Did a poor immune system contribute to Neanderthal extinction?

By: Kaili Jackson, Yash Malai, Nina Parziale, and Nick Perry (Stonehill College, BIO323 Evolution, Spring 2018)

Despite the many great technological and scientific advances that have defined the 21st century thus far, there are many important questions that remain unanswered. Among them is the ultimate reason that Neanderthals went extinct while humans were capable of further survival. There are several theories as to why this occurred, and scientists continue to debate which factors may have contributed to Neanderthal extinction to the greatest extent. Some examples of suggested theories include the possibility that climatic fluctuations may have had a negative impact on Neanderthals; the hypothesis that modern humans’ shorter gestation period allowed for more rapid population growth; and the proposition that the intelligence and language capabilities of modern humans were superior to Neanderthals, allowing them to develop better hunting strategies such as the domestication of dogs to aid them during large animal hunts. Another potential theory, which the article An evolutionary medicine perspective on Neandertal extinction presents research on, is that viral disease transmission from modern humans may have contributed to the ultimate extinction of Neanderthals. This research was led by Alexis Sullivan from the Department of Biology at Pennsylvania State University. This theory is known as the differential pathogen resistance model.

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These Spiders Can Jump and Dance, but Can They Use Their Moves to Impress the Ladies?

By: Stefan Balestra, Adam Casey, Alessandro Puccio, and Walker Smith (Stonehill College, BIO323 Evolution, Spring 2018)

Spiders are considered by some as a source of fear, but many people find arachnids to be a cool group of arthropods. I mean, one of the most beloved superheroes is Spiderman, after all. Adding to the coolness factor associated with spiders, the spider discussed below is not only a jumping spider, but also a dancing spider with an interesting ritualized dance used to attract a mate. Additionally, the male individuals of the species exist in two morphs with different ritualized dances, competing in a spider dance battle of sorts to impress the ladies. Read on to learn more about the specific mode of sexual selection that contributes to the male morphs’ different looks and dance styles.

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The Elephants of the Namib Desert

By:  Katelyn Foley, Eileen Mello, Erica Shepherd, and Joe Varney (Stonehill College, BIO323 Evolution, Spring 2018)

When a species extends across large geographic ranges, it is often found that the individual populations of the species differ physically and genetically from one another, as these subgroups are exposed to a wide range of environmental conditions within the range. Typically, populations found at the edges of the geographic range, or peripheral populations, are more likely to have adaptations or evidence of new traits as a result of their environment. One peripheral population of interest, the elephants of the Namib Desert, demonstrate unique behaviors and physical adaptations in comparison to other African savanna elephant populations. Knowing this, researchers from the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois were interested in how these elephants might differ genetically, as they show different behaviors compared to populations that are nearby.

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The Evolution of Nonbiting Mosquitoes

by: Marissa Beachell, Stephen Kulka, Mackenzie Lachkey, & Katherine O’Malley (Stonehill College, BIO 323 Evolution, Spring 2018)

There isn’t much worse than walking in after a night spent outside in the summertime and seeing your arms and legs covered in mosquito bites! While not every species or type of mosquito needs to bite to obtain food, many species do get their nutrients from a blood meal. What if there were a way that we could never get bitten by mosquitoes again but the mosquitoes actually live… and even thrive? We spend so much time and money on mosquito repellents and tiki torches that supposedly ward off these pests, while those in some other parts of the world set up mosquito nets to avoid a bite. It’s easy to brush off a few mosquito bites in Massachusetts or another urban area of the U.S., but for those countries with preventative mosquito nets, a bite could mean life or death. This whole landscape could be changing, however, as recent scientific research has illuminated a possible solution in which humans and mosquitoes both win.

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Bitterness on the Brain

Bitterness on the Brain

by: Alex Baryiames, Cassie Daisy, Mohini Patel & Olivia Peterson (Stonehill College Evolution Fall 2017)

Eating something bitter isn’t a great experience. The moment the taste hits your mouth can be an unpleasant one, and often causes you to avoid that particular food in the future. In an effort to understand this phenomenon, researchers discovered that the ability to detect these bitter tastes might have some evolutionary benefits! Read on to discover how the ability of vertebrates to detect bitter tastes can be a protective mechanism against toxic materials, and greatly contributes to our survival!  

