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Journal: Biology letters


Human-wildlife conflict is one of the greatest threats to species populations worldwide. One species facing national declines in the UK is the herring gull (Larus argentatus), despite an increase in numbers in urban areas. Gulls in urban areas are often considered a nuisance owing to behaviours such as food-snatching. Whether urban gull feeding behaviour is influenced by human behavioural cues, such as gaze direction, remains unknown. We therefore measured the approach times of herring gulls to a food source placed in close proximity to an experimenter who either looked directly at the gull or looked away. We found that only 26% of targeted gulls would touch the food, suggesting that food-snatching is likely to be conducted by a minority of individuals. When gulls did touch the food, they took significantly longer to approach when the experimenter’s gaze was directed towards them compared with directed away. However, inter-individual behaviour varied greatly, with some gulls approaching similarly quickly in both treatments, while others approached much more slowly when the experimenter was looking at them. These results indicate that reducing human-herring gull conflict may be possible through small changes in human behaviour, but will require consideration of behavioural differences between individual gulls.


The approximate number system (ANS), which supports the rapid estimation of quantity, emerges early in human development and is widespread across species. Neural evidence from both human and non-human primates suggests the parietal cortex as a primary locus of numerical estimation, but it is unclear whether the numerical competencies observed across non-primate species are subserved by similar neural mechanisms. Moreover, because studies with non-human animals typically involve extensive training, little is known about the spontaneous numerical capacities of non-human animals. To address these questions, we examined the neural underpinnings of number perception using awake canine functional magnetic resonance imaging. Dogs passively viewed dot arrays that varied in ratio and, critically, received no task-relevant training or exposure prior to testing. We found evidence of ratio-dependent activation, which is a key feature of the ANS, in canine parietotemporal cortex in the majority of dogs tested. This finding is suggestive of a neural mechanism for quantity perception that has been conserved across mammalian evolution.


Almost all mammals communicate using sound, but few species produce complex songs. Two baleen whales sing complex songs that change annually, though only the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) has received much research attention. This study focuses on the other baleen whale singer, the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus). Members of the Spitsbergen bowhead whale population produced 184 different song types over a 3-year period, based on duty-cycled recordings from a site in Fram Strait in the northeast Atlantic. Distinct song types were recorded over short periods, lasting at most some months. This song diversity could be the result of population expansion, or immigration of animals from other populations that are no longer isolated from each other by heavy sea ice. However, this explanation does not account for the within season and annual shifting of song types. Other possible explanations for the extraordinary diversity in songs could be that it results either from weak selection pressure for interspecific identification or for maintenance of song characteristics or, alternatively, from strong pressure for novelty in a small population.

Concepts: Whale, Humpback whale, Whale surfacing behaviour, Baleen, Whaling, Bowhead whale


Speech is a human hallmark, but its evolutionary origins continue to defy scientific explanation. Recently, the open-close mouth rhythm of 2-7 Hz (cycles/second) characteristic of all spoken languages has been identified in the orofacial signals of several nonhuman primate genera, including orangutans, but evidence from any of the African apes remained missing. Evolutionary continuity for the emergence of speech is, thus, still inconclusive. To address this empirical gap, we investigated the rhythm of chimpanzee lip-smacks across four populations (two captive and two wild). We found that lip-smacks exhibit a speech-like rhythm at approximately 4 Hz, closing a gap in the evidence for the evolution of speech-rhythm within the primate order. We observed sizeable rhythmic variation within and between chimpanzee populations, with differences of over 2 Hz at each level. This variation did not result, however, in systematic group differences within our sample. To further explore the phylogenetic and evolutionary perspective on this variability, inter-individual and inter-population analyses will be necessary across primate species producing mouth signals at speech-like rhythm. Our findings support the hypothesis that speech recruited ancient primate rhythmic signals and suggest that multi-site studies may still reveal new windows of understanding about these signals' use and production along the evolutionary timeline of speech.


Females often prefer to mate with high quality males, and one aspect of quality is physical performance. Although a preference for physically fitter males is therefore predicted, the relationship between attractiveness and performance has rarely been quantified. Here, I test for such a relationship in humans and ask whether variation in (endurance) performance is associated with variation in facial attractiveness within elite professional cyclists that finished the 2012 Tour de France. I show that riders that performed better were more attractive, and that this preference was strongest in women not using a hormonal contraceptive. Thereby, I show that, within this preselected but relatively homogeneous sample of the male population, facial attractiveness signals endurance performance. Provided that there is a relationship between performance-mediated attractiveness and reproductive success, this suggests that human endurance capacity has been subject to sexual selection in our evolutionary past.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Female, Gender, Sex, Physical attractiveness, Tour de France


