Ornaments, Not Just for Christmas

When the average person hears the word ornament they think of Christams. The lights, smell of pine trees, with big red and silver globes hung from the branches, but ornaments aren’t just for the holidays. Organisms can possess ornate physical traits that are used for sexual selection. The males organisms of various species don’t have the advantage of having a mistletoe to kiss under, so they use ornamental traits and features to attract mates.

Ornamental features were defined by Darwin as dramatized traits used for the competitive behavior among mate acquisition. These traits often cause a cost to the physical resources of the organism and have no survival benefit. Females are thought of as passive, choosy, and coy while males get the reputation of being competitive and sexually indiscriminate. This theory of the contrast in sexual behaviors, although over simplified, gives a good representation of why male organisms possess these traits to attract females. However, females posses these ornamental traits as well for a whole different reason.

Unlike their male counterparts, females who display ornamental traits will utilize these traits for competing with other females when in comes to ecological resources instead of mate competition. These resources include those for reproductive fitness and materials needed to rear their young. The use of ornamental traits also has an impact on the social structure between females. In this aspect it is hard to differentiate which traits in females or males are due to social selection rather than more widely known and accepted sexual selection.

Meaning and Emotion, Vocalization in the Animal Kingdom

There are five signal modalities that organisms use for communication including; visual, chemical, electrosensory, mechinosensory, and auditory. Using these signal modalities animals interact both intra- and inter-specifically to send prompts to other organisms that alter that individuals behavioral patterns. Animal vocalization is a signaling mechanism that every human has experiences. Think about being at the zoo and hearing chimpanzees with their high pitched wails or a lions roar. The physcial processes involved with vocalization is well known, but recently biologists have started to study what other conditions may efffect this form of communication. Scientists beleive that auditory or vocal communication may be driven by emotional and physiological states.

In a case study, conducted by Francesco Mazzini of the Department of Evolutionary and Functional Biology in Parma, Italy, researchers investigated the impact of social and physiological factors of wolf vocal communication. The functions of vocalization have been widely studied, but the mechanims had not been closely examined until this 2013 study on wolves. Mazzini and his colleagues beleived vocalization would be piloted by changes in the social-ecological environment and the animal’s understanding of its social world.

Results showed that animals may be capable of communicating with the same species in a flexible manner when using vocalization. Instead of the howls of individuals being produced due to stress hormones the study demonstrated that the signaler controled the flexibility of its vocalization for gathering other individuals in the pac. The production of vocalization is not necessarily a simple emotional response to environmental changes, but can also be used in a benefital way socially.




Development Effecting Grouse Habitat Selection

The human induced modification of shrub-steppe grasslands to farmland for forming crops in Washington has resulted in a negative inhabitance response from two native grouse species; Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and Columbian sharpe-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus). The decline in grouse inhabitance is not only isolated to Washington, but there has been a 56% decline in North America and parts of Canada.

The disruption of grouse habitat selection is staggering because the various subspecies of grouse populations have actually been known to have no problem living in close proximate to humans. When the botanical make up of forests are kept in a juvenile state grouse populations thrive. In the spring grouse feed on leaves, fruits, and insects. Once winter arrives their main food source is flower buds. If plant life in the forests are left to mature the protective and food resources of grouse species dwindle. Small scale clear-cut logging and fires tend to be benefitial to grouse populations. The grouse would rather live in these constantly disturbed areas, than remote wilderness forests that are allowed to hit maturity.

The act of small scale clear-cutting is of no concern to these populations. What is concerning is the developmental practices being perpetuated in the United States when it comes to agricultural growth. Since certian sub-species of grouse are not protected under the Endangered Species Act it was easy for mining, energy, and farmining companies to continue development into the west. Consequently, the shrub-steppe communites have become among the most critically endangered ecosystem in North America.

The social behavior of grouse usually keep them in solitary conditions. The males express behavior that is aggressively territorial. Greater sage-grouse and Columbian sharpe-tailed grouse naturally inhabit both non-overlapping and overlaping geographic areas, but because of human development the two species overlap in less than 10% of the ranges they formally inhabit. Although weather trends may be attributed to the “cycle” of abundance between the species studies are showing that human development of agricultural land is having a devastating effect on these populations.  That is why it is important that research continues to study the life-histories of different species to effectively conserve these communities.

