations of deer mice have evolved "stickier" hemoglobin to cope with the thin atmosphere. Photo via Animal Diversity Web.
It's easy to walk through the woods and fields of North America and never spot Peromyscus maniculatus, the deer mouse, but you've probably heard them scampering off through the le........ Read more »

  • July 19, 2011
  • 11:29 AM
  • 1,320 views

Post arising: Anole vs. anole vs. predators

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed


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A brown anole, with dewlap extended. Photo by jerryoldnettel.Last June, I discussed a study with big ambitions: to experimentally compare the effects that competition and predators have on island populations of brown anoles, Anolis sagrei. Now the current issue of the journal that carried that study, Nature has a brief ........ Read more »

  • July 12, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,491 views

Choosing your partner is only as helpful as the partners you have to choose from

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed


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Picking teammates. Original photo by humbert15.When you need partners for some sort of cooperative activity—say, teammates for a game of kickball—you'd probably like to have a choice among several candidates. That lets you weigh considerations about kicking strength and running speed—and who promised to give you h........ Read more »

  • June 28, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,981 views

Snake-eating opossums have evolved venom-resistant blood

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } The humble Virginia opossum can shrug off snakebites that would kill larger mammals. Photo by TexasEagle.If you were going to pick the traits of a single animal to confer on a superhero, you probably wouldn't pick the Virginia opossum. Possums are ubiquitous, scruffy, ratlike marsupials, their toothy grins giving the not e........ Read more »

  • June 22, 2011
  • 12:00 PM
  • 1,301 views

The intelligent homosexual's guide to natural selection and evolution, with a key to many complicating factors

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } San Francisco Pride, 2008. Photo by ingridtaylar.This is a cross-posting of my latest contribution to the Scientific American guest blog. Since the original went up at SciAm, P.Z. Myers has pointed out a few more complicating factors. If you read one paper to follow up on what I've written here, I'd suggest Nathan Bailey a........ Read more »

Bailey, N., & Zuk, M. (2009) Same-sex sexual behavior and evolution. Trends in Ecology , 24(8), 439-46. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2009.03.014  

Pillard RC, & Bailey JM. (1998) Human sexual orientation has a heritable component. Human Biology, 70(2), 347-65. PMID: 9549243  

Ramagopalan, S., Dyment, D.A., Handunnetthi, L., Rice, G.P., & Ebers, G.C. (2010) A genome-wide scan of male sexual orientation. Journal of Human Genetics, 131-2. DOI: 10.1038/jhg.2009.135  

Roach, J., Glusman, G., Smit, A., Huff, C., Hubley, R., Shannon, P., Rowen, L., Pant, K., Goodman, N., Bamshad, M.... (2010) Analysis of genetic inheritance in a family quartet by whole-genome sequencing. Science, 328(5978), 636-9. DOI: 10.1126/science.1186802  

Takahata, N. (1993) Allelic genealogy and human evolution. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2-22. info:/8450756

Tenesa, A., Navarro, P., Hayes, B.J., Duffy, D.L., Clarke, G.M., Goddard, M.E., & Visscher, P.M. (2007) Recent human effective population size estimated from linkage disequilibrium. Genome Research, 520-6. DOI: 10.1101/gr.6023607  

  • June 7, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,712 views

Freeloading caterpillars get in the way of plant-ant mutualism

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } Cecropia obtusifolia provides food for ants that come and protect it—unless caterpillars get there first. Photo by wallygroom.Imagine you need a team of security guards. To find them, you decide not to place an ad in the local paper or on Craigslist. Instead, you build an apartment complex next to your home, complete wit........ Read more »

Roux, O., Céréghino, R., Solano, P.J., & Dejean, A. (2011) Caterpillars and fungal pathogens: Two co-occurring parasites of an ant-plant mutualism. PLoS ONE. info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0020538

  • May 31, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,782 views

Passive aggression: Parasitic wasp larvae interfere with each other via their host's host plant

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } A large white butterfly caterpillar weaves a cocoon around the wasp larvae infesting its body. Photo by EntomoAgricola.I'm embarrassed to admit that I've only just gotten around to picking up Carl Zimmer's book Parasite Rex. It's turned out to be a wonderful compendium of all the peculiar ways parasites evade, confound, an........ Read more »

  • May 24, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,919 views

Pesticides and parasites add up to an evolutionary Catch-22

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } When Daphnia evolve resistance to pesticides, they become more vulnerable to bacterial parasites. Photo by Chantal Wagner.If you haven't read Joseph Heller's classic Catch-22, cancel your plans for next weekend and spend the time with a copy from the nearest library. It's a hilarious, bracingly bleak satire of military bur........ Read more »

  • May 10, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,444 views

When does a beneficial mutation fail to benefit?

