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By EMILY ANTHES Humans have no exclusive claim on intelligence. Across the animal kingdom, all sorts of creatures have performed impressive intellectual feats. A bonobo named Kanzi uses an array of symbols to communicate with humans. Chaser the border collie knows the English words for more than 1,000 objects. Crows make sophisticated tools, elephants recognize themselves in the mirror, and dolphins have a rudimentary number sense. Anolis evermanni lizards normally attack their prey from above. The lizards were challenged to find a way to access insects that were kept inside a small hole covered with a tightfitting blue cap. And reptiles? Well, at least they have their looks. In the plethora of research over the past few decades on the cognitive capabilities of various species, lizards, turtles and snakes have been left in the back of the class. Few scientists bothered to peer into the reptile mind, and those who did were largely unimpressed. “Reptiles don’t really have great press,” said Gordon M. Burghardt, a comparative psychologist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “Certainly in the past, people didn’t really think too much of their intelligence. They were thought of as instinct machines.” But now that is beginning to change, thanks to a growing interest in “coldblooded cognition” and recent studies revealing that reptile brains are not as primitive as we imagined. The research could not only redeem reptiles but also shed new light on cognitive evolution. Because reptiles, birds and mammals diverged so long ago, with a common ancestor that lived 280 million years ago, the emerging data suggest that certain sophisticated mental skills may be more ancient than had been assumed — or so adaptive that they evolved multiple times. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18942 - Posted: 11.19.2013

by Bob Holmes When it comes to evolution, there is no such thing as perfection. Even in the simple, unchanging environment of a laboratory flask, bacteria never stop making small tweaks to improve their fitness. That's the conclusion of the longest-running evolutionary experiment carried out in a lab. In 1988, Richard Lenski of Michigan State University in East Lansing began growing 12 cultures of the same strain of Escherichia coli bacteria. The bacteria have been growing ever since, in isolation, on a simple nutrient medium – a total of more than 50,000 E. coli generations to date. Every 500 generations, Lenski freezes a sample of each culture, creating an artificial "fossil record". This allows him to resurrect the past and measure evolutionary progress by comparing how well bacteria compete against each other at different points in the evolutionary process. No upper limit After 10,000 generations, Lenski thought that the bacteria might approach an upper limit in fitness beyond which no further improvement was possible. But the full 50,000 generations of data show that isn't the case. When pitted against each other in an equal race, new generations always grew faster than older ones. In other words, fitness never stopped increasing. Their results fit a mathematical pattern known as a power law, in which something can increase forever, but at a steadily diminishing rate. "Even if we extrapolate it to 2.5 billion generations, there's no obvious reason to think there's an upper limit," says Lenski. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 18937 - Posted: 11.16.2013

Ed Yong Humanity's success depends on the ability of humans to copy, and build on, the works of their predecessors. Over time, human society has accumulated technologies, skills and knowledge beyond the scope of any single individual. Now, two teams of scientists have independently shown that the strength of this cumulative culture depends on the size and interconnectedness of social groups. Through laboratory experiments, they showed that complex cultural traditions — from making fishing nets to tying knots — last longer and improve faster at the hands of larger, more sociable groups. This helps to explain why some groups, such as Tasmanian aboriginals, lost many valuable skills and technologies as their populations shrank. “For producing fancy tools and complexity, it’s better to be social than smart,” says psychologist Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, the lead author of one of the two studies, published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B1. “And things that make us social are going to make us seem smarter.” “There were some theoretical models to explain these phenomena but no one had done experiments,” says evolutionary biologist Maxime Derex of the University of Montpellier, France, who led the other study, published online today in Nature2. Derex’s team asked 366 male students to play a virtual game in which they gained points — and eventually money — by building either an arrowhead or a fishing net. The nets offered greater rewards, but were also harder to make. The students watched video demonstrations of the two tasks in groups of 2, 4, 8 or 16, before attempting the tasks individually. Their arrows and nets were tested in simulations and scored. After each trial, they could see how other group members fared, and watch a step-by-step procedure for any one of the designs. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18926 - Posted: 11.14.2013