Since research is demonstrating the decline of grouse populations state and government agencies in the United States, such as the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM), have made efforts to restore and produce habitats for the reintroduction of grouse. The BLM has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Services to conteract this development and support wildlife, ranching, and other traditional land use while conservine sagebrush habitats.

Behavioral Plasticity; Differences Among Neighbors

The subject of phenotypic plasticity is a relatively untouched area of biological study. The subject is comprised of a great deal of variables when it come to evolution that make defining the heritability of plasticity difficult. Phenotypic plasticity is the ability for a genotype to produce several phenotypes when the organism is subjected to different environmental factors. One subcategory of phenotypic plasticity involves genes expressing behavioral traits.

Behavioral traits are attributed to a combination of the organisms genes and its environment. Plasticity of a behavioral trait reveals different reaction norms, or a pattern of phenotypic expression, for the organism when exposed to different environmental stimuli. The environment causes either an up or down regulation of behavioral response as cues from the environment change. Individuals in a population can differ in the degree and directionality in which their behavior presents from the same stimuli. Even neighboring organisms of the same species may differ in both aspects. This phenomenon is able to occur because, just as genes can mutate and evolve, so can plasticity. The variation in degree and directionality is also due to the fact plasticiy evolves independenly from the gene which expresses the trait it effects.



Humpbacks to the Rescue

Scientists are baffled by a recent phenomenon occuring in the oceans around the world, particularly in North Pacific Oceans. Humpback whales have been observed working in pairs to save various prey of orca whales including, sea lions, harbor seals, and grey whales. Is this an altruisitic behavior or is something deeper happening? Could the humpbacks have complex emotional processes such as what is seen in primates causing them to act with sentimental instinct? Then we must also consider the fact that humpback calves themselves are prey to the orca whale, and the Humpacks’ are acting under some internal instinctual parental behavior.

The number of recorded incidents of humpback whale interference with orca predation was recorded in a recent article by Robert L. Pitman published in July 2016. There was a documented 115 interactions between orcas and humpbacks collected between 1951-2012 . Overall in the 115 interactions 95% of them were with killer whales (orcas) attacking mammalian species. Of the mammalian species orcas attacked 95% of the cases were also prey to the humpback whales. Humpback could be exhibiting scavenging behavior, similar to interactions between hyennas and lions.The humpback’s could simply be trying to “catch a meal”, but the theory of altruism was introduced due to a radical behavior logged in the report of Pitman’s study.

In some instances, the study described a humpback whale putting a sea lion on its belly and using its flipper to keep them on their body until the pair reach a new icebarge for the sea lion to escape. Why would the whale bring them to safety if they wanted to catch a meal? The prey is now safetly on land away from their origional orca predator. Investigation of this interaction indicates that prey could not reciprocate any form of fitness to the humpback whales. So, this may be altruism or the whales must be gaining some kind of benefit from disrupting the foraging of orcas from another source.

The humpback whales could be displaying these actions in the evolution of parental care. Orca’s have been known to attack humpback whale calves for feeding upon. If the humpbacks prevent orcas from eating they could become weak and unable to attack their young. It could also cause the orcas to change feeding grounds, so the likelihood of an attack on a infant would decrease. The downfall to this theory of parental care is that orca whales only prey on humpback calves 11 percent of the time, and raises the question if that is sufficient reason to expose oneself to the costs of fighting an orca herd.

The complexity of animal behavior produces numerous hypothesis to why the humpback whales are displaying this response to orca attacks. Research is presently being conducted to explore the reasoning behind this behavior. Until further research is published the questions remains; is this altruism, parental care, territorialism, emotionally based, or a combination of these processes?


Understanding the Effects Human Interactions with the Environment have on the Development of Animal Behavior


Understanding the Effects Human Interactions with the Environment

have on the Development of Animal Behavior


  1. Background and Significance


The importance of the natural environment as it relates to humans range from social interactions to economic resources. The environment is used for our food supply, energy and industrial products, medicine, and a source for recreation (Kousen, 2000). The process of creating an ecosystem to sustain a quality of life for human beings has caused the natural environment to change. The effects of human interactions with the environment have been studied for year to analyze the positive and negative impacts our actions are having on the earth and all organisms that reside. As the development of nations continue, so do changes to local habitats and natural processes.

