Photo of a Social Spider nest – from http://www.texasento.net
There have been a number of really cool talks at this years ABS conference. I’ll briefly describe a few that have been particularly interesting to me:
Duck penis morphology:
You may have heard in the news recently about Dr. Patricia Brennan and her research on duck penis morphology. While I could spend a whole post justifying why she should receive NSF funding for this work, she explained it extremely well here. Dr. Brennans talk at ABS focused on plasticity (changes in an organisms characteristics in response to environment) in duck penis morphology. Some species of ducks have high rates of forced extra-pair copulations (rape), and these species typically have larger and more complex penis structures to more efficiently inseminate females. Dr. Brennan predicted that social context would influence the growth of penises in these species. She found that in the species with more forced extra-pair copulations there was increased plasticity – males grew larger penises to deal with increased competition for females when multiple males were housed together with females.
Personality in Founding Individuals:
In light of HIREC (Human Induced Rapid Environmental Change), some species are entering new territories. Dr. Jonathan Pruitt suggests that the personalities of these founding individuals is important for understanding the pattern and success of these invasions. Personalities, or behavioral syndromes, are repeatable patterns of individual behavior across context. Variation in personality has been found in an immense number of species. In social spiders, Dr. Pruitt has found variation in how bold and aggressive these individuals are. When an individual forms a new colony, they deal with other spider species that parasitize their immense nests. Aggressive individuals kill these parasites off, while more docile spiders tolerate the other spiders. While colonies founded by docile spiders are initially more successful, in the long run they are far more likely to collapse than those founded by aggressive spiders.
Humans aren’t the only species that tries to privatize resources. Dr. Joan Strassmann described a species of bacteria-eating amoebas in which some colonies farm several species of bacterium. Some are kept as a food source; while another, which they cannot eat is farmed for its chemical product which they use as a weapon against non-farming competitor colonies.
Look forward to a post in the next few days from Adam Reddon on the Agonism (fighting) session which occurred this afternoon!