Sid Perkins One of the most complete early human skulls yet found suggests that what scientists thought were three hominin species may in fact be one. This controversial claim comes from a comparison between the anatomical features of a 1.8-million-year-old fossil skull with those of four other skulls from the same excavation site at Dmanisi, Georgia. The wide variability in their features suggests that Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus, the species so far identified as existing worldwide in that era, might represent a single species. The research is published in Science today1. The newly described skull — informally known as 'skull 5' — was unearthed in 2005. When combined with a jawbone found five years before and less than 2 metres away, it “is the most complete skull of an adult from this date”, says Marcia Ponce de León, a palaeoanthropologist at the Anthropological Institute and Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, and one of the authors of the study. The volume of skull 5’s braincase is only 546 cubic centimetres, about one-third that of modern humans, she notes. Despite that low volume, the hominin’s face was relatively large and protruded more than the faces of the other four skulls found at the site, which have been attributed to H. erectus. Having five skulls from one site provides an unprecedented opportunity to study variation in what presumably was a single population, says co-author Christoph Zollikofer, a neurobiologist at the same institute as Ponce de León. All of the skulls excavated so far were probably deposited within a 20,000-year time period, he notes. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 18806 - Posted: 10.19.2013

by Denise Chow, LiveScience The discovery of a fossilized brain in the preserved remains of an extinct "mega-clawed" creature has revealed an ancient nervous system that is remarkably similar to that of modern-day spiders and scorpions, according to a new study. The fossilized Alalcomenaeus is a type of arthropod known as a megacheiran (Greek for "large claws") that lived approximately 520 million years ago, during a period known as the Lower Cambrian. The creature was unearthed in the fossil-rich Chengjiang formation in southwest China. VIDEO: Bugs, Arthropods, and Insects! Oh My! Researchers studied the fossilized brain, the earliest known complete nervous system, and found similarities between the extinct creature's nervous system and the nervous systems of several modern arthropods, which suggest they may be ancestrally related. [Photos of Clawed Arthropod & Other Strange Cambrian Creatures] Living arthropods are commonly separated into two major groups: chelicerates, which include spiders, horseshoe crabs and scorpions, and a group that includes insects, crustaceans and millipedes. The new findings shed light on the evolutionary processes that may have given rise to modern arthropods, and also provide clues about where these extinct mega-clawed creatures fit in the tree of life. "We now know that the megacheirans had central nervous systems very similar to today's horseshoe crabs and scorpions," senior author Nicholas Strausfeld, a professor in the department of neuroscience at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said in a statement. "This means the ancestors of spiders and their kin lived side by side with the ancestors of crustaceans in the Lower Cambrian." © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 18804 - Posted: 10.17.2013

by Bob Holmes The great flowering of human evolution over the past 2 million years may have been driven not by the African savannahs, but by the lakes of that continent's Great Rift Valley. This novel idea, published this week, may explain why every major advance in the evolution of early humans, from speciation to the vast increase in brain size, appears to have taken place in eastern Africa. Anthropologists have surmised for several years that early humans, or hominins, might have evolved their unusually large, powerful brains to cope with an increasingly variable climate over the past few million years. However, studies testing this hypothesis have been equivocal, perhaps because most use global or continental-scale measures of climate, such as studying trends in the amount of airborne dust from dry earth that is blown into the ocean and incorporated into deep-sea sediments. Mark Maslin, a palaeoclimatologist at University College London, and his colleague Susanne Shultz at the University of Manchester, UK, have taken a local approach instead, by studying whether the presence or absence of lakes in the Rift Valley affected the hominins living there. Maslin's hunch is that relatively short periods of extreme variability 2.6, 1.8, and 1 million years ago – which are important periods for human evolution – corresponded to times of rapid change in the large lakes of the Great Rift Valley. Because the valley concentrates rainfall from a wide area into relatively small basins, these lakes are unusually sensitive to rainfall and swell or disappear depending on climate. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 18802 - Posted: 10.17.2013

by Erika Engelhaupt Could I interest you in eating the partially digested stomach contents of a porcupine? No? Maybe a spot of reindeer stomach, then. Still no? Well, that’s curious. The Western aversion to these dishes is odd, because people around the world have long partaken of — even delighted in — the delicacy known to medical science as chyme. That’s what becomes of food after it’s chewed, swallowed and mushed around in the stomach for a while with a healthy dose of hydrochloric acid. And, researchers now suggest, Neandertals were no exception. Eating chyme may even explain the presence of some puzzling plant matter found in Neandertal’s tartar-crusted teeth. Neandertals didn’t have great dental care, and in the last few years anthropologists have begun to take advantage of monstrous tartar buildup on fossilized teeth to figure out what the hominids ate. Various chemical signatures, starch grains and even tiny plant fossils called phytoliths get preserved in the tartar, also known as calculus. Just what Neandertals ate has been more of a puzzle than paleo dieters might have you believe. Isotope analyses of fossilized bones and teeth suggest Neandertals ate very high on the food chain, with high-protein diets akin to those of wolves or hyenas. But wear marks on their teeth suggest the Neandertal diet consisted of more animals in colder high-latitude areas, and more of a mix of plants and animals in warmer areas. Tartar analyses support the idea that Neandertals ate their veggies, and have also suggested the presence of plants considered inedible, or at least unpalatable and non-nutritious. These include some plants like yarrow and chamomile with medicinal value, so one team suggested Neandertals self-medicated. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 18776 - Posted: 10.12.2013

