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Behavior Brief

A round-up of recent discoveries in behavior research

By | February 21, 2012

Bluetongue lizardSCOTT MAXWORTHY, FLICKR

Dangerous snack

Poisonous invasive species don’t deter the hungry Australian bluetongue lizard. A new paper in the American Naturalist found that the native lizards that eat toxic mother-of-millions plants are largely resistant to the toxins of the invasive cane toad, which has wreaked havoc on Australia’s ecosystems since being purposefully introduced in 1935 in an attempt to control the native cane beetle, which damages sugar cane crops. Both the plant and toads produce a toxin called bufadienolide. When injected with a non-lethal dose of bufadienolide, bluetongues from areas of Australia without the toxic plant swam 50 percent slower than normal, while bluetongues from areas with the plants swam only 20 percent slower, demonstrating a resistance to the poison.

The researchers hope that resistance will lessen the impact of another potential invader with a similar toxin, the black-spined toad, ScienceNOW reported. The toad has already invaded numerous countries in Asia, and might soon make the leap to Australia.

Ultrasonic cryptography

Philippine tarsiers may be small, but they have a superhero sense of hearing. The little primates, often no bigger than a human hand, communicate using ultrasonic sounds, according to a study published earlier this month in Biology Letters. Only a few other mammals, including cetaceans, domestic cats, and some bats and rodents, send and receive vocal ultrasound signals. The tarsiers’ squeaky calls, well above the vocal range of any known monkey or ape, may keep predators like birds from listening in on their conversations, reported ScienceNOW. The ability to hear the ultrasonic sounds may also help tarsiers zoom in on their prey—small insects that also communicate using ultrasonic frequencies.

Researchers tested the primates for ultrasonic abilities after casual observations that tarsiers occasionally opened their mouths as if to shout, but no sound humans can hear came out. "Philippine tarsiers have often been described as quiet," co-author Marissa Ramsier, an anthropologist at Humboldt State University in California, told ScienceNOW. But "they're screaming and talking away, and we just didn't know it."

[wpaudio url="http://photos.the-scientist.com/legacyArticleImages/2012/02/rsbl20111149supp3.wav" text="Tarsiers ultrasonic vocalization, sloweddown by a factor of 15" dl="0"]

Song of the dead

A 165-million-year-old cricket song has been resurrected. Researchers at China’s Capital Normal University compared the well-preserved wing structures of fossil Archaboilus musicus, a Jurassic ancestor of modern crickets, to contemporary cricket wings, Wired reported, and from that reconstructed what the song might sound like. The low-frequency, high-pitched song may have helped the ancient crickets communicate in the leafy, fern-filled Jurassic forest in which they lived, the authors suggested in a recent PNAS paper.

Bonobo takes up cooking

Kanzi
Kanzi
COURTESY OF THE GREAT APE TRUST

Kanzi, a famous bonobo at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, understands 3,000 spoken words and can communicate 500 words by pointing to symbols. Now he’s added another impressive skill to his resume—cooking a hamburger. It is the first time a non-human primate has demonstrated the ability to cook food, the Daily Mail reported.

According to his keepers, Kanzi has always been fascinated by campfires and was encouraged, though never instructed, to build them. In a video taken by the Great Ape Trust, Kanzi builds a fire, toasts marshmallows, and grills hamburgers. Finally, like a good camper, he pours water over the fire to put out the flames when finished. See a video of Kanzi in action.

Hot finger

Note the aye-aye's long twig-like third finger
Note the aye-aye's long twig-like third finger
CENZ, FLICKR

The Madagascar aye-aye, the largest nocturnal primate, is recognizable for its strange, twig-like middle finger, an extra-long appendage packed with nerve endings and used to tap tree trunks to find beetle larvae. It turns out the aye-aye is able to regulate the temperature of that single digit, according to a paper in the International Journal of Primatology.  Researchers at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire used infrared imaging to examine the finger, and found that it remains cool when not in use but warms by up to 6°C when the animal uses it to forage.

Because of its specialist sense receptors, the finger is costly in terms of energy, co-author Gillian Moritz told BBC Nature. "Like any delicate instrument, it is probably best deactivated when not in use," she said. How the lemur controls the heating of a single digit remains unknown.

