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By Karen Weintraub Sometimes a whale just wants to change its tune. That’s one of the things researchers have learned recently by eavesdropping on whales in several parts of the world and listening for changes in their pattern and pitch. Together, the new studies suggest that whales are not just whistling in the water, but constantly evolving a form of communication that we are only beginning to understand. Most whales and dolphins vocalize, but dolphins and toothed whales mostly make clicking and whistling sounds. Humpbacks, and possibly bowheads, sing complex songs with repeated patterns, said Michael Noad, an associate professor in the Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory at the University of Queensland in Australia. Birds may broadcast their social hierarchy among song-sharing populations by allowing the dominant bird to pick the playlist and patterns. But how and why whales pass song fragments across hundreds of miles, and to thousands of animals, is far more mysterious. The biggest question is why whales sing at all. “The thing that always gets me out of bed in the morning is the function of the song,” Dr. Noad said. “I find humpback song fascinating from the point of view of how it’s evolved.” The leading hypothesis is that male humpbacks — only the males sing — are trying to attract females. But they may also switch tunes when another male is nearby, apparently to assess a rival’s size and fitness, said Dr. Noad, who was the senior author of one of four new papers on whale songs. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25850 - Posted: 01.09.2019

Katie Brown When polite people talk, they take turns speaking and adjust the timing of their responses on the fly. So do wild macaques, a team of Japanese ethologists reports. Analysis of 20-minute vocal exchanges involving 15 adult female Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) revealed that the monkeys altered their conversational pauses depending on how quickly others answered, the researchers report in a study in an upcoming issue of Current Zoology. It’s unclear whether the monkeys were actually talking in any way analogous to how humans converse. While macaques have the vocal equipment to form humanlike words, their brains are unable to transform that vocal potential into human talk (SN Online: 12/19/16). The primates instead communicate in grunts, coos and other similar sounds. But the length of pauses between those grunts and coos closely match the length of pauses in human chats, says coauthor Noriko Katsu of the University of Tokyo. The researchers analyzed 64 vocal exchanges, called bouts, between at least two monkeys that were recorded between April and October 2012 at the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan. The team found that the median length of time between the end of one monkey’s calls and the beginning of another’s was 250 milliseconds — similar to the average 200 milliseconds in conversational pause time between humans. That makes the macaques’ gaps between turns in chattering one of the shortest call-and-response pauses yet measured in nonhuman primates. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25829 - Posted: 01.01.2019

By Elizabeth Pennisi Anyone who has tried to whisper sweet nothings into their lover’s ear while standing on a noisy street corner can understand the plight of the túngara frog. A tiny amphibian about the size of a U.S. quarter, the male Physalaemus pustulosus has had to make its call more complex to woo mates when they move from the forest to the city. Now, researchers have found that female túngara frogs from both the country and the city prefer these mouthy city slickers. Biologists have long studied túngara frog courtship, demonstrating that visual signals and calls by themselves are unattractive to females but together are a winning combination, and that a female’s decision to mate depends on the context. Now, researchers have recorded the calls of male frogs living in cities, small towns, and forests across Panama. As they played the calls back, they counted the females, frog-eating bats, and frog-biting insects lured in by each call. Then they transplanted forest-dwelling frogs to the city and city dwellers to the forest to see how females there reacted to their calls. Finally, in the lab, they tested female preference for each call. Males living in cities and towns called more frequently and had more complex calls—with louder “chucks” interspersed in the whine—than forest frogs, the team reports today in Nature Ecology & Evolution. When they were moved into the country, they simplified their calls; but when their country cousins were brought to the big city, they couldn’t make the switch, and kept singing simply. When the researchers played back the calls to females, the females preferred more complex calls, even if the female herself was from the country, they reported. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25769 - Posted: 12.11.2018

