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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

Sid Perkins The two-million-year-old remains of a novel hominin discovered in August 2008 are an odd blend of features seen both in early humans and in the australopithecines presumed to have preceded them. A battery of six studies1–6 published today in Science scrutinizes the fossils of Australopithecus sediba from head to heel and yields unprecedented insight into how the creature walked, chewed and moved. Together, the studies suggest that this hominin was close to the family tree of early humans — although it remains controversial whether it was one of our direct ancestors. “We see evolution in action across this skeleton,” says Lee Berger, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. For instance, whereas the creature’s arms are ape-like, its hands and wrists are remarkably like those of humans. And although the hominin’s pelvis is shaped like a modern human's, its torso included a narrow upper rib cage like those found in apes. One of the six studies focused on Au. sediba’s teeth1, comparing 22 different aspects across hundreds of teeth from several other species of australopithecines and thousands of early human teeth. Tooth similarities among the species are more likely to signify common ancestry than independent evolution towards a beneficial design, says Debbie Guatelli-Steinberg, an anthropologist at Ohio State University in Columbus. That's because most of the characteristics the team chose to study, such as the subtle curvature of a portion of the tooth’s surface, are not likely to be evolutionarily useful. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 18027 - Posted: 04.13.2013

by Michael Marshall Neanderthals may have had bigger eyes than modern humans, but while this helped them see better, it may have meant that they did not have brainpower to spare for complex social lives. If true, this may have been a disadvantage when the ice age reduced access to food, as they would not have had the skills to procure help from beyond their normal social group, speculates Robin Dunbar at the University of Oxford. Neanderthals' brains were roughly the same size as modern humans, but may have been organised differently. To find out, a team led by Dunbar studied the skulls of 13 Neanderthals and 32 anatomically modern humans. The Neanderthals had larger eye sockets. There are no Neanderthal brains to examine, but primates with larger eyes tend to have larger visual systems in their brains, suggesting Neanderthals did too. Their large bodies would also have required extra brain power to manage. Together, their larger eyes and bodies would have left them with less grey matter to dedicate to other tasks. Neanderthals may have evolved enhanced visual systems to help them see in the gloom of the northern hemisphere, Dunbar says. "It makes them better at detecting things in grim, grey conditions." As a by-product of larger eyes, they may not have been able to expand their frontal lobes – a brain area vital for social interaction – as much as modern humans. As a result, Dunbar estimates they could only maintain a social group size of around 115 individuals, rather than the 150 that we manage. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 17896 - Posted: 03.13.2013

by Michael Marshall Humans aren't built for giving birth. Babies' heads are big to accommodate their big brains, but the mother's hips are small because they walk upright. As a result, birth takes hours and is extremely painful – and midwives almost always help out. Other animals may find birth difficult, particularly if the babies have been gestating for a long time and have grown large. Nevertheless, most mammals have it easier than humans. Monkeys give birth in less than ten minutes. So it is a surprise that female black snub-nosed monkeys may be assisted by "midwives" when they give birth. This behaviour has only been seen once in this species, but it suggests that it's not just human mothers that need help giving birth. Black snub-nosed monkeys live in societies called bands, which can be over 400 strong. Each is divided into smaller groups of around 10 monkeys. Most groups contain one male and several females plus offspring, but there are also all-male groups. Wen Xiao of Dali University in Yunnan, China, and colleagues have been observing black snub-nosed monkeys in the province for years, but had never seen one give birth: the monkeys normally deliver at night. Then on 18 March last year, they got lucky. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

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: 17781 - Posted: 02.11.2013

By Erin Wayman The story of the Neandertals may need a new ending, a controversial study suggests. Using improved radiocarbon methods, scientists redated two of the youngest known Neandertal cave sites and concluded that they are at least 10,000 years older than previous studies have found. The findings cast doubt on the reliability of radiocarbon dates from other recent Neandertal sites, the researchers suggest online February 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This means the last Neandertals might have died out much earlier than previously thought, which could cause anthropologists to rethink how and why these hominids vanished. Researchers have long debated whether the harsh Ice Age climate, the appearance of modern humans migrating out of Africa, or some other factor drove Neandertals to extinction. “The paper is simply excellent,” says archaeologist Olaf Jöris of the Romano-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz, Germany. The new research supports Jöris’ own review of Neandertal dates, in which he concluded that the most-recent Neandertals probably lived around 42,000 years ago. The standard view suggests that the last of these hominids occupied Europe as recently as about 28,000 years ago. But other archaeologists are not convinced by the new work. “We shouldn’t get too carried away over results that amount to a few radiocarbon dates from two sites,” says Paul Pettitt, an archaeologist at Durham University in England. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:None
Link ID: 17758 - Posted: 02.05.2013