In urban ecosystems, socioeconomics contribute to patterns of biodiversity. The ‘luxury effect’, in which wealthier neighbourhoods are more biologically diverse, has been observed for plants, birds, bats and lizards. Here, we used data from a survey of indoor arthropod diversity (defined throughout as family-level richness) from 50 urban houses and found that house size, surrounding vegetation, as well as mean neighbourhood income best predict the number of kinds of arthropods found indoors. Our finding, that homes in wealthier neighbourhoods host higher indoor arthropod diversity (consisting of primarily non-pest species), shows that the luxury effect can extend to the indoor environment. The effect of mean neighbourhood income on indoor arthropod diversity was particularly strong for individual houses that lacked high surrounding vegetation ground cover, suggesting that neighbourhood dynamics can compensate for local choices of homeowners. Our work suggests that the management of neighbourhoods and cities can have effects on biodiversity that can extend from trees and birds all the way to the arthropod life in bedrooms and basements.

Concepts: Evolution, Life, Species, Ecology, Natural environment, Sustainability, Biome, House


Collective responses to threats occur throughout the animal kingdom but little is known about the cognitive processes underpinning them. Antipredator mobbing is one such response. Approaching a predator may be highly risky, but the individual risk declines and the likelihood of repelling the predator increases in larger mobbing groups. The ability to appraise the number of conspecifics involved in a mobbing event could therefore facilitate strategic decisions about whether to join. Mobs are commonly initiated by recruitment calls, which may provide valuable information to guide decision-making. We tested whether the number of wild jackdaws responding to recruitment calls was influenced by the number of callers. As predicted, playbacks simulating three or five callers tended to recruit more individuals than playbacks of one caller. Recruitment also substantially increased if recruits themselves produced calls. These results suggest that jackdaws use individual vocal discrimination to assess the number of conspecifics involved in initiating mobbing events, and use this information to guide their responses. Our results show support for the use of numerical assessment in antipredator mobbing responses and highlight the need for a greater understanding of the cognitive processes involved in collective behaviour.


The harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, has emerged as a model species for invasion biology, reflecting its remarkable capacity to outcompete native ladybird species when introduced into new habitats. This ability may be associated with its prominent resistance to pathogens and intraguild predation. We recently showed that the constitutive antibacterial activity present in the haemolymph of H. axyridis beetles can be attributed to the chemical defence compound harmonine. Here, we demonstrate that H. axyridis differs from other insects, including the native ladybird Coccinella septempunctata, by reducing rather than increasing the antimicrobial activity of its haemolymph following the injection of bacteria. However, both species produce new or more abundant proteins in the haemolymph, indicating that bacterial challenge induces innate immune responses associated with the synthesis of immunity-related proteins. Our results suggest that H. axyridis beetles can switch from constitutive chemical defence to inducible innate immune responses, supporting hypothesis that inducible antimicrobial peptides protect host beetles against pathogens that survive constitutive defences. These alternative antimicrobial defence mechanisms may reflect a trade-off resulting from fitness-related costs associated with the simultaneous synthesis of harmonine and antimicrobial peptides/proteins.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Microbiology, Innate immune system, Coccinellidae, Harmonia axyridis, Coccinella septempunctata, Biological pest control agents


The role of predators in food webs extends beyond their ability to kill and consume prey. Such trait-mediated effects occur when signals of the predator influence the behaviour of other animals. Because all spiders are silk-producing carnivores, we hypothesized that silk alone would signal other arthropods and enhance non-lethal effects of spiders. We quantified the herbivory inflicted by two beetle species on green bean plants (Phaseolus vulgaris) in the presence of silkworm silk and spider silk along with no silk controls. Single leaflets were treated and enclosed with herbivores in the laboratory and field. Another set of leaflets were treated and left to experience natural herbivory in the field. Entire plants in the field were treated with silk and enclosed with herbivores or left exposed to herbivory. In all cases, the lowest levels of herbivory occurred with spider silk treatments and, in general, silkworm silk produced intermediate levels of leaf damage. These results suggest that silk may be a mechanism for the trait-mediated impacts of spiders and that it might contribute to integrated pest management programmes.

Concepts: Insect, Predation, Animal, Arachnid, Silk, Spider, Common bean, Bean


A Marine Climate Impacts Workshop was held from 29 April to 3 May 2012 at the US National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara. This workshop was the culmination of a series of six meetings over the past three years, which had brought together 25 experts in climate change ecology, analysis of large datasets, palaeontology, marine ecology and physical oceanography. Aims of these workshops were to produce a global synthesis of climate impacts on marine biota, to identify sensitive habitats and taxa, to inform the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, and to strengthen research into ecological impacts of climate change.

Concepts: Biology, Life, Oceanography, Greek loanwords, Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Outline of biology