By CARL ZIMMER Evolutionary biologists have come to recognize humans as a tremendous evolutionary force. In hospitals, we drive the evolution of resistant bacteria by giving patients antibiotics. In the oceans, we drive the evolution of small-bodied fish by catching the big ones. In a new study, a University of Minnesota biologist, Emilie C. Snell-Rood, offers evidence suggesting we may be driving evolution in a more surprising way. As we alter the places where animals live, we may be fueling the evolution of bigger brains. Dr. Snell-Rood bases her conclusion on a collection of mammal skulls kept at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Snell-Rood picked out 10 species to study, including mice, shrews, bats and gophers. She selected dozens of individual skulls that were collected as far back as a century ago. An undergraduate student named Naomi Wick measured the dimensions of the skulls, making it possible to estimate the size of their brains. Two important results emerged from their research. In two species — the white-footed mouse and the meadow vole — the brains of animals from cities or suburbs were about 6 percent bigger than the brains of animals collected from farms or other rural areas. Dr. Snell-Rood concludes that when these species moved to cities and towns, their brains became significantly bigger. Dr. Snell-Rood and Ms. Wick also found that in rural parts of Minnesota, two species of shrews and two species of bats experienced an increase in brain size as well. Dr. Snell-Rood proposes that the brains of all six species have gotten bigger because humans have radically changed Minnesota. Where there were once pristine forests and prairies, there are now cities and farms. In this disrupted environment, animals that were better at learning new things were more likely to survive and have offspring. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 18555 - Posted: 08.24.2013

By Jessica Shugart Sometimes it pays to be mediocre. A new study shows that sheep with a 50/50 blend of genes for small and big horns pass along more of their genes over a lifetime than their purely big-horned brethren, who mate more often. The finding offers rare insight into an enduring evolutionary paradox—why some traits persist despite creating a reproductive disadvantage. The results, published online August 21 in Nature, reveal that while big-horned sheep mated most successfully each season, small-horned sheep survived longer. Rams who inherited one of each type of gene from their parents got the best of both worlds: they lived longer than bigger-horned sheep and mated more successfully than those with the smallest horns. As a result, middle-of-the-road sheep passed on more of their genes over time. “They’re the fittest of them all,” says Jon Slate of the University of Sheffield in Scotland, who led the study. “This is a marvelous combination of using the most modern tools available to confirm classic older views of sexual selection,” says evolutionary geneticist Allen Moore of the University of Georgia in Athens, who was not involved in the study. Traits such as bold peacock feathers and giant antlers evolved to garner the attention of prospective females and boost reproductive success. Yet if each generation of females continues to pick the most stellar males, Charles Darwin wondered, how do sub-par versions of a trait continue to persist? “It’s something that has preoccupied evolutionary biologists ever since,” Slate says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 18550 - Posted: 08.22.2013

By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC News Several ancient dinosaurs evolved the brainpower needed for flight long before they could take to the skies, scientists say. Non-avian dinosaurs were found to have "bird brains", larger than that of Archaeopteryx, a 150 million-year-old bird-like dinosaur. Once regarded as a unique transition between dinosaurs and birds, scientists say Archaeopteryx has now lost its pivotal place. The study is published in Nature. A recent discovery in China which unveiled the earliest creature yet discovered on the evolutionary line to birds, also placed Archaeopteryx in less of a transitional evolutionary place. Bird brains tend to be more enlarged compared to their body size than reptiles, vital for providing the vision and coordination needed for flight. Scientists using high-resolution CT scans have now found that these "hyper-inflated" brains were present in many ancient dinosaurs, and had the neurological hardwiring needed to take to the skies. This included several bird-like oviraptorosaurs and the troodontids Zanabazar junior, which had larger brains relative to body size than that of Archaeopteryx. This latest work adds to previous studies which found the presence of feathers and wishbones on ancient dinosaurs. BBC © 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18439 - Posted: 08.01.2013

