(posted in Evolution)

Behaviours are subject to evolutionary processes just like any other type of trait (e.g. morphological, physiological). So they can be subject to natural selection and, to the extent that variation among individuals in behaviour is determined by genes (see next point), we expect those behaviours will evolve to be more adaptive.

Genes are certainly important in determining behaviours, and are a major source of behavioural variation amongst individuals in a population. However, "control" is perhaps the wrong word since very few (if any) behaviours are determined by genes alone. Just as with most traits we could think of, phenotype (the trait being expressed) depends on genetic and environmental effects (and their interaction). It is also the case that many genes are likely to be involved in the expression of any one behavioural trait. So it is wrong to think of "a gene for killing cubs", rather there are a set of unknown genes (and we don't know how many) that can influence the likelihood of a male lion killing cubs, but environmental factors are almost certainly far more important in this case.

So no, we cannot simply identify the gene for an unwanted behaviour and remove it from a population in some way. We can of course select no genetically variable behavioural traits and, over generations, reduce the incidence of unwanted behavioirs in a population. In effect this is what domestication is - we have selected animals that show docile behaviour as well as high milk yield (cows) or egg size (chickens).

(posted in Fishes (Including Sharks))

Not really. A degree in biology generally is a good grounding for most careers in biologicaly sciences. If your heart is set on aquatic systems then studying relevant taxonomic groups is useful (i.e. algae, fish, invertebrates generally) but broad fields like ecology, are just as important and apply equally to aquatic and terrestrial systems. This is also true for genetics (e.g., I am an evolutionary geneticist but work mostly on fish so I need to know about aquatic habitats).

My advice is to keep your options broad by studying for a general biology degree, but then take the optional courses that interest you the most. We all get better grades when we study things we like and that helps a lot!

(posted in Evolution)

It would be possible to hypothesise some adaptive explanation I'm sure, but your questions is - in my view - rooted in a common misconception that all variation must be adaptive (i.e. increasese fitness). So I would say that humans exhibit variation in sexual preferences  - from practices we might describe as "fetishes" to ones that we think of as "normal" (for want of a better word!).

In humans - just as in other animals - there is a lot of variation in behaviour, some of which comes from environmental effects (e.g. upbringing, culture, nutrition) and some of which stems from genetic effects. Strong selection on a trait removes genetic variation but not environmental variation.

I don't think there has to be any adaptive explanation for fetishes per se, rather I think it more likely that this variation in behaviour is largely non-genetic in origin, and while I'm sure there are some genetic effects  - my hunch (i.e. this is not tested to my knowledge) is that the strength of selection is pretty weak. For instance, imagine a very overly simplistic hypothetical scenario in which a genetic mutation causes the bearer to have a foot fetish (i.e. a single gene, no env effects). Unless this behaviour actually changes the likelihood of death or expected number of offspring then it is selectively neutral and the frequency of the gene in the population (and hence the number of foot fetishists) will simply drift about in the population. By chance the gene may be lost anyway, or in fact it could (by chance) become so common that the whole population become foot fetishists. In neither case does selection play a role since the trait is neutral for fitness.

(posted in Evolution)

Concensus is very much that all mammals have a common ancestor, with an early split of the monotremes which have retained the "primitive" characteristic of being egg laying.

There has some debate about whether the marsupial mammals are really the "sister" taxon to eutherians (like us) or not. My understanding is that the current weight of evidence is that they are, with eutherians and marsupials splitting from a common "Therian" ancestor (with Therians and monotremes having an earlier separation).

(posted in Evolution)

I haven't had a chance to read the original paper in full and I don't think it is open access but,  you should be able to read the summary at least at
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/ … 2.abstract

There is also a short press piece about it here
http://www.sciencealert.com/life-on-ear … e-suggests

At present I don't think anyone is suggesting that this new dating implies an extra-terrestrial source for life. It could perhaps mean that we are wrong about just how inhospitable the planet was at this earlier point, but this is just speculation on my part.

