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Concept: Cannibalism


Episodes of Palaeolithic cannibalism have frequently been defined as ‘nutritional’ in nature, but with little empirical evidence to assess their dietary significance. This paper presents a nutritional template that offers a proxy calorie value for the human body. When applied to the Palaeolithic record, the template provides a framework for assessing the dietary value of prehistoric cannibalistic episodes compared to the faunal record. Results show that humans have a comparable nutritional value to those faunal species that match our typical body weight, but significantly lower than a range of fauna often found in association with anthropogenically modified hominin remains. This could suggest that the motivations behind hominin anthropophagy may not have been purely nutritionally motivated. It is proposed here that the comparatively low nutritional value of hominin cannibalism episodes support more socially or culturally driven narratives in the interpretation of Palaeolithic cannibalism.

Concepts: Human, Sociology, Science, Anthropology, Human anatomy, Neanderthal, Prehistory, Cannibalism


Systematic infanticide of unrelated young has been reported in several animal taxa. Particular attention has been given to carnivores and primates, where infanticide is a sexually selected strategy of males to gain increased access to female mating partners. Cannibals must ensure avoiding their own offspring and targeting only unrelated young. Therefore, decision rules are needed to mediate parental and cannibalistic behaviour. Here we show experimentally that male poison frogs adjust their parental responses - care or infanticide - towards unrelated clutches according to their territorial status. Male frogs followed the simple rule ‘care for any clutch’ inside their territory, but immediately switched to cannibalism when establishing a new territory. This demonstrates that simple cognitive rules can mediate complex behaviours such as parental care, and that care and cannibalism are antagonistically linked. Non-parental infanticide is mediated by territorial cues and presumably serves to prevent misdirected care in this poison frog. Our results thus prompt a re-consideration of evolutionary and causal aspects of parental decision making, by suggesting that selective infanticide of unrelated young may generally become adaptive when the risks and costs of misdirected care are high.

Concepts: Psychology, Male, Decision making, Risk, Sex, Frog, Cannibalism, United States territory


Despite significant efforts to reform undergraduate science education, students often perform worse on assessments of perceptions of science after introductory courses, demonstrating a need for new educational interventions to reverse this trend. To address this need, we created An Inexplicable Disease, an engaging, active-learning case study that is unusual because it aims to simulate scientific inquiry by allowing students to iteratively investigate the Kuru epidemic of 1957 in a choose-your-own-experiment format in large lectures. The case emphasizes the importance of specialization and communication in science and is broadly applicable to courses of any size and sub-discipline of the life sciences.

Concepts: Scientific method, Science, Prion, Engineering, Educational psychology, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Kuru, Cannibalism


Numerous studies have attempted to identify the presence of uniquely derived (autoapomorphic) Neandertal features. Here, we deal with the medial pterygoid tubercle (MTP), which is usually present on the internal face of the ascending ramus of Neandertal specimens. Our study stems from the identification of a hypertrophied tubercle in ATD6-96, an Early Pleistocene mandible recovered from the TD6 level of the Atapuerca-Gran Dolina site and attributed to Homo antecessor. Our review of the literature and study of numerous original fossil specimens and high quality replicas confirm that the MTP occurs at a high frequency in Neandertals (ca. 89%) and is also present in over half (ca. 55%) of the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos (SH) hominins. In contrast, it is generally absent or minimally developed in other extinct hominins, but can be found in variable frequencies (

Concepts: Human, Hominidae, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Pleistocene, Bones of the head and neck, Cannibalism, Neandertal


Tadpoles show considerable behavioral plasticity. When population densities become high, tadpoles often become cannibalistic, likely in response to intense competition. Conspecific tissues are potentially an ideal diet by composition and should greatly improve growth and development. However, the potential release of alarm cues from the tissues of injured conspecifics may act to deter potential cannibals from feeding. We conducted multiple feeding experiments to test the relative effects that a diet of conspecifics has on tadpole growth and development. Results indicate that while conspecific tissues represent a better alternative to starvation and provide some benefits over low-protein diets, such a diet can have detrimental effects to tadpole growth and/or development relative to diets of similar protein content. Additionally, tadpoles raised individually appear to avoid consuming conspecific tissues and may continue to do so until they suffer from the effects of starvation. However, tadpoles readily fed upon conspecific tissues immediately when raised with competitors. These results suggest that cannibalism may occur as a result of competition rather than the specific quality of available diets, unless such diets lead to starvation.

