Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Think about Gorillas this Holiday Season

Christina Ellis posted this statement on her Virunga Mountain Gorilla page:
"For those of you who have never seen mountain gorillas in person, it an experience which changes your life.
Here are some photos to plant the seed of your own commitment to protecting the mountain gorillas. Knowledge leads to compassion which leads to ACTION."

To read more about her experiences in the Virungas, her work with the Jane Goodall Institute and the WWF on Great Ape protection and to donate to Mountain Gorilla protection please visit to her site. If you have a facebook account, then join her event "Think about GORILLAS"

Happy Holidays

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit

Image from The Coffee House
Article From the New York

When considering the behavior of putative scam operators like Bernard “Ponzi scheme” Madoff or Rod “Potty Mouth” Blagojevich, feel free to express a sense of outrage, indignation, disgust, despair, amusement, schadenfreude. But surprise? Don’t make me laugh.

Sure, Mr. Madoff may have bilked his clients of $50 billion, and Governor Blagojevich, of Illinois, stands accused of seeking personal gain through the illicit sale of public property — a United States Senate seat. Yet while the scale of their maneuvers may have been exceptional, their apparent willingness to lie, cheat, bluff and deceive most emphatically was not.

Deceitful behavior has a long and storied history in the evolution of social life, and the more sophisticated the animal, it seems, the more commonplace the con games, the more cunning their contours.

In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size. The larger the average volume of a primate species’ neocortex — the newest, “highest” region of the brain — the greater the chance that the monkey or ape would pull a stunt like this one described in The New Scientist: a young baboon being chased by an enraged mother intent on punishment suddenly stopped in midpursuit, stood up and began scanning the horizon intently, an act that conveniently distracted the entire baboon troop into preparing for nonexistent intruders.

Much evidence suggests that we humans, with our densely corrugated neocortex, lie to one another chronically and with aplomb. Investigating what they called “lying in day-to-day life,” Bella DePaulo, now a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her colleagues asked 77 college students and 70 people from the community to keep anonymous diaries for a week and to note the hows and whys of every lie they told.

Tallying the results, the researchers found that the college students told an average of two lies a day, community members one a day, and that most of the lies fell into the minor fib category. “I told him I missed him and thought about him every day when I really don’t think about him at all,” wrote one participant. “Said I sent the check this morning,” wrote another.

In a follow-up study, the researchers asked participants to describe the worst lies they’d ever told, and then out came confessions of adultery, of defrauding an employer, of lying on a witness stand to protect an employer. When asked how they felt about their lies, many described being haunted with guilt, but others confessed that once they realized they’d gotten away with a whopper, why, they did it again, and again.

In truth, it’s all too easy to lie. In more than 100 studies, researchers have asked participants questions like, Is the person on the videotape lying or telling the truth? Subjects guess correctly about 54 percent of the time, which is barely better than they’d do by flipping a coin. Our lie blindness suggests to some researchers a human desire to be deceived, a preference for the stylishly accoutred fable over the naked truth.

“There’s a counterintuitive motivation not to detect lies, or we would have become much better at it,” said Angela Crossman, an assistant professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But you may not really want to know that the dinner you just cooked stinks, or even that your spouse is cheating on you.”

The natural world is rife with humbug and fish tales, of things not being what they seem. Harmless viceroy butterflies mimic toxic monarch butterflies, parent birds draw predators away from the nest by feigning a broken wing, angler fish lure prey with appendages that wiggle like worms.

Biologists distinguish between such cases of innate or automatic deception, however, and so-called tactical deception, the use of a normal behavior in a novel situation, with the express purpose of misleading an observer. Tactical deception requires considerable behavioral suppleness, which is why it’s most often observed in the brainiest animals.

Great apes, for example, make great fakers. Frans B. M. de Waal, a professor at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory University, said chimpanzees or orangutans in captivity sometimes tried to lure human strangers over to their enclosure by holding out a piece of straw while putting on their friendliest face.

