What's the buzz...

What's the buzz...

Small monkeys more likely to win fights 

Some monkey groups have greater chances of winning territorial disputes against larger groups as some members of the bigger side tend to stay away from aggressive encounters, a new study has revealed.

In their research, Margaret Crofoot and Ian Gilby of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology showed that individual monkeys that do not participate in conflicts prevent large groups from achieving their competitive potential.

The authors used recorded vocalisations to simulate territorial invasions into the ranges of wild white-faced capuchin monkey groups at the Smithsonian reasearch station on Barro Colorado Island in Panama.

Monkeys responded more vigorously to territorial challenges near the centre of their territories and were more likely to flee in encounters near the borders.

Defection by members of larger groups was more common than defection by members of smaller groups.

Groups that outnumbered their opponents could convert their numerical superiority to a competitive advantage when defending the centre of their own range against neighbouring intruders, but failed to do so when they attempted to invade the ranges of their neighbours, because more individuals in large groups chose not to participate.

According to the authors, these behaviour patterns even the balance of power among groups and create a ‘home-field advantage’, which may explain how large and small groups are able to coexist.

Fish became amphibians in wooded areas, not deserts

 In a new study, scientists have found the evidence that the transition between fish and amphibians occurred in the humid, wooded floodplains.

According to Gregory J. Retallack from the University of Oregon, his discoveries at numerous sites in Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania suggests, “such a plucky hypothetical ancestor of ours probably could not have survived the overwhelming odds of perishing in a trek to another shrinking pond.”

This scenario comes from the late Devonian, about 390 million years ago to roughly 360 million years ago. Paleontologist Alfred Romer, who died in 1973 after serving on the faculties at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, saw this time as a period of struggle and escape, and important in fish-tetrapod transition, to ensure survival.

In the new study, Retallack argues for a very different explanation. He examined numerous buried soils in rocks yielding footprints and bones of early transitional fossils between fish and amphibians of Devonian and Carboniferous geological age. What he found raises a major challenge to Romer’s theory.

“These transitional fossils were not associated with drying ponds or deserts, but consistently were found with humid woodland soils,” Retallack said.

“Remains of drying ponds and desert soils also are known and are littered with fossil fish, but none of our distant ancestors. Judging from where their fossils were found, transitional forms between fish and amphibians lived in wooded floodplains. Our distant ancestors were not so much foolhardy, as opportunistic, taking advantage of floodplains and lakes choked with roots and logs for the first time in geological history,” he said.

He said that the limbs proved handy for negotiating woody obstacles, and flexible necks allowed for feeding in shallow water. By this new woodland hypothesis, the limbs and necks, which distinguish salamanders from fish, did not arise from reckless adventure in deserts, but rather were nurtured by a newly evolved habitat of humid, wooded floodplains.

Spending more time at school may boost IQ

An increase in the number of years spent in school may boost intelligence, a study of Norwegian men has revealed.The research suggested that an extra year in the classroom could increase IQ by nearly four points.

But they do not know if this applies to all children, or just those in the study. Researchers from Statistics Norway, which publishes official government data, and the University of Oslo took advantage of a natural experiment in the Norwegian education system and its effect on 107,223 pupils.

Between 1955 and 1972 regional governments in Norway increased compulsory schooling from seven to nine years. It meant pupils left school at 16 instead of 14.

The effect of this forced increase in schooling was measured at the age of 19, when the military gave all men eligible for drafting an IQ test.

“An unusually large increase in both average education and average IQ is apparent at the same time as the reform was introduced,” BBC quoted the researchers as saying.

However, determining whether spending more time in school actually improves IQ is more difficult, as it is possible that children with a naturally higher IQ are those who choose to spend more time in the education system.

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