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Concept: Mammal


Two rival theories of how humans recognize faces exist: (i) recognition is innate, relying on specialized neocortical circuitry, and (ii) recognition is a learned expertise, relying on general object recognition pathways. Here, we explore whether animals without a neocortex, can learn to recognize human faces. Human facial recognition has previously been demonstrated for birds, however they are now known to possess neocortex-like structures. Also, with much of the work done in domesticated pigeons, one cannot rule out the possibility that they have developed adaptations for human face recognition. Fish do not appear to possess neocortex-like cells, and given their lack of direct exposure to humans, are unlikely to have evolved any specialized capabilities for human facial recognition. Using a two-alternative forced-choice procedure, we show that archerfish (Toxotes chatareus) can learn to discriminate a large number of human face images (Experiment 1, 44 faces), even after controlling for colour, head-shape and brightness (Experiment 2, 18 faces). This study not only demonstrates that archerfish have impressive pattern discrimination abilities, but also provides evidence that a vertebrate lacking a neocortex and without an evolutionary prerogative to discriminate human faces, can nonetheless do so to a high degree of accuracy.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Bird, Science, Mammal, Primate, Learning, Face perception


Some birds achieve primate-like levels of cognition, even though their brains tend to be much smaller in absolute size. This poses a fundamental problem in comparative and computational neuroscience, because small brains are expected to have a lower information-processing capacity. Using the isotropic fractionator to determine numbers of neurons in specific brain regions, here we show that the brains of parrots and songbirds contain on average twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass, indicating that avian brains have higher neuron packing densities than mammalian brains. Additionally, corvids and parrots have much higher proportions of brain neurons located in the pallial telencephalon compared with primates or other mammals and birds. Thus, large-brained parrots and corvids have forebrain neuron counts equal to or greater than primates with much larger brains. We suggest that the large numbers of neurons concentrated in high densities in the telencephalon substantially contribute to the neural basis of avian intelligence.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Human brain, Bird, Cerebrum, Mammal, Computational neuroscience


Ebola viruses (EBOV) cause often fatal hemorrhagic fever in several species of simian primates including human. While fruit bats are considered natural reservoir, involvement of other species in EBOV transmission is unclear. In 2009, Reston-EBOV was the first EBOV detected in swine with indicated transmission to humans. In-contact transmission of Zaire-EBOV (ZEBOV) between pigs was demonstrated experimentally. Here we show ZEBOV transmission from pigs to cynomolgus macaques without direct contact. Interestingly, transmission between macaques in similar housing conditions was never observed. Piglets inoculated oro-nasally with ZEBOV were transferred to the room housing macaques in an open inaccessible cage system. All macaques became infected. Infectious virus was detected in oro-nasal swabs of piglets, and in blood, swabs, and tissues of macaques. This is the first report of experimental interspecies virus transmission, with the macaques also used as a human surrogate. Our finding may influence prevention and control measures during EBOV outbreaks.

Concepts: Human, Influenza, Mammal, Primate, Ebola, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Simian, Crab-eating Macaque


Although common in birds, social monogamy, or pair-living, is rare among mammals because internal gestation and lactation in mammals makes it advantageous for males to seek additional mating opportunities. A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain the evolution of social monogamy among mammals: as a male mate-guarding strategy, because of the benefits of biparental care, or as a defense against infanticidal males. However, comparative analyses have been unable to resolve the root causes of monogamy. Primates are unusual among mammals because monogamy has evolved independently in all of the major clades. Here we combine trait data across 230 primate species with a Bayesian likelihood framework to test for correlated evolution between monogamy and a range of traits to evaluate the competing hypotheses. We find evidence of correlated evolution between social monogamy and both female ranging patterns and biparental care, but the most compelling explanation for the appearance of monogamy is male infanticide. It is only the presence of infanticide that reliably increases the probability of a shift to social monogamy, whereas monogamy allows the secondary adoption of paternal care and is associated with a shift to discrete ranges. The origin of social monogamy in primates is best explained by long lactation periods caused by altriciality, making primate infants particularly vulnerable to infanticidal males. We show that biparental care shortens relative lactation length, thereby reducing infanticide risk and increasing reproductive rates. These phylogenetic analyses support a key role for infanticide in the social evolution of primates, and potentially, humans.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Evolution, Female, Sex, Mammal, Primate


The current study provides details of sleep (or inactivity) in two wild, free-roaming African elephant matriarchs studied in their natural habitat with remote monitoring using an actiwatch subcutaneously implanted in the trunk, a standard elephant collar equipped with a GPS system and gyroscope, and a portable weather station. We found that these two elephants were polyphasic sleepers, had an average daily total sleep time of 2 h, mostly between 02:00 and 06:00, and displayed the shortest daily sleep time of any mammal recorded to date. Moreover, these two elephants exhibited both standing and recumbent sleep, but only exhibited recumbent sleep every third or fourth day, potentially limiting their ability to enter REM sleep on a daily basis. In addition, we observed on five occasions that the elephants went without sleep for up to 46 h and traversed around 30 km in 10 h, possibly due to disturbances such as potential predation or poaching events, or a bull elephant in musth. They exhibited no form of sleep rebound following a night without sleep. Environmental conditions, especially ambient air temperature and relative humidity, analysed as wet-bulb globe temperature, reliably predict sleep onset and offset times. The elephants selected novel sleep sites each night and the amount of activity between sleep periods did not affect the amount of sleep. A number of similarities and differences to studies of elephant sleep in captivity are noted, and specific factors shaping sleep architecture in elephants, on various temporal scales, are discussed.

