ResearchPad - behaviour Default RSS Feed en-us © 2020 Newgen KnowledgeWorks <![CDATA[Sex‐specific telomere length and dynamics in relation to age and reproductive success in Cory’s shearwaters]]> Individuals in free‐living animal populations generally differ substantially in reproductive success, lifespan and other fitness‐related traits, but the molecular mechanisms underlying this variation are poorly understood. Telomere length and dynamics are candidate traits explaining this variation, as long telomeres predict a higher survival probability and telomere loss has been shown to reflect experienced “life stress.” However, telomere dynamics among very long‐lived species are unresolved. Additionally, it is generally not well understood how telomeres relate to reproductive success or sex. We measured telomere length and dynamics in erythrocytes to assess their relationship to age, sex and reproduction in Cory's shearwaters (Calonectris borealis), a long‐lived seabird, in the context of a long‐term study. Adult males had on average 231 bp longer telomeres than females, independent of age. In females, telomere length changed relatively little with age, whereas male telomere length declined significantly. Telomere shortening within males from one year to the next was three times higher than the interannual shortening rate based on cross‐sectional data of males. Past long‐term reproductive success was sex‐specifically reflected in age‐corrected telomere length: males with on average high fledgling production were characterized by shorter telomeres, whereas successful females had longer telomeres, and we discuss hypotheses that may explain this contrast. In conclusion, telomere length and dynamics in relation to age and reproduction are sex‐dependent in Cory's shearwaters and these findings contribute to our understanding of what characterises individual variation in fitness.

<![CDATA[Underwater caustics disrupt prey detection by a reef fish]]> Natural habitats contain dynamic elements, such as varying local illumination. Can such features mitigate the salience of organism movement? Dynamic illumination is particularly prevalent in coral reefs, where patterns known as ‘water caustics’ play chaotically in the shallows. In behavioural experiments with a wild-caught reef fish, the Picasso triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus), we demonstrate that the presence of dynamic water caustics negatively affects the detection of moving prey items, as measured by attack latency, relative to static water caustic controls. Manipulating two further features of water caustics (sharpness and scale) implies that the masking effect should be most effective in shallow water: scenes with fine scale and sharp water caustics induce the longest attack latencies. Due to the direct impact upon foraging efficiency, we expect the presence of dynamic water caustics to influence decisions about habitat choice and foraging by wild prey and predators.

<![CDATA[A method yielding comparable estimates of the fraternal birth order and female fecundity effects in male homosexuality]]>

The fraternal birth order effect (FBOE) is the finding that older brothers increase the probability of homosexuality in later-born males, and the female fecundity effect (FFE) is the finding that the mothers of homosexual males produce more offspring than the mothers of heterosexual males. In a recent paper, Khovanova proposed a novel method for computing independent estimates of these effects on the same samples and expressing the magnitude and direction of the effects in the same metric. In her procedure, only families with one or two sons are examined, and daughters are ignored. The present study investigated the performance of Khovanova's method using archived data from 10 studies, comprising 14 samples totalling 5390 homosexual and heterosexual subjects. The effect estimate for the FBOE showed that an increase from zero older brothers to one older brother is associated with a 38% increase in the odds of homosexuality. By contrast, the effect estimate for the FFE showed that the increase from zero younger brothers to one younger brother is not associated with any increase in the odds of homosexuality. The former result supports the maternal immune hypothesis of male homosexuality; the latter result does not support the balancing selection hypothesis.

<![CDATA[Combinations of non-invasive indicators to detect dairy cows submitted to high-starch-diet challenge]]>

