Ecology & Zoology

A new analysis of Ice Age birds has revealed that many of the birds were larger - despite what is commonly believed, the authors say it reflects the richness and greater productivity of the environment in the Ice Age.

They picture an unusual mix of birds in one space, the Middle Palaeolithic (Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 3) deposits of Pin Hole, Creswell Crags, Derbyshire in England, and a distinct Neanderthal Dawn Chorus.
It’s bee season and now’s the time to go outside and observe these popular insects.

Bees hold a relatively special place in people’s affections – we have them to thank for honey, of course, and they’re also essential pollinators of many food crops and wild plants.

But most bees aren’t the snazzy hive-dwelling orange and black characters we know so well. In fact, there are around 20,000 species of bee globally and just seven of these are honeybees, and the vast majority of honeybee colonies belong to only one species: Apis mellifera.

I like to use the Sneetches With Stars analogy (I did so again two days ago) because Theodor Seuss Geisel, famously known as Dr. Seuss, was spot on with the idea that humans would find a reason to be different from one another. In the Sneetch community, when one group had a star, they were superior, and eventually a savvy businessman came along and found a way to give everyone stars (which was delightfully both capitalism and communism, kind of like Science 2.0 is) and then, as predicted, when everyone now had a star the group who originally had stars but had claimed it was just nature that they were superior, bought star removal for themselves.

One of the concerns about the switch from incandescent to fluorescent lighting was that while the ballasts are higher frequency now - humans do not have to hear that annoying hum - they were right in the range that pets still hear.

Researchers have shown that, like humans, mustached bats use the left and right sides of their brains to process different aspects of sounds.

No other animal, not even monkeys or apes, has proved to use such hemispheric specialization for sound processing - meaning that the left brain is better at processing fast sounds, and the right processing slow ones. 

"These findings upset the notion that only humans use different sides of their brains to distinguish different aspects of sound," says the study's senior author, Stuart Washington, PhD, a neuroscientist at Georgetown.

Washington says the findings of asymmetrical sound processing in both human and bat brains make evolutionary sense.

Genetic variation is important in a healthy population and recombination, or crossing-over, which occurs when sperm and egg cells are formed and segments of each chromosome pair are interchanged, is a vital part of maintaining genetic variation.

Honeybees take it to a whole other level and a new study finds that the extreme recombination rates found in this species - 20X higher than humans, higher than measured in any other animal  - seem to be crucial for their survival.

The first three eggs of the rare ‘Akeke‘e have hatched under the auspices of San Diego Zoo Global conservation biologists. The newly hatched chicks represent hope for the survival of a small Hawaiian honeycreeper.

Eggs from two species of rare Hawaiian honeycreeper birds, the ‘Akikiki and ‘Akeke‘e, were collected from native habitat earlier this month as part of an effort to preserve these two bird species from extinction.

Researchers gave bumblebees the option to choose between a sugar solution with nicotine in it and one without and found that bees infected with the Crithidia bombi parasite were more likely to go for the nicotine-laced nectar than those that weren't infected.

A new study of animal behavior suggests that evolution is hard at work when it comes to the acrobatic courtship dances of  male golden-collared manakins, a tropical bird species.

There are about 60 different species of manakins, most of which perform, to some degree, a physically complex display behavior to both court females and to compete with other males. The new study says the ability to detect testosterone in the body regulates the acrobatic courtship and competitive behavior - bird brawn.  

Looking after yourself, and trying not to infect others, is a good strategy to prevent disease from spreading - not only if you are a considerate co-worker, but also if you are an ant, meerkat or other social animal, as revealed by an epidemiological model developed by the groups of Professor Fabian Theis from the Helmholtz Center Munich and Professor Sylvia Cremer from the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) Austria.

In a Theme Issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on "The Society-Health-Fitness Nexus" published on 13 April 2015, they combine observations of hygienic interaction networks within ant colonies with epidemiological modeling to conclude that this strategy is best to prevent disease spread in social animal groups.