I think this depends a bit on what stings you but, there is some evidence from trials of commercial products that concentrated heat (e.g. temperatures of 50C) applied briefy (a few seconds) to stings from insects can rapidly ease the pain. The idea  - I believe - is that that heat is sufficient to denature proteins in the venom.  Heat definitely works for weaver stings (nasty little fish with venomous spines that stab you in the foot when surfing in Cornwall. Of course cold can probably be helpful too for reducing swelling!

For info there is very little evidence I can find that urine helps weaver, jellyfish or insect stings.

(posted in Evolution)

An article here that may be of interest

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2009 … ee-of-life

(posted in Evolution)

> is the idea of psilocybin is the catalyst for language development based in reality at all?

In my view at least, not really. I do think it is an interesting idea, and the more general point that novel resources (including food) can change phenotypes (including behaviours) that could have important consequences for evolution (including cultural and social evolution) is rooted in solid science.

However, the idea that a particular mushroom was the catalyst for so much change in human evolution is largely speculation. So in scientific terms I would say it should be called the stoned ape "hypothesis". To me it doesn't look like a very plausible hypothesis, but I would also add that it has not really been tested by mainstream science (presumably because others share my view). That said - never say never!

What you are talking about is adaptive sex allocation and I think you have hit the nail on the head here. What is the mechanism? There's a good summary of the field here, but in essence it can sometimes be advantageous (for an individual) to produce offspring at a sex ratio that differes from 50:50.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_alloc … _decisions

Statistically speaking there is evidence that this occurs in the sense that sex ratios can be biased in ways that are adaptive. In some cases one can see that  - mechanistically speaking  - this should not be hard to achieve. For instance in hymenopteran insects the sex of an offspring actually depends on whether the egg was fertilised or not, something that could be under maternal control. So to the extent that a bee is "conscious" then yes it could be a decision in teh sense you mean.

In many vertebrates with chromosomal sex determination it is harder to see how primary sex ratios can be manipulated. For me this raises some question marks over whether it happens at all in birds and mammals although there are some striking sex ratios to explain if it doesn't.  Interestingly, think there is little evidence for it in turtles or crocs that have temperature dependent sex determination (so in priciple a femnale could "choose" to lay a nest in the sun or the shade!).

So, yes it happens, but how is still quite an unknown!

I think that phrasing the question in terms of instinct, discomfort and fear is perhaps misleading. Many organisms without nervous systems show quite complex behaviours and that include directed motile components coupled to sensory systems in the broadest sense. In fact, this is even true of cells not just whole organisms - think of human sperm "sensing" and "swimming" towards an egg. So emotional complexity of the sort your question alludes to is in no way a prerequisite for the evolution of movement towards attarctive stimuli, or indeed away from noxious ones (that could lead to damage/death).

(posted in Genes, Genetics and DNA)

There are a number of studies showing that susceptability to acne is highly heritable. It doesn't quite follow that if you parents had pimples you will necessarily have them, but it is much more likely as genes play an important role (and you obviously inherit genes from your parents).

We are not a medical advice site so I cannot advise on treatments for acne, but this is something your doctor could help with.

I have had limited exposure to the literature on this, but my understanding is that few insects wuold be tolerant to sudden uncontrolled freezing that becomes likely at low temperatures. One strategy for coping with this is to produce nucleating proteins that actually facilitate ice formation, but at a higher temperature and more slowly (which entails less damage). So in evolutionary terms the advantage is not in being frozen, rather it is that if freezing is inevitable, regulating the process results in considerable less damage.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insect_wi … Nucleators

Great question but... for all its appreant simplicity I am not we can answer this without an exhaustive search of the literature. Certainly there are some very well known genes that have high alleleic diversity - for instance those in the MHC complex

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_his … ty_complex

There is strictly no theoretical maximum number of alleles, unless you define it as the number of ways one can select from four possible nucleotides (A, C, T, G) to come up wit a sequence as long as the gene. Of course the vast majority of such sequences would not be functional.