By Virginia Morell Like any fad, the songs of humpback whales don’t stick around for long. Every few years, males swap their chorus of squeaks and groans for a brand new one. Now, scientists have figured out how these “cultural revolutions” take place. All male humpbacks in a population sing the same song, and they appear to learn new ones somewhat like people do. Males in the eastern Australian population of humpbacks, for example, pick up a new song every few years from the western Australian population at shared feeding grounds or while migrating. Over the next few years, the songs spread to all South Pacific populations. To understand how the whales learn the novel ballads, scientists analyzed eastern Australian whale songs over 13 consecutive years. Using spectrograms of 412 song cycles from 95 singers, the scientists scored each tune’s complexity for the number of sounds and themes, and studied the subtle variations individual males can add to stand out. Complexity increased as the songs evolved (as heard in the video below), the team reports today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. But after a song revolution, the ballads became shorter with fewer sounds and themes. The revolutionary songs may be less complex than the old ones because the whales can only learn a certain amount of new material at a time, the scientists conclude. That could mean that although humpback whales are still the crooners of the sea, their learning skills are a bit limited. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Scienc

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25705 - Posted: 11.21.2018

By Elizabeth Pennisi The melodious call of many birds comes from a mysterious organ buried deep within their chests: a one-of-a-kind voice box called a syrinx. Now, scientists have concluded that this voice box evolved only once, and that it represents a rare example of a true evolutionary novelty. “It’s something that comes out of nothing,” says Denis Dubuole, a geneticist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland who was not involved with the work. “There is nothing that looks like a syrinx in any related animal groups in vertebrates. This is very bizarre.” Reptiles, amphibians, and mammals all have a larynx, a voice box at the top of the throat that protects the airways. Folds of tissue there—the vocal cords—can also vibrate to enable humans to talk, pigs to grunt, and lions to roar. Birds have larynxes, too. But the organ they use to sing their tunes is lower down—where the windpipe splits to go into the two lungs. The syrinx, named in 1872 after a Greek nymph who was transformed into panpipes, has a similar structure: Both are tubes supported by cartilage with folds of tissue. The oldest known syrinx belongs to a bird fossil some 67 million years old; that’s about the same time all modern bird groups became established. To figure out where the bizarre organ came from, Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas in Austin, who made the syrinx discovery in 2013, assembled a team of developmental biologists, evolutionary biologists, and other researchers. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25535 - Posted: 10.06.2018

Shawna Williams Deciphering the communications of electric fish in their native streams is not for the faint of heart. “Once in a while, there is a thunderstorm ten kilometers away, then at some point the water level of those streams rises by one meter in one hour or so,” says Jan Benda, a computational neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany. “Then we are in big trouble with our equipment.” Even in the absence of extreme weather, given the normal heat and humidity levels at his team’s research sites in Panama and Columbia, “things break and then you sit there in the field and try to solder a wire back to something late at night,” he says, laughing. “You’re dreaming about your nice lab where everything is so easy.” To reach the study site with their equipment, researchers traveled by boat, and then on foot. Benda was driven from his comfortable lab a few years ago by a gaping hole in the body of scientific knowledge: weakly electric fish, which use electricity to communicate but not to stun prey, are popular subjects for neuroscientists who want to know how vertebrate brains process sensory information, but few if any researchers had ever eavesdropped on the animals zap-chatting in nature. Gaining this type of insight into the behavior of a species studied for decades in the lab is “a massively important undertaking,” says Malcolm MacIver, a neuroscientist and engineer researching animal behavior at Northwestern University in Illinois. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 25401 - Posted: 08.31.2018

Noise from oil and gas pumps can be a real mood-killer for a male sparrow trying to attract a mate, but a team of biologists in southern Alberta has discovered that songbirds are finding ways to cope. Their research involves high fidelity speakers, powerful microphones and many early morning hours spent on a patch of prairie near the small city of Brooks. They blast recordings of various types of oil and gas pumps through the speakers and then track and record the birds' response. The acoustic experiments are producing intriguing results. One songbird species, the Savannah sparrow, appears to be adapting its love songs with a high degree of complexity. "They're doing whatever they can to make the sound go further," said Nicola Koper, a conservation biologist from the University of Manitoba's Natural Resources Institute who is involved in the research. After all, the birds have flown all the way up from the southern U.S. on important business: to breed and raise their young. Fastest declining avian group in Canada The mixed grass prairies in southern Alberta serve as a bug buffet and a nursery for grassland birds, but their territory has shrunk. "We've converted so much of our grassland habitat to cropland, that grassland birds are declining more rapidly than birds of any other ecosystem across North America, including in Canada," said Koper. ©2018 CBC/Radio-Canada