Friendly seas

Wildlife videos typically show species interacting, but usually one species is attacking another. In a heartwarming twist on this typical scenario, researchers recently recorded two separate instances of bottlenose dolphins “riding” humpback whales in Hawaii: the whales lifted the dolphins up and out of the water, and the dolphins slid back down into the surf. Both species seemed to cooperate, with no aggression, in the rarely observed social activity. The interaction was described in Aquatic Mammals and a video of the encounter was recently on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

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Avatar of: Dov

Dov

Posts: 1457

February 22, 2012

On Human-Primate Genome Diversity

Seed of Human-Chimp Genomes Diversity, 2 Nov,2005 Dov, in biologicalEvolution forum.
Biological Evolution’s Seeds of Diversity, Human and Chimpanzee/Bonobo Genomes.

Chapter One, In which some wonder what made us human.

Three recent quotations from Science, representative of many other recent similar statements in various scientific publications:
A) “Understanding the genetic basis of how genotype generates phenotype will require increasing the accuracy and completeness of the currently available chimpanzee genome sequence, as well as sequencing other primate genomes.â€쳌
B)â€쳌Can we now provide a DNA-based answer to the fascinating and fundamental question, “What makes us human?â€쳌 Not at all! Comparison of the human and chimpanzee genomes has not yet offered any major insights into the genetic elements that underlie bipedal locomotion, big brain, linguistic abilities, elaborated abstract thought, or any other unique aspect of the human phenome.â€쳌
C)â€쳌What makes us human? This question may be answered by comparison of human and chimpanzee genomes and phenomes, and ultimately those of other primates. To this end, we need to understand how genotype generates phenotype, and how this process is influenced by the physical, biological, and cultural environment.â€쳌

Chapter Two, In which is explained plainly and succinctly the obvious route by which we evolved, i.e. that genotype has not generated phenotype, that we evolved from our genotype via a group of feedback loops.
From Science, Vol 308, Issue 5728, 1563-1565 , 10 June 2005, Immunology: Opposites Attract in Differentiating T Cells, Mark Bix, Sunhwa Kim,Anjana Rao: “During differentiation, precursor cells with progressively narrowed potential give rise to progeny cells that adopt one of two (or more) divergent cell fates. This choice is influenced by intricate regulatory networks acting at multiple levels. Early in differentiation, precursor cells show low-level activation of all progeny genetic programs. Bias toward a given lineage comes from environmental inputs that activate powerful positive- and negative- feedback loops, which work in concert to impose selective gene expression patternsâ€쳌.

Chapter Three, In which we explain the revolutionary evolved uniqueness of the human ape’s phenotype: The 6My-old revolutionary life evolution was initiated by our forefathers who adapted from life in semi- or tropical forest circumstances to life on plains. Changes in living posture and circumstances led to modified perceptive/adaptive experiences and capabilities. Developing employment of tools effected enhanced differentiation of hands from legs and enhanced upstanding posturing. As evolving community culture led to language communication humans have gradually replaced adaptation to changed circumstances with self-evolving cultures/civilizations for control and modification of much of their circumstances. This is essentially similar to early life’s celling evolution, but with culture functioning for humans for change/control of circumstances in lieu of genetic and protein toolings that function for the in-cell genomes for adapting their cell’s physiology to changing circumstances.

Chapter Four, In which appears, may be, genetic evidence/demonstration of the workings of human cultural evolution.
(a) From Science, 2 Sept 2005: “Page’s team compared human and chimp Ys to see whether either lineage has lost functional genes since they split. The researchers found that the chimp had indeed suffered the slings and arrows of evolutionary fortune. Of the 16 functional genes in this part of the human Y, chimps had lost the function of five due to mutations. In contrast, humans had all 11 functional genes also seen on the chimp Y. “The human Y chromosome hasn’t lost a gene in 6 million years,â€쳌 says Page. “It seems like the demise of the hypothesis of the demise of the Y,â€쳌 says geneticist Andrew Clark of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.â€쳌
(b) But look at this: From Science, Vol 309, 16 Sept 2005, Evolving Sequence and Expression:â€쳌An analysis of the evolution of both gene sequences and expression patterns in humans and chimpanzees…shows that…surprisingly, genes expressed in the brain have changed more on the human lineage than on the chimpanzee lineage, not only in terms of gene expression but also in terms of amino acid sequencesâ€쳌.
Surprisingly…???

