2 April, 2014

In recent years, the landscape has been reconceived as a dynamic system composed of matter, structured energy, information and meaning…

Avian soundscapes and cognitive landscapes: theory, application and ecological perspectives

2 April, 2014

Officials at England’s Gloucestershire Airport had been using recordings of avian distress calls to frighten birds away from landing strips, with only limited success. However, when they switched to recordings of rock star Tina Turner’s voice, there was an immediate and dramatic effect. “What the birds really hate is Tina Turner,” said Airport Chief Fire Officer Ron Johnson.

The Loss of Natural Soundscapes

28 March, 2014

Shifts in species’ distribution and abundance in response to climate change have been well documented, but the underpinning processes are still poorly understood. We present the results of a systematic literature review and meta-analysis investigating the frequency and importance of different mechanisms by which climate has impacted natural populations. Most studies were from temperate latitudes of North America and Europe; almost half investigated bird populations. We found significantly greater support for indirect, biotic mechanisms than direct, abiotic mechanisms as mediators of the impact of climate on populations.

Mechanisms underpinning climatic impacts on natural populations: altered species interactions are more important than direct effects - Ockendon - 2014 - Global Change Biology - Wiley Online Library

24 March, 2014

How do geese know when to fly to the sun?
Who tells them the seasons?
How do we, humans know when it is time to move on?
As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within if only we would listen to it, that tells us certainly when to go forth into the unknown.

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, from Light Pollution Kills Birds in the Environment

22 March, 2014

Males dug valleys at various angles in a radial direction, constructing nests surrounded by radially aligned peaks and valleys. Furthermore, they created irregular patterns in the nest comprising fine sand particles. The circular structure not only influences female mate choice but also functions to gather fine sand particles in nests, which are important in female mate choice.

Role of Huge Geometric Circular Structures in the Reproduction of a Marine Pufferfish : Scientific Reports : Nature Publishing Group

21 March, 2014

We find that the times to the most recent common male ancestor of chimpanzee communities are several hundred to as much as over two thousand years.

How old are chimpanzee communities? Time to the most recent common ancestor of the Y-chromosome in highly patrilocal societies

14 March, 2014

More Thoughts on Love Without a Body

Inspired by the movie “Her,” I recently wrote an article entitled, “Can a Computer Fall in Love if It Doesn’t Have a Body?” The movie’s premise is that an artificial intelligence can feel love; but research on embodied cognition suggests this might not be such a straightforward affair. Love is not abstract; it’s very much shaped by body and biology, and computers are largely disembodied. 

Arriving after the article’s publication were these comments from Eiling Yee, a cognitive scientist at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language (and author of this really neat paper on how manual experience shapes the way we think about things):

Q: Could a disembodied human brain could understand physical love?

EY: With respect to the first question, I would guess that a body isn’t necessary to achieve something like the kinds of experiences that embodied brains experience. The research line that seems related to this is the stuff on mirror neurons (e.g., Rizzolatti & colleagues — you’re probably familiar with this) — the main related finding is that when one monkey sees a second monkey reach towards, e.g., some food, neurons fire in the first monkey’s motor cortex that would control the kind of reaching motion that he is watching. The critical question, which this research doesn’t address, is whether a monkey that had never reached for anything (e.g., a paralyzed monkey) would also activate these same motor cortex neurons. (Sian Bielock’s work on professional athletes and fans may be semi-related too.) And then even if those same neurons *were* activated in the paralyzed monkey, what would that monkey be experiencing? That is, we know that the brain is plastic enough that congenitally blind people activate visual cortex when reading braille — and we wouldn’t interpret this as them experiencing what a sighted person experiences when activating the same parts of visual cortex.

Q: Could an artificial brain love?

EY: Something that seems related is the behaviorist perspective on psychology — if a computer acts exactly in a way that appears to be love, how is that different than love? We have the intuition that it is, but what really makes it different? This is also indirectly related to the Turing test — if a computer could completely convince its correspondent into thinking that it’s human (and in this example, that it is in love) would it be? Would the programming necessary to create that “illusion” constitute love? How can we know that our partner loves us other than through their behavior?

I thought my friend Paul Allopenna [a cognitive scientist at Brown University] would find this interesting, so I passed along your question and he had this interesting comment:

"So, what I would want to know is, could an embodied brain really be "embodied" if it didn’t need to survive? That is, how much of a functional role to our biological (particularly metabolic) predicates play in motivating/organizing/ and executing our behaviors (including our emotive behaviors)?"

So as I understand it, Paul’s question essentially comes down to: if, despite having a body, a brain didn’t need that body to provide it with anything (e.g,. fuel) to survive, what kind of behaviors would it instruct that body to perform? That is, would it demonstrate love (or anything else we normally demonstrate)?

4 March, 2014
The squid uses the light emitted by the bacteria to obscure its silhouette during its nocturnal wanderings of the moonlit ocean, which helps it avoid being spotted by predators. In return, the squid provides the bacteria with sugars and other nutrients (via A twist in the tail | eLife)

The squid uses the light emitted by the bacteria to obscure its silhouette during its nocturnal wanderings of the moonlit ocean, which helps it avoid being spotted by predators. In return, the squid provides the bacteria with sugars and other nutrients (via A twist in the tail | eLife)

17 February, 2014

The present study compared the ability of romantic couples and strangers to communicate emotions solely via touch. Results showed that both strangers and romantic couples were able to communicate universal and prosocial emotions, whereas only romantic couples were able to communicate the self-focused emotions envy and pride.

The effect of relationship status on communicating… [Cogn Emot. 2011] - PubMed - NCBI

13 February, 2014

Although the primary function of mating is gamete transfer, male ejaculates contain numerous other substances that are produced by accessory glands and transferred to females during mating. Studies with several model organisms have shown that these substances can exert diverse behavioural and physiological effects on females, including altered longevity and reproductive output, yet a comprehensive synthesis across taxa is lacking.

The influence of male ejaculate qua… [Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2011] - PubMed - NCBI

3 February, 2014

The larval microbiota clearly simplifies and reorganizes during metamorphosis; thus, structural changes in a butterfly’s bacterial community parallel those in its own morphology.

PLOS ONE: Metamorphosis of a Butterfly-Associated Bacterial Community

3 February, 2014

We conclude that individual signatures seem to be advantageous in terms of managing group movements. Giant otters might additionally benefit from discriminating individuals within their social group, where kin recognition is insufficient to identify equally related individuals that cooperate in hunting and rearing of the young.

Vocal individuality in cohesion calls of giant otters, Pteronura brasiliensis

26 January, 2014

The IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has approved new names for ten craters on Mercury: Barney, Berlioz, Calder, Capote, Caruso, Ensor, Giambologna, Lennon, Remarque, and Vieira da Silva.

Ten New Crater Names Approved on Mercury - USGS Astrogeology Hot Topics

26 January, 2014

Such a massive reorganization of atmospheric convection, which we define as an extreme El Niño, severely disrupted global weather patterns, affecting ecosystems4, 5, agriculture6, tropical cyclones, drought, bushfires, floods and other extreme weather events worldwide. Potential future changes in such extreme El Niño occurrences could have profound socio-economic consequences. Here we present climate modelling evidence for a doubling in the occurrences in the future in response to greenhouse warming

Increasing frequency of extreme El Nino events due to greenhouse warming : Nature Climate Change : Nature Publishing Group