In relation to animal behavior, these changes to the environment are effecting the way animals develop. Development of behaviors are dependent on genetic information and environmental influences (Alcock, 2013). These are the proximate cause of behavior, and consist of overlapping developmental and physiological aspects. Genetic information interacts with internal and external environments. The genes respond to signals from the environments. In some instances, genes can be turned off or on by the appropriate signal coming from the environment (Alcock, 2013). That is why the same species in different environments can have the same genes, but exhibit different behaviors. The connection also explains why species with different genes are more adaptive to changes in the environment.

The effects of these different expressions of genes can cause individuals to have a lower fitness level. A modern example of this gene differentiation would be bees. In October 2016, a native species of yellow-faced bees in Hawaii were added to the endangered species list. The bees are now protected under United States Federal law. The species has been threatened by nonnative bees, as well as human development (Wang, 2016.) This is only one example of how human development has had an impact on wildlife species.

A deeper understanding of this information for the general public needs to be introduced in a format that is easy for any common person to understand. When all of the information provided by scientific journals are presented in an easy to read forum the awareness of our effect on the environment can improve. The British Council explains that when presenting a complex topic to an audience you must break information down into manageable parts, use imagery or music, and general terms (Grossman, 2015). The movement that can form due to information being provided in a web based resource could reach millions. The importance of knowing how we are effect animals can lead to how we treat the environment and could save species.



  1. Objectives

The main objective of this web-based project is construct a webpage designed to inform individuals about the impact humans are having on the development of animal behavior via our interactions with the environment. The investigation will examine how environmental changes, such as; climate change, forestry, synthetic chemical usage, and radiation, have caused an alteration in behavior development. The assessment also sets out to analyze if there are certain genes that will improve the adaptiveness of behaviors with environment change.


  • Methods

    Website Construction

The website will be constructed using an online website builder. The informative content will be sectioned into different pages on the website by topic. Individual tabs will be determined and added to the site as more information is compiled. The webpage will contain a variety of content including articles, videos, and cartoons. Articles on specific topics will be created using data collected from primary source papers. Videos will be created using an Iphone and its free movie making software. The videos will create a visual representation of some of the topics being described. Cartoons will be created by hand and uploaded to the site. These comical inserts will help draw interest to the topic while also being informative.


  1. References

Alcock, J. (2013). Animal behavior: An evolutionary approach. Sunderland, Mass, Sinauer Associates.

Breed, M. & Sanchez, L. (2010) Both Environment and Genetic Makeup Influence Behavior. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):68

Kousen, J. (2000, Oct 3). Human Impact on the Natural Environment. Retrieved from https://www.hobart.k12.in.us/jkousen/Biology/impact.html

Grossman, E. (2015, May 4). How to Present Complex Ideas Clearly. Retrieved from https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-explain-complex-ideas-clearly


Wang, A. (2016, Oct 3). Bees were just Added to the U.S. Endangered-Species List for the First Time. Retreived from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/10/03/u-s-bees-were-just-added-to-the-endangered-species-list-for-the-first-time/


  1. Resource Required

Primary Source Journals
Internet Access
Yearly Subscription for Domain Name ($7.00)




Movie Making Software


Honey Come Home

Navigation is a behavior necessary for species to travel from various daily activities to their homes. The diversity in the mechanisms and implementations of navigation techniques depend on the ecology, sensors, and actuators of the species. The regulation of genes plays an important role in navigation behavior of honey bees. In October 2016, seven species of honey bees native to Hawaii were added to the United States Federal list of endangered species. There are various reasons for their decline including habitat destruction and the introduction of nonnative plants species and predators, but the most interesting reason lies in a phenomenon called the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

CCD occurs when the majority of worker bees disappear and leave behind a queen. While the cause of this disorder is unknown there are various stressors that have shown to have an effect on the worker bees’ homing behavior. Pesticides have been shown to cause uncharacteristic honeybee behaviors. Thiamethoxam, a seed treatment insecticide, damages the bees’ homing abilities. The bees are unable to navigate back to their hive, and the loss of these workers within a colony lead to devastation in the eusocial structure of the hive.