Andrew Curry In the 1970s, archaeologist Peter Bogucki was excavating a Stone Age site in the fertile plains of central Poland when he came across an assortment of odd artefacts. The people who had lived there around 7,000 years ago were among central Europe's first farmers, and they had left behind fragments of pottery dotted with tiny holes. It looked as though the coarse red clay had been baked while pierced with pieces of straw. Looking back through the archaeological literature, Bogucki found other examples of ancient perforated pottery. “They were so unusual — people would almost always include them in publications,” says Bogucki, now at Princeton University in New Jersey. He had seen something similar at a friend's house that was used for straining cheese, so he speculated that the pottery might be connected with cheese-making. But he had no way to test his idea. The mystery potsherds sat in storage until 2011, when Mélanie Roffet-Salque pulled them out and analysed fatty residues preserved in the clay. Roffet-Salque, a geochemist at the University of Bristol, UK, found signatures of abundant milk fats — evidence that the early farmers had used the pottery as sieves to separate fatty milk solids from liquid whey. That makes the Polish relics the oldest known evidence of cheese-making in the world1. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18438 - Posted: 08.01.2013

John Hawks Humans are known for sporting big brains. On average, the size of primates' brains is nearly double what is expected for mammals of the same body size. Across nearly seven million years, the human brain has tripled in size, with most of this growth occurring in the past two million years. Determining brain changes over time is tricky. We have no ancient brains to weigh on a scale. We can, however, measure the inside of ancient skulls, and a few rare fossils have preserved natural casts of the interior of skulls. Both approaches to looking at early skulls give us evidence about the volumes of ancient brains and some details about the relative sizes of major cerebral areas. For the first two thirds of our history, the size of our ancestors' brains was within the range of those of other apes living today. The species of the famous Lucy fossil, Australopithecus afarensis, had skulls with internal volumes of between 400 and 550 milliliters, whereas chimpanzee skulls hold around 400 ml and gorillas between 500 and 700 ml. During this time, Australopithecine brains started to show subtle changes in structure and shape as compared with apes. For instance, the neocortex had begun to expand, reorganizing its functions away from visual processing toward other regions of the brain. The final third of our evolution saw nearly all the action in brain size. Homo habilis, the first of our genus Homo who appeared 1.9 million years ago, saw a modest hop in brain size, including an expansion of a language-connected part of the frontal lobe called Broca's area. The first fossil skulls of Homo erectus, 1.8 million years ago, had brains averaging a bit larger than 600 ml. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 18418 - Posted: 07.29.2013

By Cristy Gelling Lemur species that live in large groups can tell when to steal food from a competitor in a lab experiment, researchers report June 26 in PLOS ONE. The finding supports the idea that brainpower in primates evolved to fit their complex social lives. Because the sneakier lemurs don't have bigger brains than less sneaky ones living in smaller groups, researchers suggest that social smarts don’t always depend on brain size. Much of the evidence for sociality’s role in the evolution of intelligence comes from indirect measures such as brain size, says study coauthor Evan MacLean of Duke University. But brain size does not always correspond to brainpower, so MacLean uses behavioral tests. He and his colleagues tested the social intelligence of six species of lemur, primates from Madagascar distantly related to monkeys and apes. Each of the species lives in social groups ranging from families of just three, mongoose lemurs’ preferred posse, to gangs of about 16, a typical size for a group of ring-tailed lemurs. The researchers trained lemurs to view humans as competitors for food, then presented the animals with a choice between pilfering treats from one of two people: one facing the animals or another with his or her back turned. Species that live in small groups reached for the food under a competitor’s nose as often as they did behind people’s backs. But the ring-tailed lemurs were much more likely to choose the unguarded food. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18324 - Posted: 06.29.2013