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } Beneficial mutations, according to Hollywood, include the superpowered ability to make San Francisco Bay foggy. Photo via Comics Contiuum.Every time a cell divides is an opportunity for mutation, creating new genetic variation that may be beneficial, may be harmful, or may make no difference at all. In sexually reproducing........ Read more »

  • May 3, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,539 views

Released from predators, guppies reshape themselves—and their environment

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } A (domestic) male guppy. Photo by gartenfreuden.Consider a population of guppies living in the Aripo River in Trinidad. They have a happy existence, as far as guppies can be happy, but their lives are shaped by the constant threat of larger, predatory fish. The river runs clear over a colorful gravel bed, and guppies who s........ Read more »

  • April 26, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,616 views

Deprived of pollinators, flowers evolve to do without

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } Who needs pollinators? Not monkeyflowers—at least not after a few generations of evolution. Photo by Brewbooks.The loss of animal pollinators poses a potentially big problem for plants. However, many plant species that rely on animals to move pollen from anther to stigma have the capacity to make due if that service goes........ Read more »

  • April 5, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,479 views

How can you tell if a plant is carnivorous? Feed it!

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } A Venus flytrap closes on an unfortunate spider. Photo by cheesy42.Plants that eat animals offend our trophic sensibilities. Those of us who can move independently are supposed to eat those of us who can make sugar from sunlight—that's just the way the food chain works, right?

Well, not really. From a certain perspectiv........ Read more »

  • March 29, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,480 views

Moths that pass in the night: Reproductive isolation due to pickiness, or just bad timing?

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

On a summer night in a Florida corn field, a female armyworm moth emerges from her underground cocoon and spreads her wings to dry in the humid air. Over the next few weeks, she will fly miles away in search of a mate, and a likely-looking patch of host plants on which to lay her eggs.

Her brief adult life will be shaped in many ways by the life she led as a larva, feeding on domestic corn. She could easily find other grasses to feed her offspring, but she'll probably seek out another cornfield........ Read more »

  • March 28, 2011
  • 12:40 PM
  • 1,627 views

In which I try to explain why "heritability" is not quite the same thing as "heritable"

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

Robert Kurzban responds in the ongoing "adaptive" homophobia kerfuffle (henceforth, the O.A.H.K.) with continued confusion about how biologists identify possible adaptations and test to see whether natural selection is responsible for them. He notes that one effect of natural selection is to remove heritable variation in traits under selection, so that many traits which are probably adaptations—arguably, sometimes the best-adapted traits—actually have zero heritability.

This is true. But it........ Read more »

  • March 23, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,331 views

In which several evolutionary psychologists still don't understand evolution

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

Jesse Bering has responded to criticism—by me, Jon Wilkins, and P.Z. Meyers, among others—of his post about Gordon Gallup's hypothesis that fear of homosexuals is favored by natural selection, in the form of an interview with Gallup. The result is informative, but probably not in the way intended.

To recap: Gallup proposed that homophobia could be adaptive if it prevented gay and lesbian adults from contacting a homophobic parent's children and—either through actual sexual abuse or some ........ Read more »

  • March 22, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,542 views

Parasitism of a different color

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

The common cuckoo is such a lazy parent that brood parasitism—laying its eggs in the nests of other birds—is built into its biology.

No bird will willingly adopt cuckoo chicks, which usually out-compete, and sometimes kill, their adoptive siblings. Given any hint that one of the eggs in her nest isn't hers, a bird will eject the intruder. So cuckoos have evolved eggs that mimic the coloring of their hosts' eggs—dividing the species into "host races" that specialize on a single host speci........ Read more »

  • March 10, 2011
  • 04:57 AM
  • 1,147 views

An adaptive fairytale with no happy ending

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

The evolution of human traits and behaviors is, as I've noted before, a contentious and personal subject. This is enough of a problem when there's some data to inform the contentiousness. In the absence of meaningful data, it's downright dangerous.

Take, for instance, Jesse Bering's recent post about the evolution of homophobia, which Steve Silberman just pointed out to me.

.flickr-photo { }.flickr-framewide { float: right; text-align: left; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; width:100%;}........ Read more »

Young, K., Brodie, E.D., Jr., & Brodie, E.D., III. (2004) How the horned lizard got its horns. Science, 304(5667), 65. DOI: 10.1126/science.1094790  

  • March 8, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 1,549 views

One snout to rule them all: Does migrating help weevils win the arms race of coevolution?

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

Natural selection and gene flow have a sort of love-hate relationship. Natural selection acts, on average, to make a population better fit to its environment. Gene flow, the movement of individuals and their genes, can counter the optimizing effect of selection if it introduces less-fit individuals from somewhere a different environment. On the other hand, not all new immigrants are necessarily less fit—sometimes they're better suited to their new environment than the locals.

This gets more c........ Read more »

  • March 1, 2011
  • 09:05 AM
  • 2,078 views

Pollinating birds leave plants in the lurch

by Jeremy Yoder in Denim and Tweed

Plants' ancient relationship with animal pollinators is pretty crazy, when you think about it. On the one hand, it gives plants access to mates they can't go find on their own, and it's more efficient than making scads of pollen and hoping the wind blows some onto another member of your species. On the other hand, it can leave a plant totally dependent upon another species for its reproduction.

This catch is probably why lots of plants still use wind pollination strategies, or reserve the opti........ Read more »

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