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Journal: Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society


Environmental problems have contributed to numerous collapses of civilizations in the past. Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears likely. Overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich and poor choices of technologies are major drivers; dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity.

Concepts: Poverty, Culture, Peak oil, Society, Globalization, Civilization, Sociocultural evolution, John Zerzan


The importance of exercise for health and neurogenesis is becoming increasingly clear. Wheel running is often used in the laboratory for triggering enhanced activity levels, despite the common objection that this behaviour is an artefact of captivity and merely signifies neurosis or stereotypy. If wheel running is indeed caused by captive housing, wild mice are not expected to use a running wheel in nature. This however, to our knowledge, has never been tested. Here, we show that when running wheels are placed in nature, they are frequently used by wild mice, also when no extrinsic reward is provided. Bout lengths of running wheel behaviour in the wild match those for captive mice. This finding falsifies one criterion for stereotypic behaviour, and suggests that running wheel activity is an elective behaviour. In a time when lifestyle in general and lack of exercise in particular are a major cause of disease in the modern world, research into physical activity is of utmost importance. Our findings may help alleviate the main concern regarding the use of running wheels in research on exercise.

Concepts: Drug addiction, Motivation, Psychiatry, Madagascar, Stretching, Stereotypy


Spiders are an important animal group, with a long history. Details of their origins remain limited, with little knowledge of their stem group, and no insights into the sequence of character acquisition during spider evolution. We describe a new fossil arachnid,Idmonarachne brasierigen. et sp. nov. from the Late Carboniferous (Stephanian,ca305-299 Ma) of Montceau-les-Mines, France. It is three-dimensionally preserved within a siderite concretion, allowing both laboratory- and synchrotron-based phase-contrast computed tomography reconstruction. The latter is a first for siderite-hosted fossils and has allowed us to investigate fine anatomical details. Although distinctly spider-like in habitus, this remarkable fossil lacks a key diagnostic character of Araneae: spinnerets on the underside of the opisthosoma. It also lacks a flagelliform telson found in the recently recognized, spider-related, Devonian-Permian Uraraneida. Cladistic analysis resolves our new fossil as sister group to the spiders: the spider stem-group comprises the uraraneids andI. brasieri While we are unable to demonstrate the presence of spigots in this fossil, the recovered phylogeny suggests the earliest character to evolve on the spider stem-group is the secretion of silk. This would have been followed by the loss of a flagelliform telson, and then the ability to spin silk using spinnerets. This last innovation defines the true spiders, significantly post-dates the origins of silk, and may be a key to the group’s success. The Montceau-les-Mines locality has previously yielded a mesothele spider (with spinnerets). Evidently, Late Palaeozoic spiders lived alongside Palaeozoic arachnid grades which approached the spider condition, but did not express the full suite of crown-group autapomorphies.

Concepts: Arthropod, Phylogenetics, Clade, Phylum, Arachnid, Spider, Chelicerata, Tarantula


In the first ever systematic genetic survey, we have used rigorous decontamination followed by mitochondrial 12S RNA sequencing to identify the species origin of 30 hair samples attributed to anomalous primates. Two Himalayan samples, one from Ladakh, India, the other from Bhutan, had their closest genetic affinity with a Palaeolithic polar bear, Ursus maritimus. Otherwise the hairs were from a range of known extant mammals.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Molecular biology, Mammal, Himalayas, Bear, Polar bear, Polar Beverages


The fossil record of centrosaurine ceratopsids is largely restricted to the northern region of western North America (Alberta, Montana and Alaska). Exceptions consist of single taxa from Utah (Diabloceratops) and China (Sinoceratops), plus otherwise fragmentary remains from the southern Western Interior of North America. Here, we describe a remarkable new taxon, Nasutoceratops titusi n. gen. et sp., from the late Campanian Kaiparowits Formation of Utah, represented by multiple specimens, including a nearly complete skull and partial postcranial skeleton. Autapomorphies include an enlarged narial region, pneumatic nasal ornamentation, abbreviated snout and elongate, rostrolaterally directed supraorbital horncores. The subrectangular parietosquamosal frill is relatively unadorned and broadest in the mid-region. A phylogenetic analysis indicates that Nasutoceratops is the sister taxon to Avaceratops, and that a previously unknown subclade of centrosaurines branched off early in the group’s history and persisted for several million years during the late Campanian. As the first well-represented southern centrosaurine comparable in age to the bulk of northern forms, Nasutoceratops provides strong support for the provincialism hypothesis, which posits that Laramidia-the western landmass formed by inundation of the central region of North America by the Western Interior Seaway-hosted at least two coeval dinosaur communities for over a million years of late Campanian time.