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25233 - Posted: 07.21.2018

by Lindsey Bever Koko, a beloved gorilla who learned to communicate with humans and then stole their hearts, has died. The Gorilla Foundation said the 46-year-old celebrity ape — a western lowland gorilla — died in her sleep earlier this week at the organization’s preserve in Northern California. The Gorilla Foundation, a nonprofit that works to study and protect great apes, said in a statement that Koko will be most remembered “as the primary ambassador for her endangered species.” “Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” the statement said. “She was beloved and will be deeply missed.” The gorilla was born at the San Francisco Zoo on Independence Day in 1971, according to the Gorilla Foundation, and named Hanabi-ko, which means “fireworks child” in Japanese, though she was mainly known by her nickname, Koko. It was in San Francisco where the newborn gorilla met a budding psychologist, Francine “Penny” Patterson. By the next year, Patterson had started teaching the animal an adapted version of American Sign Language, which she dubbed “Gorilla Sign Language,” or GSL. Video footage from that time shows Patterson playing games with the young gorilla and trying to teach her a new way to communicate. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 25124 - Posted: 06.22.2018

By Victoria Davis Some people can trace their traditions back decades; the swamp sparrow has passed its songs down for more than 1500 years. The findings, published today in Nature Communications, suggest humans are not alone in keeping practices alive for long periods of time. To conduct the study, researchers recorded a collection of songs from 615 adult male swamp sparrows from six densely populated areas across the northeastern United States. They dissected each bird’s song repertoire, identifying only 160 different syllable types within all the recorded sample. Most swamp swallows sang the same tunes, using the same common syllables, but there were a few rare types in each population, just as there are variations in human oral histories over time. Using a statistical method of calculation called approximate Bayesian computation and models that measure the diversity of syllable types present in each population, the scientists were able to calculate how the songs of each male would have changed over time. They also found that all but two of the most common syllables used during their sampling in 2009 were also the most common during an earlier study of the species when recordings were made in the 1970s. Overall, the analysis indicated that the average age of the oldest tune dated back about 1537 years. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 25112 - Posted: 06.21.2018

By JoAnna Klein You’d think that narwhals couldn’t be more enchanting. These elusive, ice-dodging, deep-diving whales have 10-foot snaggletoothed tusks, and they see with sound. But then there’s the narwhal of east Greenland. It’s kind of the narwhal of narwhals. “Because they’re so hard to access, we honestly hardly knew anything,” said Susanna Blackwell, who studies the effects of human sounds on marine mammals for Greenridge Sciences. “It’s an animal that’s been hidden from civilization for an awful long time.” Their genes are only slightly different than their western cousins. And since glaciers separated them some 10,000 years ago, this smaller population of about 6,000 narwhals, has lived relatively free from human contact amid sharp cliffs and mile-wide glaciers that break into huge, bobbing icebergs. But as the ocean warms, ice caps melt and summers get longer in the Arctic, the once inaccessible habitat of east Greenland narwhals is opening up to scientists — as well as cruise ships and prospectors interested in minerals or offshore drilling. And because toothed whales like narwhals use sounds to orient themselves, Dr. Blackwell worries this potential activity will disturb the narwhal’s acoustic way of life. So she and a team attached acoustic sensors to narwhals to monitor their behavior while human sounds are still scarce. What they found, published Wednesday in a paper in the journal PLOS One, will be used as a baseline behavior for an upcoming study to test how narwhals respond to air gun blasts similar to the ones used by oil surveyors, and may help protect them in the future. Narwhals live only in the Arctic, where it’s dark much of the time, diving thousands of feet to hunt, where it’s dark all of the time. Scientists knew they used acoustics to echolocate and communicate from studies done on narwhals in west Greenland or Canada, but they didn’t know much about the sounds of individual narwhals, especially the east Greenland population. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 25090 - Posted: 06.14.2018

