Archive for the 'Evolution' category

Are Zombie Vultures In Our Future?

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Only thirty years ago, tens of millions of White-rumped Vultures, Gyps bengalensis,
were flying the skies of Asia. They are now classified as Critically Endangered.
Image: Marek Jobda / rarebirdsyearbook.com [larger view]

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

A zombie is another name for The Walking Dead -- those who are lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment. But in an ecological sense, a zombie species no longer fulfills its ecological function because it is becoming extinct. This is a topic that I hope to explore further in another blog entry, but for now, today's zombie theme and vultures' delightful dining habits (they eat zombies) and my zombie icon have inspired me to focus on them.

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Distressed Ravens Show That Empathy Is For The Birds, Too

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Common Raven, Corvus corax, showing off at Bryce Canyon National Park, USA.
Image: United States National Park Service (Public Domain) [larger view]

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

Humans have long tried to distinguish themselves from other animals on the basis of characters that are perceived to be unique, such as tool design and use, planning for the future and the seemingly "human" capacity for empathy. But one by one, these "unique" characters are found to be shared with other animals. For example, early research shows that making and using tools is shared with our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. Since we have a shared evolutionary ancestry, this is not terribly surprising. But when a distantly related animal, such as the New Caledonian Crow, Corvus moneduloides, demonstrates that they also are very capable tool-makers and users [DOI: 10.1126/science.1073433], evolutionary biologists sat up and took note. As if that wasn't enough, once again, another feature of human "uniqueness" is being called into question because new research has documented what many bird watchers have known for decades; ravens apparently console their friends after an aggressive conflict with a flockmate.

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Of Venom and Silk

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Spider biologist Norman Platnick, from the American Museum of Natural History, has traveled the world cataloguing some of these creatures, many for the first time ever. World renowned for his work, he hopes to find as many as species as possible before some disappear.

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Evolution in Action by AMNH

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This video tells the story of speciation in Central Africa's roiling, rapid Lower Congo River. This river is home to an extraordinary assortment of fish -- many truly bizarre. This new video by Science Bulletins, the American Museum of Natural History's current-science video program, features Museum scientists on a quest to understand why so many species have evolved here. Follow Curator of Ichthyology Melanie Stiassny and her team as they search the Lower Congo River's mysterious depths for an evolutionary driver.

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Inside the Collections: Ichthyology at AMNH

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This video is the first of a new series of behind-the-scenes looks at the collections at the American Museum of Natural History. In this video, Melanie Stiassny, Axelrod Research Curator in the Department of Ichthyology, takes us through the Museum's vast collection of fishes.

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Here Be Dragons: How the Study of Animal and Plant Distributions Revolutionized Our Views of Life and Earth

Jun 24 2010 Published by under Biology, Book Review, Evolution, Fossils, Nature, Zoology

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I'm happy: another book review of mine was just published, this time, by Science magazine. This book, Here Be Dragons: How the Study of Animal and Plant Distributions Revolutionized Our Views of Life and Earth (Oxford University Press: Oxford; 2009), is by Dennis McCarthy, a researcher at the Buffalo Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York. In short, I liked the book and I thought it was generally well-written, but it could easily have been twice as long and provided more depth and nuance to the points the author was discussing. You can access the review on the Science site or you can ask me for a copy and I'll happily email it to you [PDF].

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The Laryngeal Nerve of the Giraffe is Proof of Natural Selection

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This video, including comments by Richard Dawkins, documents a necropsy (an autopsy on an animal other than a human) carried out in a classroom on a giraffe. In this video, we follow the pathway of the recurrent (inferior) laryngeal nerve, an important nerve that is a branch of the Vagus nerve (tenth cranial nerve). The recurrent (inferior) laryngeal nerve, which branches off the Vagus nerve at the base of the brain, travels down the neck, around the arteries of the heart and travels back up the neck to ennervate the larynx, or voice box, thereby providing motor function. The purpose of doing this exercise is to show that there is no so-called "intelligent designer" because the pathway of this nerve is completely illogical -- unless, of course, you accept that evolution is the reason for this nerve's convoluted pathway through the body.

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Did Religion Have an Evolutionary Value?

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Richard Dawkins argues that humanity's historical predisposition towards religion and supernatural beliefs may have held an evolutionary utility. "The rule of thumb: 'Believe whatever your parents tell you,' quite clearly could have survival value," says Dawkins.

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The World's Smallest Horse

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The world's smallest horse, a colt named Einstein, was born 22 April 2010 on a farm in Barnstead, New Hampshire. Just 14 inches tall and weighing only 6 pounds at birth, Einstein appears to have beaten the previous "world's tiniest horse" record holder by three pounds. This raises the question: how small can humans force horses to evolve through selective breeding? Apparently, pretty damned small, according to equine geneticist Samantha Brooks of Cornell University, who asserts that there may be no limit to how tiny we can make our horses.

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Douglas Adams: Parrots, the Universe and Everything

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Douglas Adams was the best-selling British author and satirist who created The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [DVD]. In this talk at UCSB recorded shortly before his tragic and untimely death, Adams shares hilarious accounts of some of the apparently absurd lifestyles of the world's creatures, and gleans from them extraordinary perceptions about the future of humanity.

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