Bees have molecular mechanism that are the underlying cause for behavioral plasticity in navigation. Activity of a regulatory gene in the mushroom body increases in response to unfamiliar or changed environments. The disruption in the regulation of this gene is what hinders the individuals ability to pilot themselves home.

As part of the Earth, humans must take action to reverse and prevent furth devistations cause by our chemical usage if we want to maintain any hope on reviving these now endangered species. A number of different methods have been theorized for the restoration and reduction of the effect chemicals are having on honey bees including spraying pesticides at night, using different compounds or less toxic/rapidly degradeable formulas, and building apiaries (a place for bees to be kept) with proper help from beekeepers. The next step is putting these theories into action.

Topic in Social Behavior; Lone Wolf or One of the Herd

All individuals rely upon the same resources, such as; food, shelter and finding a mate. So, why do some decide to live in groups while others prefer to live their lives in solitude? The costs and benefits of each method would make either a viable option for an individual depending on their specific needs.

Solitary individuals are very territorial. They have to be in control of their domain in order to have enough resources to survive. If resources are abundant an individuals will only need to protect a small patch of land. However, if resources are scarce the individual will need to control a larger territory. Animals will “mark” their territory to warn others that the land is already claimed. Aggression can also be witness in organisms in defense of their territory. Robins in early spring will attack other robins who invade their territory. Individuals in the species will usually only come together for mating purposes. This is because otherwise they would be in constant competition for food and space. The energy put into protecting ones territory seems very costly, but if they are able to acheive this they reap the full benefits of all resources.

On the other hand species who live in social groups share their resources. Individuals can either be found in large or small colonies/groups. In this kind of social aspect the group can work together to to build their nest or collect food. They have the added benefit of being able to better defend each other against predators. The disadvantage to this is that now they have to compete with eachother in the social group for division of the reasources, such as food and mates. When picking a social group it all comes down to what advantages and disadvantages can you live with.

Moisture Preferences in Isopods

The Preference of Isopods to Non-Saturated, Partially Saturated,
and Fully Saturated Moisture Levels in Sand

Methods and Materials

Habitat Establishment

An artificial habitat was established in a 10.5” x 5.5” clear Tupperware container containing large granule beach sand. The substrate was sectioned into 3.5” x 5.5” areas using plastic dividers between sectors. The plastic dividers touched the bottom of the container to approximately ¼” under the substrate surface. This method of using plastic dividers was used to prevent transfer of water across the three regions.

Experimental Design

The three sectioned areas were each treated with different levels of increasing saturation. The first section did not have any water added to the substrate, the second section was partially saturated with 150 mL of water, and the last section was fully saturated with 300 mL of water.

Figure 1 The habitat set up and three treatments are shown. From left to right saturation levels; 0 mL, 150 mL, 300 mL, of water.

A total of six individuals were observed over 60 second time intervals. All individuals were initially placed in the middle area with the 150 mL saturated substrate. A acclimation period of 30 seconds was provided for the isopods to have a chance to move around before data was recorded.

Collection of Data

The six individuals were separated into two observation groups. One individual in each group was assigned to an observer to record movement data. The observer recorded how much time each individual spend on each substrate over the 60 second interval. The data set for all individuals were compiled and used in a statistical analysis to determine moisture preference. 

Statistical Analysis

The behavioral response of the isopods’ preference to moisture was tested using the non-parametric Kruskal-Wallis statistical test. The time spend on different substrates by individuals were ranked. To test the hypothesis that isopods prefer moist environments the longest time spend on a substrate was ranked as number one and decreased as time on substrate decreased. The calculated h-value from the test was compared to find significance level.


Observed data from each individual was arranged and ranked as shown in Table 1. The isopods overall spent more time on the substrate saturated with 300 mL of water. The R-values calculated for the Kraskul-Wallis test demonstrates the findings that isopods spent more time on the 300 mL saturated substrate. The R-values were calculated in a way that the higher the rank, the more time, in seconds, the isopods spent on the substrate. A high rank meant that the isopod spent the most time on that level of saturation. Table 1 shows that the R value of the substrate saturated with 300 mL had the highest ranking. This supports the hypothesis that isopods prefer moist environments.

