Detecting smelly enemies: how a “fixed-ability” can maintain predator avoidance

Photo credit: Deby Dixon Photography
Photo credit: Deby Dixon Photography

Human settlement has typically meant one thing for large carnivores: certain doom. Both people and predators rely on large tracts of land for habitat and other animals for food, and intensely compete for these resources. Europe is an example of a human-dominated landscape almost devoid of large predators. A diverse community of animals that are used for food (prey), such as roe deer and wild boar, have healthy populations regulated by hunting rather than predation by historically native carnivores such as brown bears (Salhen et al. 2016). Prey species use a variety of methods to detect predator presence, but a very common way animals do this is by scent (Apfelbach et al. 2005). If a deer detects a predator’s scent, they will change their behavior to escape. These abilities may fade over time if predators disappear from the landscape, as the ability to detect predators would no longer be part of the animal’s early learning. Due to conservation efforts, large carnivores are going through a sort of revival in Europe (Sahlen et al. 2016). Predators are recolonizing areas that they have been absent from for centuries. The increase in predators in Europe is a conservation success, but how will this affect prey populations? Without experience escaping from these predators, will they be obliterated? Continue reading “Detecting smelly enemies: how a “fixed-ability” can maintain predator avoidance”

Aggressive Tendencies Not All That Bad

 

Three Spined Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) males in territorial dispute by Warren Photography.

Behavior is Heritable?

Personality and behavior are not often thought of as heritable, meaning that those traits aren’t usually passed down from parents to offspring. The two are usually thought to be a product of the environment in which an organism lives. Why then are certain organisms able to exhibit certain personality or behavioral traits regardless of their environment? Humans have this ability, depending on the environment most of the time, they adapt to where they are at in order to be most successful. The same could be said for any organism, they are trying too obtain the highest fitness and reproductive rates. Some traits such as levels of aggression, can determine whether an individual survives or is eaten by a predator. If aggressiveness is a positive trait for survival and reproductive success, how is it passed down to future generations? Even though attitude is not necessarily thought of as a gene, it is possible that the combination of many genes and environment an organism lives in can play a factor in behavioral tendencies. Natural selection works in a fascinating way that allows for beneficial alleles, genes and mutations to increase in frequency as time goes on. If it is seen that an allele or trait is beneficial, females will look for males with that particular trait (sexual selection), so that their offspring have a better chance of surviving and reproducing in the future. This extraordinary phenomena can be seen in many different organisms, such as humans, elephants and even fish. Continue reading “Aggressive Tendencies Not All That Bad”

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?”