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The Buzz about the Bees presents Fig and fig wasp coevolution

Fig and fig wasp coevolution

By: Caroline Colbert, Brianne Horton, and Brianna Salah (Stonehill College Evolution Fall 2017)

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the sweet and delicious taste of a Fig Newton, but did you know that the mutualistic relationship between fig plants and their pollinator wasps is to thank for this delicious snack. Also, did you know that this relationship is the result of millions of years of coevolution? Read on to learn more about this unique relationship!

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The Evolution of PMS

The Evolution of PMS

by: Lydia Blodgett, Alexandra Calafiore, Rachel O’Donnell (Stonehill College Evolution Fall 2017)

Premenstrual syndrome, commonly known as PMS, affects the majority of women and can cause an array of unwanted symptoms. Although up to 80% of women are affected by the symptoms of PMS, not much is known about exactly why it began and continues to happen in humans. Our podcast, “Evolution of PMS”, attempts to highlight the evolutionary basis of PMS. Using Michael Gillings’ article, “Were there evolutionary advantages to premenstrual syndrome?”, as a foundation, we explore the idea that the persistence of PMS is an outcome of its selective advantage to women. Although PMS has previously been considered maladaptive—with severe forms being classified as a diagnosable mental disorder—-Gillings proposes three main hypotheses that there are reproductive advantages for its persistence throughout evolutionary history.

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Why do birds get divorced?

Divorce in Savannah Sparrows of Kent Island

by: Michael Calcagno, Meghan Ghazal, Lizzie Poyant & Zarir Sidhwa (Stonehill College Evolution Fall 2017)

In Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) that reside on Kent Island, New Brunswick, Canada an understanding of divorce rates within the species was analyzed to determine the molecular basis of the phenotypic trait. As well as, to determine if divorce is an adaptive strategy for greater fitness for females. In this species, approximately 47% of pairs in which both partners survived to the following breeding season ended in divorce. Neither the lifetime number of divorces nor whether an individual had ever divorced affected the fitness of either sex, thus suggesting little to no sexual selection for the trait. Divorce in the Savannah sparrows appeared to be an inheritable behavior in which expression depending primarily upon an individual’s age, mating status, sex, and size.

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Dad’s social status effects offspring personality in zebrafish

Dad’s social status effects offspring personality in zebrafish

By: Colleen O’Donnell, Lauren Smith, and Courtney Walsh (Stonehill College Evolution Fall 2017)

Ever wonder if fish have personality? If fish have a social hierarchy?

Well, news flash, they do! Dr. Susanne Zajitschek had the opportunity to study Zebrafish, otherwise known as Dario reno, and manipulate their social hierarchy in order to determine whether or not this would affect the offspring of the Zebrafish. She focused on the paternal aspect of rearing offspring. Dr. Zajitshek combined this manipulation with the genetic onset of personality traits of the fathers. As a result of her research, she was able to find that both social status and personality traits do in fact affect the behavior of the offspring.

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This time Batman needs help … with whitenose syndrome

This time Batman needs help … with whitenose syndrome

by: Junior Andrade, Azariah Boyd, Kasey Dietzman, Zachary Fanara (Stonehill College Evolution Fall 2017)

Many people forget that bats are not just there for inspiring big-name superheroes. Bats play a critical role in pollination of many commercial products throughout the world such as bananas and peaches just to name a few. Bats also play an essential role in crop growth by maintaining the populations of common pests. However, bats in North America are in a time of crisis and it all began with fungus. Pseudogymnoascus destructans (P. destructans), a cold loving fungus, is able to grow in hibernating bats when their bodies reach a temperature of 39 to 68 degrees. This fungus grows and makes the bats ill and spiked a recent decline in North American bats. The disease was named White-nose syndrome due to the fungal growth resulting in white substance on the muzzle of the bats. White-nose syndrome has specifically hurt the North American little brown myotis bat which has been driven to the endangered species list in under ten years due to the syndrome.

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