High-starch diets (HSDs) fed to high-producing ruminants are often responsible for rumen dysfunction and could impair animal health and production. Feeding HSDs are often characterized by transient rumen pH depression, accurate monitoring of which requires costly or invasive methods. Numerous clinical signs can be followed to monitor such diet changes but no specific indicator is able to make a statement at animal level on-farm. The aim of this pilot study was to assess a combination of non-invasive indicators in dairy cows able to monitor a HSD in experimental conditions. A longitudinal study was conducted in 11 primiparous dairy cows fed with two different diets during three successive periods: a 4-week control period (P1) with a low-starch diet (LSD; 13% starch), a 4-week period with an HSD (P2, 35% starch) and a 3-week recovery period (P3) again with the LSD. Animal behaviour was monitored throughout the experiment, and faeces, urine, saliva, milk and blood were sampled simultaneously in each animal at least once a week for analysis. A total of 136 variables were screened by successive statistical approaches including: partial least squares-discriminant analysis, multivariate analysis and mixed-effect models. Finally, 16 indicators were selected as the most representative of a HSD challenge. A generalized linear mixed model analysis was applied to highlight parsimonious combinations of indicators able to identify animals under our experimental conditions. Eighteen models were established and the combination of milk urea nitrogen, blood bicarbonate and feed intake was the best to detect the different periods of the challenge with both 100% of specificity and sensitivity. Other indicators such as the number of drinking acts, fat:protein ratio in milk, urine, and faecal pH, were the most frequently used in the proposed models. Finally, the established models highlight the necessity for animals to have more than 1 week of recovery diet to return to their initial control state after a HSD challenge. This pilot study demonstrates the interest of using combinations of non-invasive indicators to monitor feed changes from a LSD to a HSD to dairy cows in order to improve prevention of rumen dysfunction on-farm. However, the adjustment and robustness of the proposed combinations of indicators need to be challenged using a greater number of animals as well as different acidogenic conditions before being applied on-farm.

<![CDATA[Social network analysis in pigs: impacts of significant dyads on general network and centrality parameters]]>

In general, one animal is considered dominant over another animal if it has won more fights than its opponent. Whether this difference in won and lost fights is significant is neglected in most studies. Thus, the present study evaluates the impact of two different calculation methods for dyadic interactions with a significant asymmetric outcome on the results of social network analysis regarding agonistic interactions of pigs in three different mixing events (weaned piglets, fattening pigs and gilts). Directly after mixing, all animals were video recorded for 17 (fattening pigs, gilts) and 28 h (weaned piglets), documenting agonistic interactions. Two calculation methods for significant dyads, that is, dyadic interactions with a clear dominant subordinate relationship in which one animal has won significantly more fights than its encounter, were proposed: pen individual limits were calculated by a sign test considering the differences of won and lost fights of all dyadic interactions in each pen; dyad individual limits were determined by a one-sided sign test for each individual dyad. For all data sets (ALL, including all dyadic interactions; PEN or DYAD, including only significant dyads according to pen or dyad individual limits), networks were built based on the information of initiator and receiver with the pigs as nodes and the edges between them illustrating attacks. General network parameters describing the whole network structure and centrality parameters describing the position of each animal in the network were calculated. Both pen and dyad individual limits revealed only a small percentage of significant dyads for weaned piglets (12.4% or 8.8%), fattening pigs (4.2% or 0.6%) and gilts (3.6% or 0.4%). The comparison between the data sets revealed only high Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients (rS) for the density, that is, percentage of possible edges that were actually present in the network, whereas the centrality parameters showed only moderate rS values (0.37 to 0.75). Thus, the rank order of the animals changed due to the exclusion of insignificant dyads, which shows that the results obtained from social network analysis are clearly influenced if insignificant dyads are excluded from the analyses. Due to the fact that the pen individual limits consider the overall level of agonistic interactions within each pen, this calculation method should be preferred over the dyad individual limits. Otherwise, too many animals in the group became isolated nodes with zero centrality for which no statement about their position within the network can be made.