Hi Carrie,

A bit hard to anwer this since - from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist micro- and macro-evolution are the same thing. Creationists often seek to make a distinction but in scientific terms this has no basis in fact. We do however sometimes refer to microevolutionary change (as change we see across generations within a population, or sometimes divergence between populations over short timescales e.g., several generations to several tens or hundreds), and macroevolutionary patterns (the patterns seen among species or higher level groupings). The distinction is not one of process - its all just evolution - but timescale. We can often watch "microevolutionary change" in real time, but we can't -by definition- watch "macroevolution happening" because it's a consequence of long period of microevolution. Not sure if that is clear - hopefully.

Maybe a sports analogy would help (maybe not but heh - I'm excited about the rugby world cup!). People started playing football (soccer) a long time ago, at some point some guy (allegedly) picked up the ball and started running with it (rugby). From there rugby developed its own rules in the UK, eventually splitting into two forms (which kept on developing into rugby league and rugby union). At the same time some rugby players ended up in N America and american football started to develop, although in Canada the rules it develped in slightly different ways etc etc

So is this microevolution of a single sport football? Or do we look at where we are today and say there are X number of different sports (=species) and macroevolution has happened. I think the latter is reasonable, but there is no sudden point of time or development in which we jump from one sport to another (or rather not one everyone will agree on... hence the constant arguing over macroevolution!)

I don't "know" this for certain (if sources vary in their info then we probably need a historian not a biologists) but was taught it was Haeckel that proposed Monera as a taxon. However - according to wiki (perhaps where your info comes from) he proposed it as a phylum rather than a kingdom which (if wiki is correct) may be the source of subsequent confusion. Worth noting that there are well known limitations of these higher leval taxonomic groupings in that - while there are guidelines - there are not hard and fast biological criteria determining what constitutes a genus, family, order, phylum etc. Of course this is also true of the extremes (try searching our site for discussions on what constitutes a species, or at the other end, what actually defines life).

Hi Jasmine,
Sorry nobody seems to have a good answer to this! "Cuddling" is of course a very human interpretation but it is certainly the case that  invertebrates form social aggregations that cannot be explained in terms of, for instance, mating behaviour. I think it is hard (or perhaps just not sensible) to attribute human motives (e.g. having a cuddle makes me feel happy, or less lonely) to organisms with such different neurological systems to ours, but certainly its an interesting observation.

There are other more mundane explanations, for instance aggregating into dense groups can be an anti-predator response in some animals, or individuals that like to be hidden may use each other as shelter in the absence of other options. Or, worh noting that if one corner of an enclosure is in some sense preferable (darker, warmer etc) then all your individuals may pile up there for that reason.

Yes - that is my understanding. Pharmaceutical companies are trying to find a way of packaging insulin in a tablet that overcomes this limitation, but as far as I am aware they have not yet been succesful.

Others may disagree, but I would take the one you think you will enjoy more. More physics and more chemistry are both useful things for any scientists to learn but your ambition to become a paleontologist will depend on getting good grades. In my experience people tend to get better grades in the subjcets they enjoy more!

Interesting. I can't give you a definitive answer as to how the damage occurred. I can say that "exit holes" caused by parasitoids are commonly seen on dead insects. See for instance

http://www.dijitalimaj.com/alamyDetail. … 3915C53FB}

I don't know of a parasitoid species that would emerge from a cockroaches head but there could be one!

I do not know much about systems ecology but i just watched this which is - I think  - useful for background


In general the word "systems" is used in biology to imply a need to look at multiple components or pathways, linking biological processes, and the way that they interact. in my view it is a bit of a buzz word (e.g. some would define ecology as the study of interactions in the first place!), but that doesn't mean taking a step back and thinking of the wider picture is a bad thing!

I'm not sure I fully understand your question but... I think it relates to degree of relatedness. Yes we "share DNA" with all living things, but we share much more with our closer relatives. By characterising the degree of similarity we can reconstruct the branching pattern of relationships among organisms. For extinct taxa a complication is that we can't (usually) quantify genetic similarity directly, but we can look at lots of other features (e.g. aspects of morphology) and estimate relatedness based on these (and the reasonable assumption that similarity increases with true relatedness).