Substrate Saturation Levels and Ranks
0 mL Rank 150 mL Rank 300 mL Rank

Seconds Individual Spent on Substrate

42 3 8 12.5 10 11
20 8 8 12.5 32 5
4 14 2 15 54 2
0 17 26 6.5 34 4
0 17 0 17 60 1
17 9.5 17 9.5 26 6.5
R1 = 68.5 R2 = 73 R3 = 29.5

Table 1 The ranking of time for individuals are established on the basis that the longer an individual is on a substrate the higher they are rank. The data points for each individual’s time on a different level of saturated substrate is listed with their ranks. The R- value relates to the ranking of time spend on one saturation level by the six individuals. The lower the value of R the longer the individuals stayed on that saturation level.

The substrate saturated with 0 mL and 150 mL of water were more closely ranked. However, the substrate with no water was ranked higher than the partially saturated substrate. A H-test was used to calculate the level of significance for these findings. The calculated h-value was 6.75. This value was compared to non-parametric ANOVA for samples with 6 individuals. The calculated value supported that the data was significant (p=0.05, when h>5.801, our h=6.75). These results show that there is a significant difference from the null hypothesis and there is a preference in isopods to different moisture levels.


Sept. 14th; Sensory Exploitation & Statistics Lab

In this lesson we start to analyze animal communication. Communication can take place between the same species (conspecific) or different species (heterospecific). Communication systems will continue as long as signalers and receivers gain fitness benefits from the interaction. There ware a variety of modalities for communication including; visual, chemical, auditory, electrosensory, and mechenical sensory. A resulting modification of communication is sensory exploitation.

Sensory Exploitation

In sensory exploitation, one individual sends a signal that activates a preexisting sensory emchanism already present in the reciever. An example of this can be seen in male cichlid fish. The males (signaler) possess large orange spots on its anal fin. The female (receiver) has evolved to brood her eggs in her mouth. Since the large orange spots on the males anal fins look the same as her eggs she will get close to his anal fin to pick up what she perceives to be her eggs. At this moment the male cichlid will release sperm into the females mouth hoping to fertilize the eggs she has already picked up.

This trait does not reduce the fitness of the female. Infact, by the fetilization of her eggs her genes are able to be passed on. This can explain why nature has selected for this trait. It has a benefit to the male and the female cichlid.

Another ‘colorful’ example of this sensory exploitation is the Orchid mantis. The ornate colors of the mantis attracts insects to him. The insects link color to nectar-filled flowers, hence their attraction to the Orchid Mantis.

Harmless Threat Displays

The majority of species will put on a harmless threat display. This saves the individual energy and minimizes the risk of injury from fighting. The barking gecko is a darling example of this sensory communication behavior.

Statistics Lab

Nonparametric Statistics

Female Hyena Have a Psuedopenis

1. Explain the extra androgen hypothesis and evidence that support or refute it.

The extra androgen hypothesis states that the Psuedopenis is cause by developing females with high levels of testosterone. The clitorus and penis are made from the same embryonic tissue. The reason that it is either a penis or a clitorus depends on the androgens the tissue is exposed to. However, studies have shown that pregnant females giving a androgen receptor antagonist had little effect on the daughters Psuedopenis.  

2. Give some alternate explanations for how the Psuedopenis may not be adaptive.

When hyenas greet each other they inspect anogenital regions. Hyena females are more dominant than males. During a greeting of two females, if one female has a Psuedopenis she may not be perceived as dominant. Hyenas with a Psuedopenis also produce high androgen levels that increases her size and aggression. This makes her an alpha, and alphas cubs get more food. 

3. How could sensory exploitation play a role in the adaptive origin of the Psuedopenis?

Sensory exploitation plays a role in the adaptive origins because of the social greetings that hyenas already possess.

4. What is one possible adaptive value of this structure that doesn’t support sensory exploitation?

One possible adaptive value of this structure that doesn’t support sensory exploitation is the increase of testosterone that makes these females more aggressive. This behavior enables them to increase their fitness, but makes are seen as weaker. When greetings occur they are perceived as the weaker sex.