<![CDATA[Of molecules, memories and migration: M1 acetylcholine receptors facilitate spatial memory formation and recall during migratory navigation]]>

Many animals use complex cognitive processes, including the formation and recall of memories, for successful navigation. However, the developmental and neurological processes underlying these cognitive aspects of navigation are poorly understood. To address the importance of the formation and recollection of memories during navigation, we pharmacologically manipulated turtles (Chrysemys picta) that navigate long distances using precise, complex paths learned during a juvenile critical period. We treated freely navigating turtles both within and outside of their critical learning period with a specific M1 acetylcholine receptor antagonist, a drug known to disrupt spatial cognition. Experienced adult turtles lost all navigational ability under the influence of the drug, while naive juveniles navigated successfully. We retested these same juveniles the following year (after they had passed their critical period). The juveniles that initially navigated successfully under the influence of the antagonist (but were unable to form spatial memories) were unable to do so subsequently. However, the control animals (who had the opportunity to form memories previously) exhibited typical navigational precision. These results suggest that the formation of spatial memories for navigation occur during a critical period, and successful navigation after the critical period is dependent upon the recall of such memories.

<![CDATA[What can fruit flies teach us about karate?]]>

Understanding the logic behind how a fruit fly's brain tells it to groom its body parts in a stereotyped order might help us understand other behaviours that also involve a series of actions.

<![CDATA[To mate or not to mate]]>

Mechanisms of the neural circuits that guide mating decisions in male flies are becoming clearer.

<![CDATA[Pathways between depression, substance use and multiple sex partners among Northern and Indigenous young women in the Northwest Territories, Canada: results from a cross-sectional survey]]>


Sexual and mental health disparities exist in the Northwest Territories (NWT) compared with other Canadian regions. STI rates are 10-fold higher, and youth suicide rates double the Canadian average. Scant research has examined associations between mental and sexual health among youth in the NWT. The study objective was to explore pathways from depression to multiple sex partners (MSP) among young women in the NWT, Canada.


We implemented a cross-sectional survey in 2015–2016 with a venue-based recruitment sample of young women aged 13–17 attending secondary schools in 17 NWT communities. We conducted path analysis to test a conceptual model examining associations between depression and a history of MSP, examining substance use and peer support as mediators.


Participants (n=199; mean age: 13.8, SD: 1.27) mostly identified were Indigenous (n=154; 77.4%) and one-fifth (n=39; 20.5%) were sexually diverse/non-heterosexual. Almost two-thirds (n=119; 63.3%) reported depression symptoms. One-quarter (n=53; 26.6%) were currently dating, and 16.1% (n=32) reported a lifetime history of >1 sex partner (classified as having MSP). There was no direct effect between depression and MSP (β=0.189, p=0.087, 95% CI 0.046 to 0.260). Depression had a direct effect on substance use (β=0.023, p<0.050, 95% CI 0.118 to 0.500), and an indirect effect on MSP through substance use (β=0.498, SE=0.10, p<0.001, 95% CI 0.141 to 0.280). Depression was associated with lower peer support (β=−0.168, p<0.010, 95% CI −0.126 to 0.280); peer support was not associated with MSP (β=−0.158, p=0.130, 95% CI −0.126 to 0.001).


This research is among the first to identify mental health factors associated with STI vulnerability among young women in the NWT. Findings demonstrate the importance of addressing depression and substance use in sexual health interventions in Northern contexts.

<![CDATA[Human head orientation and eye visibility as indicators of attention for goats (Capra hircus)]]>

Animals domesticated for working closely with humans (e.g. dogs) have been shown to be remarkable in adjusting their behaviour to human attentional stance. However, there is little evidence for this form of information perception in species domesticated for production rather than companionship. We tested domestic ungulates (goats) for their ability to differentiate attentional states of humans. In the first experiment, we investigated the effect of body and head orientation of one human experimenter on approach behaviour by goats. Test subjects (N = 24) significantly changed their behaviour when the experimenter turned its back to the subjects, but did not take into account head orientation alone. In the second experiment, goats (N = 24) could choose to approach one of two experimenters, while only one was paying attention to them. Goats preferred to approach humans that oriented their body and head towards the subject, whereas head orientation alone had no effect on choice behaviour. In the third experiment, goats (N = 32) were transferred to a separate test arena and were rewarded for approaching two experimenters providing a food reward during training trials. In subsequent probe test trials, goats had to choose between the two experimenters differing in their attentional states. Like in Experiments 1 and 2, goats did not show a preference for the attentive person when the inattentive person turned her head away from the subject. In this last experiment, goats preferred to approach the attentive person compared to a person who closed their eyes or covered the whole face with a blind. However, goats showed no preference when one person covered only the eyes. Our results show that animals bred for production rather than companionship show differences in their approach and choice behaviour depending on human attentive state. However, our results contrast with previous findings regarding the use of the head orientation to attribute attention and show the importance of cross-validating results.