As "sentience" is typically defined (and actually written into EU law relating to animal welfare) I would be very surprised if dinosaurs were not sentient. See e.g.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentience … _sentience

Note however that words like sentient and "intelligent" lack rigorous  biological definition (while being widely used in political, philosophical and metaphysical discussions). Neverthless, in animal cognition and comparative psychology it is quite common to use "intelligence" as a colloquial term for cognitive performance.
So perhaps your question could be better phrased as  what factors might have selected for increased intelligence in dinosaurs and could they have been as "smart" as (modern) birds?

I'm not a dinosaur expert so I'll let someone else try to address this specifically, but if you type "intelligence" into the search box at top right of this page you will find lots of answers relating to question on animal  intelligence and cognition in general.

Hi Zaki,

The claim that mutations can't add new genetic information is one of the more bizarre lines of attack used by creationists to try and discredit science. We try and stay away from this debate here as its is not very productive. However if you are interested in it there are lots of places to find info. You could start here


There was also a New Scientist article (I think 2008) giving a nice "lay" debunking of this particular argument that you can probably find fairly easily.

This is hard to answer as a lot depends on how one defines the individual, but basically immortality (arguably) exists already in at least one species of jellyfish


With respect to humans, I cannot foresee immortality of the body within any sensible timeframe. Perhaps it will be possible to store some form of personality "construct" at some point in the future, but of course this is currently pure science fiction!

Sorry about your lawn! I don't have a solution for you but at least they are only active for a few weeks in the autumn. Maybe try and be philosophical and enjoy some pollinators doing well for a change?!?

Also would be nice to submit your record here. This is a relatively new species spreading across the UK so the more data we can collect from citizen scientists the better!

http://www.bwars.com/index.php?q=conten … ae-ivy-bee

Hi Richard,
I don't know the answer to this, but I would hesitate to conclude that males are more aggressive than females based on your observations so far. It sounds as though you the female is not motivated to feed while the males are - this could be lack of hunger, stress from being recently moved around, or just the "personality" of the individual involved.

So you may be correct that females are less aggressive/predatory than males but to draw that conclusion robustly you need to compare a large sample of males with a large sample of females!

You are correct that there is a fuzzy definition of species which makes it difficult to give examples that everyone would accept. There have been quite a lot of experiments that produced reproductive isolation (ie. arguably distinct species under the biological species concept) between lines of fruitflies. Some background here.


I don't know this literature well but I think the claim of speciation has been disputed in at least some of the cases.

Some more slightly disconnected thoughts on your comments above from me...

>A single common answer was still assumed to be at the root of things, so to speak. Am I correct here?

Yes that is correct

>When I speak of numbers, I am hoping that there are numbers which do not require forethought on the part of an organism, but merely mechanical necessity. Not to drift into philosophy, but a sort of "metabiology" which is strictly material while accounting for bird, bat, and pterosaur wings; or octupus and possum arms. The various internal regulatory systems. Live birth.

What you are alluding to sounds much like the concept of "mechanical constraint", which is basically to say that physics imposes limitations on the set of evolutionary outcomes that might occur. For instance some wing morphologies will not provide enough lift for a particular body size or shape to get off the ground. Clearly there is fundamental physics involved here, but bear in mind that - smaller wings are still biologically possible, and evolution may go there if losing flight ability does not impose a huge cost on fitness (so we have flightless birds with small wings). Similar constraints are imposed by (bio)chemistry of course and ultimately fundamental evolutionary processes (e.g. rate of mutation) are governed by chemical and physical processes.   

>On the level of large metazoans (say cats) it seems that MANY extant cats (Pantherinae, Felinae) are capable of creating viable offspring, even between subfamilies (leopards and cheetahs and kitties oh my!). But my understanding is also such that, in nature, this would be incredible rare, probably even more rare than a Denisovian or Neandertal mating with a "man" because of geographical and behavioural differences. Nonetheless, is it valid to view hybrids as part of a tree, or part of a web/network?