Concepts: Frog, Tadpole, Rana, Wood Frog, Lithobates, Cannibalism, John Franklin


Newly hatched caterpillars of the butterfly Heliconius erato phyllis routinely cannibalize eggs. In a manifestation of kin recognition they cannibalize sibling eggs less frequently than unrelated eggs. Previous work has estimated the heritability of kin recognition in H. erato phyllis to lie between 14 and 48%. It has furthermore been shown that the inheritance of kin recognition is compatible with a quantitative model with a threshold. Here we present the results of a preliminary study, in which we tested for associations between behavioral kin recognition phenotypes and AFLP and SSR markers. We implemented two experimental approaches: (1) a cannibalism test using sibling eggs only, which allowed for only two behavioral outcomes (cannibal and non-cannibal), and (2) a cannibalism test using two sibling eggs and one unrelated egg, which allowed four outcomes [cannibal who does not recognize siblings, cannibal who recognizes siblings, “super-cannibal” (cannibal of both eggs), and “super non-cannibal” (does not cannibalize eggs at all)]. Single-marker analyses were performed using χ2 tests and logistic regression with null markers as covariates. Results of the χ2 tests identified 72 associations for experimental design 1 and 73 associations for design 2. Logistic regression analysis of the markers found to be significant in the χ2 test resulted in 20 associations for design 1 and 11 associations for design 2. Experiment 2 identified markers that were more frequently present or absent in cannibals who recognize siblings and super non-cannibals; i.e. in both phenotypes capable of kin recognition.

Concepts: Regression analysis, Logistic regression, Statistics, Experiment, Cannibalism, John Franklin, Rammstein


Many phytoseiid species, including Phytoseiulus persimilis, are known to engage in cannibalism when food is scarce and when there is no possibility to disperse. In nature adult females of P. persimilis are known to disperse when prey is locally depleted. Males, in contrast, are expected to stay and wait for potential mates to mature. During this phase, males can obtain food by cannibalizing. Therefore, we hypothesize that male P. persimilis exhibit a higher tendency to cannibalize than females. Because rearing conditions in the laboratory usually prevent dispersal, prolonged culturing may also affect cannibalistic behavior. We hypothesize that this should especially affect cannibalism by females, because they consume far more food. We tested these hypotheses by comparing males and females from two strains, one of which had been in culture for over 20 years, whereas the other was recently collected from the field. It is known that this predator can discriminate between kin and non-kin and prefers cannibalizing the latter, hence to construct lines with high relatedness we created isofemale lines of these two original strains. We subsequently tested to what extent the adult females and males of the original strains and the isofemale lines cannibalized conspecific larvae from the same strain/line in a closed system. Relatedness with the victims did not affect cannibalistic behavior, but males engaged more often in cannibalism than females, and females of the laboratory strain engaged more in cannibalism than those of the field strain, both in agreement with our ideas. We hypothesize that the difference in cannibalism between the two genders will increase when they have the alternative to disperse.

Concepts: Scientific method, Male, Female, Predation, Gender, Sex, Observation, Cannibalism


Mortality due to cannibalism causes both economic and welfare problems in laying hens. To limit mortality due to cannibalism, laying hens are often beak-trimmed, which is undesirable for animal welfare reasons. Genetic selection is an alternative strategy to increase survival and is more efficient by taking heritable variation that originates from social interactions into account, which are modelled as the so-called indirect genetic effects (IGE). Despite the considerable heritable variation in survival time due to IGE, genetic improvement of survival time in laying hens is still challenging because the detected heritable variation of the trait with IGE is still limited, ranging from 0.06 to 0.26, and individuals that are still alive at the end of the recording period are censored. Furthermore, survival time records are available late in life and only on females. To cope with these challenges, we tested the hypothesis that genomic prediction increases the accuracy of estimated breeding values (EBV) compared to parental average EBV, and increases response to selection for survival time compared to a traditional breeding scheme. We tested this hypothesis in two lines of brown layers with intact beaks, which show cannibalism, and also the hypothesis that the rate of inbreeding per year is lower for genomic selection than for the traditional breeding scheme.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Biology, Population genetics, Heritability, Cannibalism


With the aim of applying numerical methods, we develop a formalism for physiologically structured population models in a new generality that includes consumer-resource, cannibalism and trophic models. The dynamics at the population level are formulated as a system of Volterra functional equations coupled to ODE. For this general class, we develop numerical methods to continue equilibria with respect to a parameter, detect transcritical and saddle-node bifurcations and compute curves in parameter planes along which these bifurcations occur. The methods combine curve continuation, ODE solvers and test functions. Finally, we apply the methods to the above models using existing data for Daphnia magna consuming Algae and for Perca fluviatilis feeding on Daphnia magna. In particular, we validate the methods by deriving expressions for equilibria and bifurcations with respect to which we compute errors, and by comparing the obtained curves with curves that were computed earlier with other methods. We also present new curves to show how the methods can easily be applied to derive new biological insight. Schemes of algorithms are included.

Concepts: Biology, Population, Computer, Programming language, Numerical analysis, Subroutine, Currying, Cannibalism