Concepts: Sleep, Mammal, Relative humidity, Lion, Hunting, Elephant, Elephants, Musth


The century-old idea that stripes make zebras cryptic to large carnivores has never been examined systematically. We evaluated this hypothesis by passing digital images of zebras through species-specific spatial and colour filters to simulate their appearance for the visual systems of zebras' primary predators and zebras themselves. We also measured stripe widths and luminance contrast to estimate the maximum distances from which lions, spotted hyaenas, and zebras can resolve stripes. We found that beyond ca. 50 m (daylight) and 30 m (twilight) zebra stripes are difficult for the estimated visual systems of large carnivores to resolve, but not humans. On moonless nights, stripes are difficult for all species to resolve beyond ca. 9 m. In open treeless habitats where zebras spend most time, zebras are as clearly identified by the lion visual system as are similar-sized ungulates, suggesting that stripes cannot confer crypsis by disrupting the zebra’s outline. Stripes confer a minor advantage over solid pelage in masking body shape in woodlands, but the effect is stronger for humans than for predators. Zebras appear to be less able than humans to resolve stripes although they are better than their chief predators. In conclusion, compared to the uniform pelage of other sympatric herbivores it appears highly unlikely that stripes are a form of anti-predator camouflage.

Concepts: Predation, Crypsis, Photoreceptor cell, Visual system, Mammal, Lion, Camouflage, Zebra


Live birth has evolved many times independently in vertebrates, such as mammals and diverse groups of lizards and snakes. However, live birth is unknown in the major clade Archosauromorpha, a group that first evolved some 260 million years ago and is represented today by birds and crocodilians. Here we report the discovery of a pregnant long-necked marine reptile (Dinocephalosaurus) from the Middle Triassic (∼245 million years ago) of southwest China showing live birth in archosauromorphs. Our discovery pushes back evidence of reproductive biology in the clade by roughly 50 million years, and shows that there is no fundamental reason that archosauromorphs could not achieve live birth. Our phylogenetic models indicate that Dinocephalosaurus determined the sex of their offspring by sex chromosomes rather than by environmental temperature like crocodilians. Our results provide crucial evidence for genotypic sex determination facilitating land-water transitions in amniotes.

Concepts: Biology, Bird, Reptile, Mammal, Dinosaur, Amniote, Archosauromorpha, Prolacertiformes


Knut the polar bear of the Berlin Zoological Garden drowned in 2011 following seizures and was diagnosed as having suffered encephalitis of unknown etiology after exhaustive pathogen screening. Using the diagnostic criteria applied to human patients, we demonstrate that Knut’s encephalitis is almost identical to anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis which is a severe autoimmune disease representing the most common non-infectious encephalitis in humans. High concentrations of antibodies specific against the NR1 subunit of the NMDA receptor were detected in Knut’s cerebrospinal fluid. Histological examination demonstrated very similar patterns of plasma cell infiltration and minimal neuronal loss in affected brain areas. We conclude that Knut suffered anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis making his the first reported non-human case of this treatable disease. The results suggest that anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis may be a disease of broad relevance to mammals that until now has remained undiagnosed.

Concepts: Medicine, Human, Medical terms, Greek loanwords, Mammal, NMDA receptor, Bear, Polar bear


Multi-level fission-fusion societies, characteristic of a number of large brained mammal species including some primates, cetaceans and elephants, are among the most complex and cognitively demanding animal social systems. Many free-ranging populations of these highly social mammals already face severe human disturbance, which is set to accelerate with projected anthropogenic environmental change. Despite this, our understanding of how such disruption affects core aspects of social functioning is still very limited.

Concepts: Human, Species, Sociology, Mammal, Primate, Complex number, Hippopotamus, Incisor


Emerging evidence suggests that the in utero environment is not sterile as once presumed. Work in the mouse demonstrated transmission of commensal bacteria from mother to fetus during gestation, though it is unclear what modulates this process. We have previously shown in the nonhuman primate that, independent of obesity, a maternal high-fat diet during gestation and lactation persistently shapes the juvenile gut microbiome. We therefore sought to interrogate in a population-based human longitudinal cohort whether a maternal high-fat diet similarly alters the neonatal and infant gut microbiome in early life.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Infant, Human, Gut flora, Breastfeeding, Maternal bond, Mammal