I don't think there's much evidence of hybrids between big (Panthera) and small (Felidae) cats but I take your point. Many closely related species can hybridise. Often the examples we give involve geographically distinct animals with a recent common ancestor - so in effect we can see the process of speciation as being "incomplete". The populations are diverging and it may be reasonable to hypothesise that in future generations the hybrids will no longer be viable. Of couse something could happen  - e.g. range expansion resulting in "secondary contact" that results in more frequent hybridisation and ultimately coalescence into what might be best viewed as a single species again. I'm not an expert on this but my understanding is that hybridisation as a route to speciation (i.e. 2 distinct species "giving birth" to a new one) is well supported by molecular evidence in a lot of plant groups (but rather less so in animals).

I don't know where you are and the photo isn't brilliant, but I would say this is a horntail or "wood wasp" of some type. Some info on the group here. Don't worry about the spike which is an ovipositor - used to deliver eggs only and not a sting. 


Sorry Dominic but we don't do homework and for a dissertation you really need to come up with your own ideas here. Start by reading the relevant parts of some general animal behaviour textbooks and see if that sparks some ideas. Then perhaps some more targetted research on one or more of the above animals systems.

Good luck!

That's an interesting question. I suppose the first thing to note is that sociopathy and psychopathy are usually defined as personality disorders characterised by display of antisocial and/or non-normal behaviours. By defining "traits" relative to societal norms which can shift, it is inevitably difficult to determine how, if and when they evolve.

In simple terms however, if variation in social behaviour stems at least in part from genetic differences among individuals (and this is certainly true) then social behaviours can evolve under selection. Given the right selection, it would be possible for genetic evolution towards average behaviours in a population that we might (by the standards of our society) label sociopathic. However - it's hard for me to see just how this sort of seection might be imposed naturally (and - excluding Bond villains -  artificially selecting humans for sociopathic tendencies does not seem like something anyone would want to do even if they were allowed). In addition the expression and spread of social behaviours in human populations is far more dependent on social transmission than genetic transmission, so while human behaviours certainly evolve in the strict genetic sense, other factors are likely to dominate rapid behavioural dynamics over shorter timescales (remember evolution happens over generations).

Agreed. Keep working hard at what you love, get the right grades and the oportunities will follow!

Certainly. Fish and cetaceans are important parts of marine ecosystems. In a marine biology degree you should also expect to study invertebrates and algae which are even more important! If you go on to become a professional marine biologist you may find that you specialise in one or two groups of organisms, but you may equally find you become fascinated by the links between them and focus on, for instance, marine community ecology.

That makes sense. I may be wrong but my memory of the chromosomal variation in salmon (and I think other salmonids) is that chromosome "arm" number is quite stable, but there can be more or fewer acrocentric chromosomes.

Actually... I'm not sure if the above is entirely true!

Karyotypic studies ( = studies of the number and arrangement of chromosomes) from the 60's and 70's are rife with reports of within-species variation in chromosome number. From memory this is true in both plants and animals - for instance, in Atlantic salmon chromosome numbers of 53-60 have been reported accoding to the paper here. I think in most cases variation in chromosome number is more pronounced between populations (rather than among individuals within a population) but I could be wrong.


(posted in Evolution)

hi Shawn,
The theme of your question is really interesting, but the detail of what you are asking is little unclear to me. Other's may hone in my precisely on what you are after but I will offer some general thoughts:

1) Darwinism is not really a term most biologists use - or at least not evolutionary biologists. Darwin's great insight was really in recognising the mechanism of natural selection and how this leads to modification with descent. Since he knew nothing of genetics (let alone genetics) it would be fair to say evolutionary biology hasn't really been "Darwinian" for a long time.

2) Your comments re convergence are perhaps conflating two phenomena - one being convergent evolution of traits or structures that show similarity in form or function without a common evolutionary origin. So classic examples of these would be wings of bats vs birds (note in fact that forlimb skeletal structures are "homologous" while the way in which the wing is supported are not). This is not the same thing as "reticulate evolution" in which previous divergent lineages partially merge (e.g. through hybridisation between species) which has led to sugegstions that netwworks rather than trees might best describe relationships among taxa.