By Matt Warren Not getting eaten is at the top of the to-do list for most members of the animal kingdom. Now, a new study suggests several species of dolphins can tell when they’re in danger of becoming a killer whale’s dinner—simply by eavesdropping on their calls. Risso’s dolphins and short-finned pilot whales are frequently devoured when they live alongside mammal-eating orcas. To find out whether the dolphins can work out when they are in danger, researchers played recordings of killer whale calls underwater to 10 pilot whales off the coast of North Carolina and four Risso’s dolphins swimming near Southern California. The animals didn’t respond to many of the killer whale sounds, but a subset of the calls provoked a strong reaction in both species: Risso’s dolphins rapidly fled, ending up more than 10 kilometers away from where the sounds were played. Pilot whales, on the other hand, called to each other and formed a tight group before diving directly toward the sound, the researchers report today in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The calls that provoked the responses all contained multiple irregular features, such as harsh and noisy sounds or two distinct frequencies at once. The researchers hypothesize that these kinds of calls could be used by groups of killer whales to communicate during hunting—a clear sign for any potential prey in the area to take action. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 25082 - Posted: 06.13.2018

Helen Thompson In the pitch-black waters beneath the Arctic ice, bowhead whales get funky. A small population of endangered bowheads belt an unusually varied repertoire of songs, which grows more diverse during mating season. Hunted to near extinction in the 1600s, these fire truck–sized mammals now number in the 300s in the frigid waters around the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. Underwater audio recorders captured the whales singing 184 acoustically distinct songs from October to April in 2010 through 2014. On the bowhead charts, a song's popularity is fleeting. Most recorded songs were heard for less than 100 hours total, although one song registered over 730 hours total. Some songs appeared in more than one month, but none repeated annually. December and January, likely the height of breeding season, saw a wider array of new bowhead songs than other months, researchers report in the April Biology Letters. Hearing a more distinct mixtape may play a role in enticing a female to mate. A hot cetacean band The Spitzbergen bowhead whale songbook contains a wide variety of tunes, and some stick around on the charts longer than others. Here each bubble corresponds to one of the 184 songs recorded by researchers from 2010 to 2014. The size of the bubble corresponds to the number of hours it was sung. Click on any of the dark green bubbles to hear that whale’s song. Groups of humpback whales don't change their tunes much in a given year, compared with bowheads. Only a few songbird species boast similar diversity. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 24927 - Posted: 05.01.2018

Jon Hamilton The words "dog" and "fog" sound pretty similar. Yet even a preschooler knows whether you're talking about a puppy or the weather. Now scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., have identified a two-step process that helps our brains learn to first recognize, then categorize new sounds even when the differences are subtle. And it turns out the process is very similar to the way the human brain categorizes visual information, the Georgetown team reports Wednesday in the journal Neuron. "That's very exciting because it suggests there are general principles at work here of how the brain makes sense of the world," says Maximilian Riesenhuber, an author of the study and a professor in Georgetown University School of Medicine's Department of Neuroscience. The finding also could help explain what goes wrong in disorders like dyslexia, which can impair the brain's ability to make sense of what it sees and hears, Riesenhuber says. The research began as an effort to understand how the brain is able to accomplish feats like recognizing a familiar word, even when it's spoken with an accent or unusual pronunciation. "You hear my voice," says Riesenhuber, who has a slight German accent. "You've probably never heard me before. But you can hopefully recognize what I'm saying." © 2018 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 24882 - Posted: 04.19.2018

Agence France-Presse How do bowhead whales in the unbroken darkness of the Arctic’s polar winter keep busy during breeding season? They sing, of course. From late autumn to early spring, off the east coast of Greenland, some 200 bowheads, hunted to the edge of extinction, serenade each other with compositions from a vast repertoire of song, according to a study published on Wednesday. “It was astonishing,” said the lead author, Kate Stafford, an oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Seattle, who eavesdropped on these subaquatic concerts. “Bowhead whales were singing loudly, from November until April” – non-stop, 24/7 – “and they were singing many, many different songs.” Stafford and three colleagues counted 184 distinct melodies over a three-year period, which may make bowheads one of the most prolific composers in the animal kingdom. “The diversity and inter-annual variability in songs of bowhead whales in this study are rivalled only by a few species of songbirds,” the study found. Unlike mating calls, songs are complex musical phrases that are not genetically hard-wired but must be learned. Only a handful of mammals – some bats and a family of apes called gibbons, for example – vocalise in ways akin to bird song, and when they do it is quite repetitive. The only other whale that produces elaborate songs is the humpback, which has been extensively studied in its breeding grounds near Hawaii and off the coast of Mexico. The humpback’s melody is shared among a given population over a period of a year, and gives way to a new tune each spring. Bowhead whales, it turns out, are far more versatile and would appear to improvise new songs all the time. © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 24819 - Posted: 04.04.2018

