Inheritance of personality: How much do genes matter?

Picture of meerkats
Extremely social animals like meerkats may benefit from specializing in particular social roles to avoid social conflict, which could create distinct personalities that may persist through time (Carter et al. 2014) Photo credit: © anekoho / Fotolia

Personality. All individuals have one. Yet, what actually contributes to individuality? Although seemingly simple, personality frustrates evolutionary biologists due to its complex and convoluted nature. It is well established that personality can have important evolutionary implications (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), but determining a method to test the genetic underpinnings of personality has proven difficult. Continue reading “Inheritance of personality: How much do genes matter?”

Going gaga for ferns!

Picture of Lady Gaga and heart-shaped fern gametophyte.
Fig. 1: One of the inspirations behind Li et al. naming an entire fern genus after Lady Gaga was the costume she wore for her performance at the 2010 Grammys, which resembles a gametophyte (image from Duke University).


Hybridization has been shown to play a critical role in the evolution of plants (Rieseberg and Wendel 1993) and molecular studies have allowed scientists to re-evaluate taxonomy through multiple methods besides just morphological characteristics (Li et al. 2012). However, some ferns, such as the cheilanthoid ferns in the family Pteridaceae, had not been re-classified as of 2012 even though they were known to be non-monophyletic (that they didn’t all share a single common ancestor). Li et al. (2012) were particularly interested in a group of about twenty cheilanthoid ferns referred to as the “Cheilanthes marginata group,” which are found in arid habitats ranging from Arizona and Texas all the way to Bolivia. They hoped to distinguish this group from its most closely related fern relatives and revise the taxonomy based on the number of chromosomes (an organism’s condensed DNA) and genetic relatedness. Continue reading “Going gaga for ferns!”

EmANTcipation: When captured ants rise against their captors

Throughout history, humans have had a fascination with ants, featuring them in fables and folklore (See Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper”or Greek mythological Myrmidons). Their social and industrious nature make it easy to see them as human-like, and one cannot help but marvel at adaptations such as underground fungus gardens, herding and tending of aphids, burial of their dead, and their ability to work as a group to accomplish a common goal, to name a few. While most people view ants as kitchen or sidewalk nuisances, researchers who study ants are continuously revealing new and exciting complexities about ant behavior.

Slave-making (also called slave-raiding) in ants occurs when ants leave their nest, enter the nest of another species of ant, steal the developing larvae and/or pupae, bring them back to their own nest, and then rear the captured young into adult workers. Slave-making is a type of social parasitism, meaning that the slave-making ants are benefiting at the expense of the host, or captured, species of ant. This relationship can either be facultative, meaning that the slave-making ant can survive without taking brood from another colony (though they may not be as productive without slave-making), or the relationship can be obligate, meaning that the slave-making ants are unable to survive, usually because they cannot eat or care for their own young, without help from the host. Continue reading “EmANTcipation: When captured ants rise against their captors”