3) I agree that the possibilities for the biological realm are underpinned by chemistry and physics, but am less clear on what you mean by "attaching numbers" to things. Although biology is often perceived as being less mathematical than chemistry and physics, this is not entirely true. Biology is a much broader discipline than these other sciences (at least I would argue so) and in some fields - ecology and evolutionary biology in particular - maths is just as fundamental to our work as it is to physics. So in general terms  - yes - we attach a lot of numbers, and we use a lot of theoretical models (which are described using the albebraic language of maths).

Without knowing where you are that is a very hard question. I am fairly sure (cue someone telling me I'm wrong) they are nymphs of a true bug (hemipteran). They look a lot like either assassin bugs (Reduviidae) or leaf-footed bugs (Coreidae) but both are large families withthousands of species.

Agreed. Here is a recent story describing a specimen claimed to be the "largest ever caught".

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article … ispla.html

However, even accepting the veracity of this it doesn't prove there isn't (or could be in the future) a bigger one out there!

It's a little hard to say. If you really mean no light, then you are talking about the extinction of all photosynthetic organisms which are (with a few exceptions) the basis of all food webs. So if this environmental change happened relatively quickly then, regardless of temperature I think most living species on the planet would fail to evolve - if plants have no light and animals have no possible food resource, there may not be much natural selection can do to help! So mass extinction rather than adaptive evolution woudl be the fate of most species.

I don't know for certain, but I suspect these are not actually biological. They look to me like expanded waterlock (sodium polyacrylate) crystals which are often added to potting soil used for plant sales etc. See similar story about mysterious jelly balls in the UK here

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/feb/ … scientists

In the absence of more specific information I cannot see that any action is needed. "Leaf beetles" are members of the family Chrysomelidae, but this is a big group (>35000 species). Some leaf beetles are serious plant pests in some areas (e.g. Elm leaf beetles, Colorado beetles) but I doubt they will do much harm in your loft.

Hi David,

A very similar questions has come up before. Have a look here for thoughts from our experts!

http://www.askabiologist.org.uk/answers … hp?id=6898

I don't think it is ever too late to follow your dreams but you do need to know that the competition is fierce and there will likely be financial and job insecurity. If you are shooting for a research or teaching job then you are probably going to need a PhD... so - first things first - you need to meet the BSc entry requirements. Then you need at least a 2.1 but ideally a 1st in your BSc, and quite possibly an MSc or MRes to land a funded PhD position. Even then there are a lot more PhD's than permanent jobs in marine biology so you can expect to be fighting for fixed term contracts for 5-10 years if you stay in acadaemia. To stay in the  game at this postdoc stage you probably need to be prepared to relocate (certainly in the UK, ideally globally) to where the jobs and opportunities might be.

So - I  reallydon't think age is any barrier here (in fact mature students often do brilliantly), but it's important to recognise that becoming a marine biologist is a tough road.

I don't know if this has been attempted.

Wild (Bubalus arnee) and domestic (Bubalus bubalis) Asian water buffalo are considered separate species, although they are in the same genus and can be hybridised. Coupled with the fact that the wild species is considered the progenitor of the domestic it wouldn't surprise me if taxonomy was revised at some point so the domestic animal became a subspecies of the wild (just as the domestic dog is now a subspecies of Canis lupus -the wolf).

African  buffalo - Syncerus caffer (with several subspecies designated), are not actually that closely related (obviously still bovids with other "cow like" ungulates). So while a cross has not been attempted to my knowledge, I would be quite surprised if viable offspring were produced.

I would say that Lamarck was basically wrong. Some scientists see epigenetic mechanisms as being Lamarckian, but worth remembering that a) "epigenetics" means many different things to different people (methylation, imprinting, maternal effects etc etc) and b) none of these mechanisms were really what Lamarck was envisaging. So my view is really aligned with comments from Jerry Coyne, Ryan Gregory and David Haig here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckis … Lamarckism

All that said, whether you choose to see it as "Lamarckian" or not, there is lots of evidence for epigenetic processes or "soft inheritance" mechanisms that involve things other than straight inheritance of DNA coding variants. For an experiement, one idea you could think about would be "maternal priming" in which - it is argued that mothers might prime offspring in some way to be better able to cope with the environmnetal conditions they are going to be born into. This idea has been circulating for a while in stress biology - basically claiming that in a high stress environment, offspring of mums that experiences a lot of stress do better (on average) than offspring of mums that experienced a benign environment.