“People think, Oh, he likes me, and they approach,” Dr. de Waal said. “And before you know it, the ape has grabbed their ankle and is closing in for the bite. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

Apes wouldn’t try this on their own kind. “They know each other too well to get away with it,” Dr. de Waal said. “Holding out a straw with a sweet face is such a cheap trick, only a naïve human would fall for it.”

Apes do try to deceive one another. Chimpanzees grin when they’re nervous, and when rival adult males approach each other, they sometimes take a moment to turn away and close their grins with their hands. Similarly, should a young male be courting a female and spot the alpha male nearby, the subordinate chimpanzee will instantly try to cloak his amorous intentions by dropping his hands over his erection.

Rhesus monkeys are also artful dodgers. “There’s a long set of studies showing that the monkeys are very good at stealing from us,” said Laurie R. Santos, an associate professor of psychology at Yale University.

Reporting recently in Animal Behavior, Dr. Santos and her colleagues also showed that, after watching food being placed in two different boxes, one with merrily jingling bells on the lid and the other with bells from which the clappers had been removed, rhesus monkeys preferentially stole from the box with the silenced bells. “We’ve been hard-pressed to come up with an explanation that’s not mentalistic,” Dr. Santos said. “The monkeys have to make a generalization — I can hear these things, so they, the humans, can, too.”

One safe generalization seems to be that humans are real suckers. After dolphin trainers at the Institute for Marine Mammals Studies in Mississippi had taught the dolphins to clean the pools of trash by rewarding the mammals with a fish for every haul they brought in, one female dolphin figured out how to hide trash under a rock at the bottom of the pool and bring it up to the trainers one small piece at a time.

We’re desperate to believe that what our loved ones say is true. And now we find otherwise. Oh, Flipper, et tu?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Friends of the Abidjan Zoo

You may have read about Gregoire, Africa's oldest known chimpanzee today. Gregoire, who was 66 years old, lived in solitary confinement in a barren cage at the Brazzaville Zoo for more than 40 years in the Republic of Congo's capital city. In 1997 he was airlifted to Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary where he lived until his passing on Dec 17th, 2008 . For more on Gregoire click here.

Because of this story I would like to direct you to a great organization "Friends of the Abidjan Zoo/Amis du Zoo d'Abidjan" whose mission is: to transform Abidjan Zoo from a place where the animals are starving, depressed and living in prison-like conditions, into an enriched and stimulating environment where the animals are well-fed and content.
Please visit Friends of the Abidjan Zoo today and if you feel moved, donate to a really great cause this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shameless Self Promotion

Our newest paper "Two-step multiplex polymerase chain reaction improves the speed and accuracy of genotyping using DNA from noninvasive and museum samples" in molecular ecology resources is now online! yay - so go forth and improve your PCRs !!!

Click here for paper
Many studies in molecular ecology rely upon the genotyping of large numbers of low-quantity DNA extracts derived from noninvasive or museum specimens. To overcome low amplification success rates and avoid genotyping errors such as allelic dropout and false alleles, multiple polymerase chain reaction (PCR) replicates for each sample are typically used. Recently, two-step multiplex procedures have been introduced which drastically increase the success rate and efficiency of genotyping. However, controversy still exists concerning the amount of replication needed for suitable control of error. Here we describe the use of a two-step multiplex PCR procedure that allows rapid genotyping using at least 19 different microsatellite loci. We applied this approach to quantified amounts of noninvasive DNAs from western chimpanzee, western gorilla, mountain gorilla and black and white colobus faecal samples, as well as to DNA from ~100-year-old gorilla teeth from museums. Analysis of over 45 000 PCRs revealed average success rates of > 90% using faecal DNAs and 74% using museum specimen DNAs. Average allelic dropout rates were substantially reduced compared to those obtained using conventional singleplex PCR protocols, and reliable genotyping using low (< href="">M. ARANDJELOVIC, K. GUSCHANSKI, G. SCHUBERT, T. R. HARRIS, O. THALMANN, H. SIEDEL and L. VIGILANT (2009)Two-step multiplex polymerase chain reaction improves the speed and accuracy of genotyping using DNA from noninvasive and museum samples

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bonobos Hunt Monkeys

Picture - Caroline Deimel

I totally forgot to post on this when Martin Surbeck and Gottfried Hohmann's paper came out in Current Biology on the discovery that bonobos hunt other primates (Primate hunting by bonobos at LuiKotale, Salonga National Park)...