Sid Perkins Sporting feats such as baseball's 100-mile-per-hour fastball are made possible by a suite of anatomical features that appeared in our hominin ancestors about 2 million years ago, a video study of college athletes suggests. And this ability to throw projectiles may have been crucial for human hunting, which in turn may have had a vital role in our evolution. “Throwing projectiles probably enabled our ancestors to effectively and safely kill big game,” says Neil Roach, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington DC, who led the work. Eating more calorie-rich meat and fat would have helped early hominins' brains and bodies to grow, enabling our ancestors to expand into new regions of the world, he suggests. The study is published today in Nature1. Although some primates occasionally throw objects, and with a fair degree of accuracy, only humans can routinely hurl projectiles with both speed and accuracy, says Roach. Adult male chimpanzees can throw objects at speeds of around 30 kilometres per hour, but even a 12-year-old human can pitch a baseball three times faster than that, he notes. In fact, the quickest motion that the human body produces — rotation of the humerus, the long bone in the upper arm, at a rate that is briefly equivalent to 25 full rotations in a single second — occurs while a person is throwing a projectile. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18323 - Posted: 06.29.2013

By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC News The social brain theory - that animals in large social groups have bigger brains - has now been supported by a computer model. For animals in smaller social groups, the cost of having a large brain outweighs the benefits. Scientists used a simulation modelling technique to confirm that large social groups are only possible through sophisticated communication. The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The human brain is a very costly organ which consumes a lot of energy. Animals that live in small social groups could therefore be at a disadvantage if they had large brains taking up processing power that could better be used elsewhere. A team at Oxford University has now looked at the cognitive demands of making social decisions using a method called agent-based modelling, which models simplified representations of reality. As expected, they found that more complex social decisions take up more 'brain' power. The cognitive complexity of language evolved as social groups became larger and more complex, said lead author of the study Tamas David-Barrett from the University of Oxford. He explained that a group of five is an ideal number to coordinate an event such as a hunt, but as the group size increases, the coordination involved would become increasingly complex. BBC © 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18312 - Posted: 06.26.2013

Sid Perkins The near-complete fossil of a tiny creature unearthed in China in 2002 has bolstered the idea that the anthropoid group of primates — whose modern-day members include monkeys, apes and humans — had appeared by at least 55 million years ago. The fossil primate does not belong to that lineage, however: it is thought to be the earliest-discovered ancestor of small tree-dwelling primates called tarsiers, showing that even at this early time, the tarsier and anthropoid groups had split apart. The slender-limbed, long-tailed primate, described today in Nature1, was about the size of today’s pygmy mouse lemur and would have weighed between 20 and 30 grams, the researchers estimate. The mammal sports an odd blend of features, with its skull, teeth and limb bones having proportions resembling those of tarsiers, but its heel and foot bones more like anthropoids. “This mosaic of features hasn’t been seen before in any living or fossil primate,” says study author Christopher Beard, a palaeontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By analysing almost 1,200 morphological aspects of the fossil and comparing them to those of 156 other extant and extinct mammals, the team put the ancient primate near the base of the tarsier family tree. The creature is dubbed Archicebus achilles, in which the genus name Archicebus roughly translates as 'original long-tailed monkey', while the species name achilles is a wry nod to the primate's anthropoid-like heel bone. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 18240 - Posted: 06.06.2013

By Rachel Ehrenberg The salad days of human evolution saw a dietary shift toward grasses and probably grass-fed animals, analyses of more than 100 fossilized teeth from eight species of ancient hominids indicate. “These changes in diet have been predicted,” says paleoanthropologist Richard Klein of Stanford University. “But it’s very nice to have some data, and these data support it very strongly.” Changes in the size and shape of jaws and teeth in both ancient hominids and their ape relatives point to changes in diet. The new study adds to these lines of anatomical evidence chemical analyses that look at different forms of carbon in the fossilized teeth. The ratio of two types of carbon in tooth enamel reflects diet, says geochemist Thure Cerling of the University of Utah, who spent weeks in a vault in the National Museum of Kenya collecting milligram-sized samples of tooth enamel for the analyses. Grasses, grasslike sedges and many other plants in hot, arid environments have evolved a trick that helps prevent water loss. The metabolic adjustment results in taking up more of a heavier form of carbon, known as carbon-13, than most trees and shrubs do. The tooth studies, which cover more than 3 million years and include specimens from southern, eastern and central Africa, found greater quantities of this heavier carbon in hominids that are closer to humans on the evolutionary tree. This pattern suggests that, compared with humans’ more ancient relatives, recent ones were eating more grass or more grass-feeding animals, like zebras. The analyses appear June 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 18224 - Posted: 06.04.2013