I don't know how well the hypothesis has held up but it would be cool to look at, maybe in plants where there are fewer ethical issues associated with causing stress. I'm not going to do all your homework for you but to get you started you could, for instance, impose a "drought" stressor on some parental plants but not others, and see how well their offspring do (e.g. rate of seed germination, rate of plant growth) under stress conditions.

(posted in General Biology)

I think this is probably a geography/oceanography question rather than a biology one, but my best (semi-educated) guess would be that spume (i.e. foam on the ocean) is accumulating along "tide-lines". These occur when two currents or bodies of water meet (rather than necessarily having anything to do with tides). Such straight lines are unusual but could (hypothetically) reflect some unusual flows of water down the fjord - perhaps caused by ocean bed topology - but this is just speculation on my part.

It is a pseudoscoropion. They are arachnids, harmless to people but quite good at chomping some of our insect pests (i.e. don't worry if you have them in your house, make them welcome!). I'm afraid I don't know enought about them to hazard a more precise ID (there are several thousand species globally) but some general info about the group at the wiki page here


Hi Daniel,

Congrats on the MSc. To be blunt it is currently VERY tough out there at the moment as you are obviously experiencing. For us (as PIs) in evolution/ecology in the UK we are currently looking at being lucky to have a funded PhD studentship from NERC or similar one year in four at best. So persistance is everything and having the right CV essential. Some things to consider:

-be proactive. Don't wait for things on find a phd.com. Talk to/e-mail PIs whose research fascinates you, explaining why. They may not have anything to offer, but it helps to be on people's radar already when someting does come up.

-do you have to stay in the UK? If not then sending CVs and e-mails (do your research) to PIs elsewhere can pay off. I ended up doing my PhD in Canada and the stipend was better than I would have got in the UK.

-when recruiting, most of us are looking for something that stands out. This can be grades (e.g. a 1st class BSc plus a masters distinction is going to get my attention) and I think its important to be honest with yourself about your chances based on that. For instance an MSc pass (rather that merit/distinction) will not make your CV attractive.

-For me what stands out most is evidence of interest in scientific research per se, rather than systems or taxa. What I mean by that is that if I advertise a PhD on a charismatic avian system in some cool field location I will get a million apps. The folk who make it to the shortlist will be the ones who volunteered for a  lab study on fruit flies even though they wanted to be field biologists. Basically we are looking for interest in the fundamental questions.

-Re experience. I odn't know where you live but see last point. If there is a way to volunteer in someone's research group then get in touch with them and ask. For instance, could you do 1 day a week, or two half days. If so this could be useful to someone and may (if you are patient) lead to some paid experience. Don't wait for bird field projects - in the that mostly means checking nestboxes in the spring for 6 weeks and, aside from demonstrating your committment to getting up early, won't really add much more given you already have BTO experience.

Hope that's useful. Try not to be discouraged but do recognise you are trying to land a big prize and the competition right now is extremely tough in this field in the UK.

Great question - I asked a colleague who is marine(ish) physiologist. She said:

"Yes just very good at keeping epiglottis shut. In fact in diving animals the modal state for the epiglottis is shut. When diving animals "drown" (e.g when caught in fishing nets) they actually just suffocate to death having never opened their epiglottis. Post mortem, you see tissue fluid and homogenised lung in the alveoli, but not sea water. Bit grim, sorry.

But on the other hand, watch seals sleeping on a beach, they sleep holding their breath, they  never breathe constantly like we do."

Interesting question.

I am not actually sure how true your observation is though. At least anecdotally (not sure if there is hard data) cannibalism is commonly reported in wolves, although the primary motivation for killing a conspecific may be territory defense (rather than food). Cannibalism has also been reported in chimpanzees, and many birds commite siblicide (although don't necessarily eat dead siblings).