<![CDATA[Computing in fish schools]]>

A model based on shoaling fish suggests how a group can show decision-making properties beyond those of any one individual.

<![CDATA[Using 3D printed eggs to examine the egg-rejection behaviour of wild birds]]>

The coevolutionary relationships between brood parasites and their hosts are often studied by examining the egg rejection behaviour of host species using artificial eggs. However, the traditional methods for producing artificial eggs out of plasticine, plastic, wood, or plaster-of-Paris are laborious, imprecise, and prone to human error. As an alternative, 3D printing may reduce human error, enable more precise manipulation of egg size and shape, and provide a more accurate and replicable protocol for generating artificial stimuli than traditional methods. However, the usefulness of 3D printing technology for egg rejection research remains to be tested. Here, we applied 3D printing technology to the extensively studied egg rejection behaviour of American robins, Turdus migratorius. Eggs of the robin’s brood parasites, brown-headed cowbirds, Molothrus ater, vary greatly in size and shape, but it is unknown whether host egg rejection decisions differ across this gradient of natural variation. We printed artificial eggs that encompass the natural range of shapes and sizes of cowbird eggs, painted them to resemble either robin or cowbird egg colour, and used them to artificially parasitize nests of breeding wild robins. In line with previous studies, we show that robins accept mimetically coloured and reject non-mimetically coloured artificial eggs. Although we found no evidence that subtle differences in parasitic egg size or shape affect robins’ rejection decisions, 3D printing will provide an opportunity for more extensive experimentation on the potential biological or evolutionary significance of size and shape variation of foreign eggs in rejection decisions. We provide a detailed protocol for generating 3D printed eggs using either personal 3D printers or commercial printing services, and highlight additional potential future applications for this technology in the study of egg rejection.

<![CDATA[Are floating algal mats a refuge from hypoxia for estuarine invertebrates?]]>

Eutrophic aquatic habitats are characterized by the proliferation of vegetation leading to a large standing biomass that upon decomposition may create hypoxic (low-oxygen) conditions. This is indeed the case in nutrient impacted estuaries of Prince Edward Island, Canada, where macroalgae, from the genus Ulva, form submerged ephemeral mats. Hydrological forces and gases released from photosynthesis and decomposition lead to these mats occasionally floating to the water’s surface, henceforth termed floating mats. Here, we explore the hypothesis that floating mats are refugia during periods of sustained hypoxia/anoxia and examine how the invertebrate community responds to it. Floating mats were not always present, so in the first year (2013) sampling was attempted monthly and limited to when both floating and submerged mats occurred. In the subsequent year sampling was weekly, but at only one estuary due to logistical constraints from increased sampling frequency, and was not limited to when both mat types occurred. Water temperature, salinity, and pH were monitored bi-weekly with dissolved oxygen concentration measured hourly. The floating and submerged assemblages shared many of the same taxa but were statistically distinct communities; submerged mats tended to have a greater proportion of benthic animals and floating mats had more mobile invertebrates and insects. In 2014, sampling happened to occur in the weeks before the onset of anoxia, during 113 consecutive hours of sustained anoxia, and for four weeks after normoxic conditions returned. The invertebrate community on floating mats appeared to be unaffected by anoxia, indicating that these mats may be refugia during times of oxygen stress. Conversely, there was a dramatic decrease in animal abundances that remained depressed on submerged mats for two weeks. Cluster analysis revealed that the submerged mat communities from before the onset of anoxia and four weeks after anoxia were highly similar to each other, indicating recovery. When mobile animals were considered alone, there was an exponential relationship between the percentage of animals on floating mats, relative to the total number on both mat types, and hypoxia. The occupation of floating mats by invertebrates at all times, and their dominance there during hypoxia/anoxia, provides support for the hypothesis that floating mats are refugia.