Chapter Five and conclusion,
In which I suggest that detailed study of other creatures that, like humans, underwent radical change of living circumstances, for example ocean-dwelling mammals, might bring to light unique evolutionary processes and features of evolutionary implications similar to those of humans.
end.

Dov Henis
(comments from 22nd century)

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

February 22, 2012

On Human-Primate Genome Diversity

Seed of Human-Chimp Genomes Diversity, 2 Nov,2005 Dov, in biologicalEvolution forum.
Biological Evolution’s Seeds of Diversity, Human and Chimpanzee/Bonobo Genomes.

Chapter One, In which some wonder what made us human.

Three recent quotations from Science, representative of many other recent similar statements in various scientific publications:
A) “Understanding the genetic basis of how genotype generates phenotype will require increasing the accuracy and completeness of the currently available chimpanzee genome sequence, as well as sequencing other primate genomes.â€쳌
B)â€쳌Can we now provide a DNA-based answer to the fascinating and fundamental question, “What makes us human?â€쳌 Not at all! Comparison of the human and chimpanzee genomes has not yet offered any major insights into the genetic elements that underlie bipedal locomotion, big brain, linguistic abilities, elaborated abstract thought, or any other unique aspect of the human phenome.â€쳌
C)â€쳌What makes us human? This question may be answered by comparison of human and chimpanzee genomes and phenomes, and ultimately those of other primates. To this end, we need to understand how genotype generates phenotype, and how this process is influenced by the physical, biological, and cultural environment.â€쳌

Chapter Two, In which is explained plainly and succinctly the obvious route by which we evolved, i.e. that genotype has not generated phenotype, that we evolved from our genotype via a group of feedback loops.
From Science, Vol 308, Issue 5728, 1563-1565 , 10 June 2005, Immunology: Opposites Attract in Differentiating T Cells, Mark Bix, Sunhwa Kim,Anjana Rao: “During differentiation, precursor cells with progressively narrowed potential give rise to progeny cells that adopt one of two (or more) divergent cell fates. This choice is influenced by intricate regulatory networks acting at multiple levels. Early in differentiation, precursor cells show low-level activation of all progeny genetic programs. Bias toward a given lineage comes from environmental inputs that activate powerful positive- and negative- feedback loops, which work in concert to impose selective gene expression patternsâ€쳌.

Chapter Three, In which we explain the revolutionary evolved uniqueness of the human ape’s phenotype: The 6My-old revolutionary life evolution was initiated by our forefathers who adapted from life in semi- or tropical forest circumstances to life on plains. Changes in living posture and circumstances led to modified perceptive/adaptive experiences and capabilities. Developing employment of tools effected enhanced differentiation of hands from legs and enhanced upstanding posturing. As evolving community culture led to language communication humans have gradually replaced adaptation to changed circumstances with self-evolving cultures/civilizations for control and modification of much of their circumstances. This is essentially similar to early life’s celling evolution, but with culture functioning for humans for change/control of circumstances in lieu of genetic and protein toolings that function for the in-cell genomes for adapting their cell’s physiology to changing circumstances.

Chapter Four, In which appears, may be, genetic evidence/demonstration of the workings of human cultural evolution.
(a) From Science, 2 Sept 2005: “Page’s team compared human and chimp Ys to see whether either lineage has lost functional genes since they split. The researchers found that the chimp had indeed suffered the slings and arrows of evolutionary fortune. Of the 16 functional genes in this part of the human Y, chimps had lost the function of five due to mutations. In contrast, humans had all 11 functional genes also seen on the chimp Y. “The human Y chromosome hasn’t lost a gene in 6 million years,â€쳌 says Page. “It seems like the demise of the hypothesis of the demise of the Y,â€쳌 says geneticist Andrew Clark of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.â€쳌
(b) But look at this: From Science, Vol 309, 16 Sept 2005, Evolving Sequence and Expression:â€쳌An analysis of the evolution of both gene sequences and expression patterns in humans and chimpanzees…shows that…surprisingly, genes expressed in the brain have changed more on the human lineage than on the chimpanzee lineage, not only in terms of gene expression but also in terms of amino acid sequencesâ€쳌.
Surprisingly…???

Chapter Five and conclusion,
In which I suggest that detailed study of other creatures that, like humans, underwent radical change of living circumstances, for example ocean-dwelling mammals, might bring to light unique evolutionary processes and features of evolutionary implications similar to those of humans.
end.

Dov Henis
(comments from 22nd century)

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