by Michael Balter From the human perspective, few events in evolution were more momentous than the split among primates that led to apes (large, tailless primates such as today's gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans) and Old World monkeys (which today include baboons and macaques). DNA studies of living primates have estimated that the rift took place between 25 million and 30 million years ago, but the earliest known fossils of both groups date no earlier than 20 million years ago. Now, a team working in Tanzania has found teeth and partial jaws from what it thinks are 25-million-year-old ancestors of both groups. If the interpretations hold up, the finds would reconcile the molecular and fossil evidence and possibly provide insights into what led to the split in the first place. Researchers have long been frustrated by a paucity of fossils from this key period in evolution, which sits at the borderline between two major geological epochs: the Miocene (about 23 million to 5 million years ago) and the Oligocene (about 34 million to 23 million years ago). The earliest known fossils of early apes and Old World monkeys date from the early Miocene and have been found in just a handful of sites in Kenya, Uganda, and North Africa. Meanwhile, molecular studies of existing primates consistently suggest that these two groups arose during the Oligocene, leading scientists to wonder whether the molecular dates are wrong or if paleontologists have been looking in the wrong places. For more than a decade, researchers from the United States and Tanzania have been combing Tanzania's Rukwa Rift Basin, searching for fossils of all kinds. During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, a team led by Nancy Stevens, a vertebrate paleontologist at Ohio University in Athens, discovered fossils that it identified as belonging to two previously unknown species of primates: one, an apparent ape ancestor the team has named Rukwapithecus fleaglei; the other, a claimed Old World monkey ancestor dubbed Nsungwepithecus gunnelli. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 18163 - Posted: 05.16.2013

By Bruce Bower Human ancestors living in East Africa 2 million years ago weren’t a steak-and-potatoes crowd. But they had a serious hankering for gazelle meat and antelope brains, fossils discovered in Kenya indicate. Three sets of butchered animal bones unearthed at Kenya’s Kanjera South site provide the earliest evidence of both long-term hunting and targeted scavenging by a member of the human evolutionary family, anthropologist Joseph Ferraro of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and his colleagues conclude. An early member of the Homo genus, perhaps Homo erectus, hunted small animals and scavenged predators’ leftovers of larger creatures, researchers report April 25 in PLOS ONE. Along with hunting relatively small game such as gazelles, these hominids scavenged the heads of antelope and wildebeests, apparently to add a side of fatty, nutrient-rich brain tissue to their diets, the scientists say. Those dietary pursuits could have provided the extra energy Homo erectus needed to support large bodies, expanded brains and extensive travel across the landscape, Ferraro says. A few East African sites dating to as early as 3.4 million years ago had previously produced small numbers of animal bones bearing butchery marks made by stone tools. Scientists think those bones indicate occasional meat eating (SN: 9/11/10, p. 8). Now Kanjera South has yielded several thousand complete and partial animal bones, representing at least 81 individual animals. A known reversal of Earth’s magnetic field preserved in an excavated soil layer allowed Ferraro’s team to determine the age of the finds, which accumulated over a few thousand years at most. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 18113 - Posted: 05.04.2013

By Kate Wong Odds are you carry DNA from a Neandertal, Denisovan or some other archaic human. Just a few years ago such a statement would have been virtually unthinkable. For decades evidence from genetics seemed to support the theory that anatomically modern humans arose as a new species in a single locale in Africa and subsequently spread out from there, replacing archaic humans throughout the Old World without mating with them. But in recent years geneticists have determined that, contrary to that conventional view, anatomically modern Homo sapiens did in fact interbreed with archaic humans, and that their DNA persists in people today. In the May issue of Scientific American, Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona in Tucson examines the latest genetic findings and explores the possibility that DNA from these extinct relatives helped H. sapiens become the wildly successful species it is today. As Scientific American’s anthropology editor, I have an enduring interest in the rise of H. sapiens; and as longtime readers of this blog may know, I’m fascinated (you might even say obsessed) with Neandertals. So naturally I’ve been keen to find out how much, if any, Neandertal DNA I have in my own genome. Several consumer genetic testing companies now test for Neandertal genetic markers as part of their broader ancestry analysis, and after 23andMe lowered the price of their kit to $99 in December, I decided to take the plunge. As it happens, National Geographic’s Genographic Project had recently updated their own genetic test to look for Neandertal DNA, and they sent me a kit (retail price: $299) for editorial review, much as publishers do with new books. And so it was on a chilly Saturday in late January that I found myself spitting into a test tube for 23andMe and swabbing my cheek for the Genographic Project. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18057 - Posted: 04.23.2013