Concepts: United States, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, North America, Cretaceous, Fossil, Dinosaur, Ceratopsidae


As humans are mammals, it is possible, perhaps even probable, that we have pheromones. However, there is no robust bioassay-led evidence for the widely published claims that four steroid molecules are human pheromones: androstenone, androstenol, androstadienone and estratetraenol. In the absence of sound reasons to test the molecules, positive results in studies need to be treated with scepticism as these are highly likely to be false positives. Common problems include small sample sizes, an overestimate of effect size (as no effect can be expected), positive publication bias and lack of replication. Instead, if we are to find human pheromones, we need to treat ourselves as if we were a newly discovered mammal, and use the rigorous methods already proven successful in pheromone research on other species. Establishing a pheromone relies on demonstration of an odour-mediated behavioural or physiological response, identification and synthesis of the bioactive molecule(s), followed by bioassay confirmation of activity. Likely sources include our sebaceous glands. Comparison of secretions from adult and pre-pubertal humans may highlight potential molecules involved in sexual behaviour. One of the most promising human pheromone leads is a nipple secretion from the areola glands produced by all lactating mothers, which stimulates suckling by any baby not just their own.

Concepts: Cell, Sample size, Physiology, Mammal, Human behavior, Pheromone, Androstadienone, Estratetraenol


Collaboration can provide benefits to the individual and the group across a variety of contexts. Even in simple perceptual tasks, the aggregation of individuals' personal information can enable enhanced group decision-making. However, in certain circumstances such collaboration can worsen performance, or even expose an individual to exploitation in economic tasks, and therefore a balance needs to be struck between a collaborative and a more egocentric disposition. Neurohumoral agents such as oxytocin are known to promote collaborative behaviours in economic tasks, but whether there are opponent agents, and whether these might even affect information aggregation without an economic component, is unknown. Here, we show that an androgen hormone, testosterone, acts as such an agent. Testosterone causally disrupted collaborative decision-making in a perceptual decision task, markedly reducing performance benefit individuals accrued from collaboration while leaving individual decision-making ability unaffected. This effect emerged because testosterone engendered more egocentric choices, manifest in an overweighting of one’s own relative to others' judgements during joint decision-making. Our findings show that the biological control of social behaviour is dynamically regulated not only by modulators promoting, but also by those diminishing a propensity to collaborate.

Concepts: Psychology, Decision making, Decision theory, Androgen, Human behavior, Collaboration


Depression is a major public health concern worldwide. There is evidence that social support and befriending influence mental health, and an improved understanding of the social processes that drive depression has the potential to bring significant public health benefits. We investigate transmission of mood on a social network of adolescents, allowing flexibility in our model by making no prior assumption as to whether it is low mood or healthy mood that spreads. Here, we show that while depression does not spread, healthy mood among friends is associated with significantly reduced risk of developing and increased chance of recovering from depression. We found that this spreading of healthy mood can be captured using a non-linear complex contagion model. Having sufficient friends with healthy mood can halve the probability of developing, or double the probability of recovering from, depression over a 6-12-month period on an adolescent social network. Our results suggest that promotion of friendship between adolescents can reduce both incidence and prevalence of depression.

Concepts: Health care, Public health, Health, Epidemiology, Sociology, Network theory, Spread


Agricultural land use results in direct biodiversity decline through loss of natural habitat, but may also cause indirect cross-habitat effects on conservation areas. We conducted three landscape-scale field studies on 67 sites to test the hypothesis that mass flowering of oilseed rape (Brassica napus) results in a transient dilution of bees in crop fields, and in increased competition between crop plants and grassland plants for pollinators. Abundances of bumble-bees, which are the main pollinators of the grassland plant Primula veris, but also pollinate oilseed rape (OSR), decreased with increasing amount of OSR. This landscape-scale dilution affected bumble-bee abundances strongly in OSR fields and marginally in grasslands, where bumble-bee abundances were generally low at the time of Primula flowering. Seed set of Primula veris, which flowers during OSR bloom, was reduced by 20 per cent when the amount of OSR within 1 km radius increased from 0 to 15 per cent. Hence, the current expansion of bee-attractive biofuel crops results in transient dilution of crop pollinators, which means an increased competition for pollinators between crops and wild plants. In conclusion, mass-flowering crops potentially threaten fitness of concurrently flowering wild plants in conservation areas, despite the fact that, in the long run, mass-flowering crops can enhance abundances of generalist pollinators and their pollination service.

Concepts: Agriculture, Pollination, Brassica, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Salamanders are the only tetrapods capable of fully regenerating their limbs throughout their entire lives. Much data on the underlying molecular mechanisms of limb regeneration have been gathered in recent years allowing for new comparative studies between salamanders and other tetrapods that lack this unique regenerative potential. By contrast, the evolution of animal regeneration just recently shifted back into focus, despite being highly relevant for research designs aiming to unravel the factors allowing for limb regeneration. We show that the 300-million-year-old temnospondyl amphibian Micromelerpeton, a distant relative of modern amphibians, was already capable of regenerating its limbs. A number of exceptionally well-preserved specimens from fossil deposits show a unique pattern and combination of abnormalities in their limbs that is distinctive of irregular regenerative activity in modern salamanders and does not occur as variants of normal limb development. This demonstrates that the capacity to regenerate limbs is not a derived feature of modern salamanders, but may be an ancient feature of non-amniote tetrapods and possibly even shared by all bony fish. The finding provides a new framework for understanding the evolution of regenerative capacity of paired appendages in vertebrates in the search for conserved versus derived molecular mechanisms of limb regeneration.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Regeneration, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Lissamphibia, Salamander, Labyrinthodontia