By Hiroko Tabuchi If a sparrow sings his heart out on an oil field, but his would-be sweetheart can’t hear him above the oil pumps, what’s a bird to do? In Alberta, Canada, researchers analyzed hundreds of hours of Savannah sparrow love songs and discovered something extraordinary: To be heard above the din, the birds are changing their tune in complex ways that scientists are only starting to understand. “They’re tailoring their songs depending on which part of their message is the most affected,” said Miyako Warrington, a University of Manitoba biologist who led a recent study on how sparrows cope with noise from the oil and gas infrastructure that dots Canada’s landscape. “This seems to show a complex level of adaptation. It’s not just everybody talking louder.” Dr. Warrington is one of a growing number of scholars who study the noise generated by human activity — drills, turbines, roaring jet engines — and how that affects the natural world around us. Mining on the fringes of the Brazilian rain forest, for instance, is disrupting the calls of local black-fronted titi monkeys, a study found last year. Whales and dolphins are known to be particularly vulnerable to the groans of ship engines or offshore drilling, which can disrupt the complex ways they communicate. Research has shown that noise pollution has doubled the background sound levels in more than 60 percent of protected areas in the United States. And humans are not immune to the din. Epidemiologists have linked traffic noise to cardiovascular and other diseases. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 24758 - Posted: 03.15.2018

by Ben Guarino Only male birds sing. For years that was the assumption among amateur birdwatchers and ornithologists alike. After all, male birds are “the obvious ones,” says Lauryn Benedict, a biologist at the University of Northern Colorado. “They're out there showing off, strutting their stuff.” But Benedict and fellow birdsong expert Karan Odom, a biologist at Cornell University, want you to look closer if you hear a chirp or warble. Female birds are not, on the whole, silent. In a call-to-ears published Wednesday in the journal the Auk, the two scientists say that “birders and researchers need to be aware that female birds regularly sing, and they need to take the time to evaluate the sex of singing birds.” The tipping point for Odom came in 2014, when she concluded that birdsong is an ancestral trait shared by both sexes. Female birds sang in 71 percent of 323 species surveyed, she and her colleagues reported then in a Nature Communications paper. They traced this behavior through the bird family tree, winding back the generations to a common singing ancestor. At that point in history, they wrote, both male and female birds sang. Benedict, who was not involved with that work, described it like this: Instead of males evolving to be loud, “females have evolved to be quiet.” © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 24757 - Posted: 03.15.2018

By Virginia Morell Want to say “Hello,” but don’t know the local language? Try waving your hand. Such gestures, common among humans, are also surprisingly similar among chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest great ape relatives. Now, a new study has identified numerous gestures that mean the same thing to both species. That suggests these signals have biological underpinnings and could be inherited from our last common ancestor. Gestures, signals often used to get someone’s attention or ask for or stop something, are not technically languages. They don’t have specific linguistic and grammatical rules or accepted vocabularies. But gestures still have meaning: Among chimpanzees, for example, scientists have documented that many of their movements—from mouth stroking to request food or arm raising to request grooming—are used to elicit specific responses from other chimpanzees. Researchers have now found something similar in bonobos, great apes closely related to chimpanzees but with longer legs, pink lips, and long hair that’s parted in the middle on their heads. Scientists started by shooting and analyzing videos of wild bonobos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When a bonobo made a common gesture that brought a consistent, satisfying response from others, it was added to the list. For example, when one bonobo looked at another while loudly scratching one arm, the second often responded by grooming the first. Because the first bonobo was almost always satisfied by this response, the researchers concluded that a “big, loud scratch” is a request for grooming. The scientists next compared the bonobo gestures to those of chimpanzees, and found that their repertoires overlapped by about 90%, significantly more than “would be expected by chance,” says lead author Kirsty Graham, a comparative psychologist at the University of York in the United Kingdom. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 24709 - Posted: 02.28.2018