By Christie Wilcox There’s a lot to be said for smarts—at least we humans, with some of the biggest brains in relation to our bodies in the animal kingdom, certainly seem to think so. The size of animal brains is extravagantly well-studied, as scientists have long sought to understand why our ancestors developed such complex and energetically costly neural circuitry. One of the most interesting evolutionary hypotheses about brain size is The Expensive Tissue Hypothesis. Back in the early 1990s, scientists were looking to explain how brain size evolves. Brains are exceedingly useful organs; more brain cells allows for more behavioral flexibility, better control of larger bodies, and, of course, intelligence. But if bigger brains were always better, every animal would have them. Thus, scientists reasoned, there must be a downside. The hypothesis suggests that while brains are great and all, their extreme energetic cost limits their size and tempers their growth. When it comes to humans, for example, though our brains are only 2% of our bodies, they take up a whopping 20% of our energy requirements. And you have to wonder: with all that energy being used by our brains, what body parts have paid the price? The hypothesis suggested our guts took the hit, but that intelligence made for more efficient foraging and hunting, thus overcoming the obstacle. This makes sense, but despite over a century of research on the evolution of brain size, there is still controversy, largely stemming from the fact that evidence for the expensive tissue hypothesis is based entirely on between species comparisons and correlations, with no empirical tests. © 2013 Scientific American

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: 17649 - Posted: 01.05.2013

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Anyone whose resolve to exercise in 2013 is a bit shaky might want to consider an emerging scientific view of human evolution. It suggests that we are clever today in part because a million years ago, we could outrun and outwalk most other mammals over long distances. Our brains were shaped and sharpened by movement, the idea goes, and we continue to require regular physical activity in order for our brains to function optimally. The role of physical endurance in shaping humankind has intrigued anthropologists and gripped the popular imagination for some time. In 2004, the evolutionary biologists Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard and Dennis M. Bramble of the University of Utah published a seminal article in the journal Nature titled “Endurance Running and the Evolution of Homo,” in which they posited that our bipedal ancestors survived by becoming endurance athletes, able to bring down swifter prey through sheer doggedness, jogging and plodding along behind them until the animals dropped. Endurance produced meals, which provided energy for mating, which meant that adept early joggers passed along their genes. In this way, natural selection drove early humans to become even more athletic, Dr. Lieberman and other scientists have written, their bodies developing longer legs, shorter toes, less hair and complicated inner-ear mechanisms to maintain balance and stability during upright ambulation. Movement shaped the human body. But simultaneously, in a development that until recently many scientists viewed as unrelated, humans were becoming smarter. Their brains were increasing rapidly in size. Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 17635 - Posted: 12.27.2012

By Michael Balter “What would you do with a brain if you had one?” Dorothy’s question to the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz elicited one of the movie’s most delightful songs, in which her straw-filled friend assured her that, among other things, he could “think of things I’d never thunk before.” But the Scarecrow seemed to do quite well without one, thus avoiding the high energy costs of fueling and cooling a human brain—which, with an average volume of about 1,400 cubic centimeters, is humongous relative to our body size. How did our brains get so big? Researchers have put forward a number of possible explanations over the years, but the one with the most staying power is an idea known as the social brain hypothesis. Its chief proponent, psychologist Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, has argued for the past two decades that the evolution of the human brain was driven by our increasingly complex social relationships. We required greater neural processing power so that we could keep track of who was doing what to whom. Our expanded brains could have been practical for other things, of course, such as innovations in tool use and food gathering. Most researchers, including Dunbar, agree that these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. Whatever the reasons for the very large human noggin, there is a lot of explaining to do, because big brains have a lot going against them. The oversized Homo sapiens brain let us take over the planet, build cities, send space probes to Mars, and do all the other marvelous things that we humans are so proud of. But none of these things makes us much better at reproducing, and in terms of evolution, that’s really all that matters. © 2012 The Slate Group, LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 17423 - Posted: 10.26.2012