...BUT today a great op-ed piece came out in the International Herald Tribune by Marlene Zuk
entitled "Nice females also hunt" which puts their paper in an interesting contemporary context.

(Published: December 4, 2008)

What is it about sex and hunting? The recent discovery that among bonobos - those small chimpanzee relatives previously known for their active sex lives and female-dominated societies - females as well as males hunt prey, has taken the pundits aback.

According to at least some conventional primatology wisdom, the leaner, meaner chimpanzees evolved male bonding and thus an aggressive and hierarchical society through the thrill of the chase, while bonobos groomed, hugged or performed other acts not suitable for description in a family newspaper.

Some anthropologists and psychologists take this further, tracing human aggression and male violence to an early history of hunting. Locating a living animal, stalking it and killing it are thought to represent aggressive acts, and because in the hunter-gatherer society, men are supposed to have done much of the hunting, the reasoning goes that natural selection for good hunters gave us, willy-nilly, hostile men.

We humans have certainly made hunting into a masculine avocation, and we like to point to male animals as bolstering that macho stereotype. Even when women hunt, like the moose-chasing Sarah Palin, we emphasize the aftermath, not the killing. Every news item about the vice-presidential hopeful talked not about her ability to bring down that moose, but to "field dress" it. We're more comfortable when women prepare food instead of shooting it in the head. But that's our gender stereotype, not a reflection of anything inherent in the act of bringing down prey.

But hunting is a more widespread - and less glamorous - profession than it is sometimes made out to be. And it has less to do with aggression than you might think.

It's true that competition among males for access to fertile females is common among animals from butterflies to baboons, and the wrangling can be vicious. But the link between being aggressive and predatory is tenuous. We usually think of predators as animals like wolves or eagles subduing large, usually warm-blooded, prey, but why dismiss insectivores like, say, warblers or hedgehogs, from their ranks?

Some biologists refer to any food item as "prey" and talk about animals like seed-eating kangaroo rats as seed predators. Even if that is going a bit too far, why is a hawk swooping down on a rabbit seen as more aggressive than a songbird snapping its bill against the hard shell of a beetle? Hunting is getting food, not waging war.

To be sure, group hunting such as that seen in the chimpanzees and now the bonobos as well as many human societies does involve elaborate behavioral rituals. And in some cultures, hunting, because it requires bravery when the prey is itself dangerous, is used as a test of manhood. But this does not mean that predation itself is aggressive in any form.

Even if predation were aggressive, the fact remains that in virtually all animals that eat live food, males and females both hunt. In lions, of course, females even do most of the hunting; male violence is directed toward the rival males and their offspring. The role of male hunting in human evolution is the subject of hot debate among anthropologists. But except for a few kinds of animals, males do not go out and bring home the bacon (or the caterpillars) while the females stay home with the kittens, pups or chicks. Both sexes share the foraging duties. Any tendencies toward aggressive behavior that evolved out of hunting food would have to occur in both sexes.

It is undeniable that aggression, violence, dominance and war are all "gendered" in our society; that is, they all have connotations with maleness and femaleness. And I am not suggesting that human aggression is just as common in women as it is in men. But the idea that hunting somehow signals a tendency toward violence should be as much of a surprise to us as it would be to the bonobo.

Marlene Zuk is the author of "Riddled With Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

DNApes one of the top 100 Anthro blogs! has a list of the top 100 Anthropology blogs (categorized by field) and the DNApes blog is on it! Woohoo!

from the article by Christina Laun:

It doesn’t matter if you’re studying capuchins in South America or the social interactions in American college bars, there is a blogger out there who shares your interests. University students, academics, professors and those who just love anthropology have helped to create a great assortment of online discourse about the field. We’ve compiled a list of 100 that are definitely worth a read.

check out the full list here!