Barbara J. King When humans talk to each other or walk alongside each other, we tend to match each other's subtle movements. Called interpersonal movement synchrony in the science literature and mirroring in the popular media, it's an often-unconscious process during which we match our gestures and pace to that of our social partner of the moment. Writing in the March issue of the journal Animal Cognition, Charlotte Duranton, Thierry Bedossa, and Florence Gaunet note that this process is "evolutionarily adaptive" for us: "It contributes to communication between individuals by signaling the convergence of their inner states and fostering social cohesion." Then, these three researchers present evidence to show that dogs synchronize their walking pace with their humans in a way that may also reflect an evolutionary adaptation. In an experiment, 36 pet dogs were brought to an open area in Maisons-Laffitte, France, with their owners. After a 15-minute free period, the owner-dog pairs experienced three testing conditions presented in random order. These were: stay-still (owner didn't move for 10 seconds), normal-walk (owners walked at normal speed for 10 seconds), and fast-walk (owner walked fast for 10 seconds). Importantly, the dogs were off-leash and, thus, not tethered in any way to the speed of the owners. The owners were told not to look at, or talk to, their dogs — or to show any evident emotion. The experimenters filmed the trials as they occurred. The dogs synchronized their pace closely with their owners, speeding up when the owners walked at an unnaturally fast pace. (The dogs in their regular routines were used to walking at a normal pace, with the owners often pausing to chat with other people). © 2018 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 24692 - Posted: 02.23.2018

By Karl Gruber A. Fujiwara et al., “First report on the emergency dance of Apis cerana japonica, which induces odorous plant material collection in response to Vespa mandarinia japonica scouting,” Entomol Sci, doi:10.1111/ens.12285, 2017. The Waggle Dance Honeybees are famous for their waggle dances—figure-eight boogies that foragers use to inform nestmates about the locations of food or water. But entomologists were unclear about whether the dances could also be used to help ensure colony safety. Unwelcome Guests Ayumi Fujiwara, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo, and colleagues simulated wasp attacks on hives of the Japanese honeybee (Apis cerana japonica) to test the bees’ response to danger. “Giant wasps attack the nests of honeybees to feed their brood in autumn. As a result, wasps may sometimes annihilate a whole honeybee colony,” she says. Dance Off The researchers found that the bees did use a waggle dance as a warning signal, but only in response to sightings of one wasp species, Vespa mandarinia japonica. “The hive entrance dance informs bees’ nestmates of a specific emergency and of the urgent necessity to collect odorous plant materials as a counterattack strategy,” Fujiwara says. The bees collect stinky plant materials, such as leaves from Nepalese smartweed (Persicaria nepalensis), and smear them at the hive entrance to deter the wasps. Decoding the Moves The information coded in this new waggle dance is not yet completely clear, notes Margaret Couvillon, a biologist and honeybee specialist at Virginia Tech. “What would be interesting to see is if there are any differences in the conveying of directional information in this defensive context versus the regular foraging context,” she says. “Nature tends to be parsimonious in finding solutions, so we might expect that the bees use a similar mechanism in these different situations.” © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 24640 - Posted: 02.10.2018

Susan Milius Ready for sketch comedy she’s not. But a 14-year-old killer whale named Wikie has shown promise in mimicking strange sounds, such as a human “hello” — plus some rude noises. Scientists recorded Wikie at her home in Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, imitating another killer whale’s loud “raspberry” sounds, as well as a trumpeting elephant and humans saying such words as “one, two, three.” The orca’s efforts were overall “recognizable” as attempted copies, comparative psychologist José Zamorano Abramson of Complutense University of Madrid and colleagues report January 31 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Just how close Wikie’s imitations come to the originals depends on whether you’re emphasizing the rhythm or other aspects of sound, Abramson says. Six people judged Wikie’s mimicry ability, and a computer program also rated her skills. She did better at some sounds, like blowing raspberries and saying “hello-hello,” than others, including saying “bye-bye.” Imitating human speech is especially challenging for killer whales. Instead of vocalizing by passing air through their throats, they sound off by forcing air through passageways in the upper parts of their heads. It’s “like speaking with the nose,” Abramson says. The research supports the idea that imitation plays a role in how killer whales develop their elaborate dialects of bleating pulses. Cetaceans are rare among mammals in that, like humans, they learn how to make the sounds their species uses to communicate. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 24596 - Posted: 01.31.2018