Matching Items (3)

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Comparative and experimental investigations of cranial robusticity in mid-Pleistocene hominins

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Extremely thick cranial vaults have been noted as a diagnostic characteristic of Homo erectus since the first fossil of the species was identified, but potential mechanisms underlying this seemingly unique

Extremely thick cranial vaults have been noted as a diagnostic characteristic of Homo erectus since the first fossil of the species was identified, but potential mechanisms underlying this seemingly unique trait have not been rigorously investigated. Cranial vault thickness (CVT) is not a monolithic trait, and the responsiveness of its layers to environmental stimuli is unknown. Identifying factors that affect CVT would be exceedingly valuable in teasing apart potential contributors to thick vaults in the Pleistocene. Four hypotheses were tested using CT scans of skulls of more than 1100 human and non-human primates. Data on total frontal, parietal, and occipital bone thickness and bone composition were collected to test the hypotheses: H1. CVT is an allometric consequence of brain or body size. H2. Thick cranial vaults are a response to long, low cranial vault shape. H3. High masticatory stress causes localized thickening of cranial vaults. H4. Activity-mediated systemic hormone levels affect CVT. Traditional comparative methods were used to identify features that covary with CVT across primates to establish behavior patterns that might correlate with thick cranial vaults. Secondly, novel experimental manipulation of a model organism, Mus musculus, was used to evaluate the relative plasticity of CVT. Finally, measures of CVT in fossil hominins were described and discussed in light of the extant comparative and experimental results. This dissertation reveals previously unknown variation among extant primates and humans and illustrates that Homo erectus is not entirely unique among primates in its CVT. The research suggests that it is very difficult to make a mouse grow a thick head, although it can be genetically programmed to have one. The project also identifies a possible hominin synapomorphy: high diploë ratios compared to non-human primates. It also found that extant humans differ from non-human primates in overall pattern of which cranial vault bones are thickest. What this project was unable to do was definitively provide an explanation for why and how Homo erectus grew thick skulls. Caution is required when using CVT as a diagnostic trait for Homo erectus, as the results presented here underscore the complexity inherent in its evolution and development.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Metabolic and behavioral integration in social insect colonies

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In social insect colonies, as with individual animals, the rates of biological processes scale with body size. The remarkable explanatory power of metabolic allometry in ecology and evolutionary biology derives

In social insect colonies, as with individual animals, the rates of biological processes scale with body size. The remarkable explanatory power of metabolic allometry in ecology and evolutionary biology derives from the great diversity of life exhibiting a nonlinear scaling pattern in which metabolic rates are not proportional to mass, but rather exhibit a hypometric relationship with body size. While one theory suggests that the supply of energy is a major physiological constraint, an alternative theory is that the demand for energy is regulated by behavior. The central hypothesis of this dissertation research is that increases in colony size reduce the proportion of individuals actively engaged in colony labor with consequences for energetic scaling at the whole-colony level of biological organization. A combination of methods from comparative physiology and animal behavior were developed to investigate scaling relationships in laboratory-reared colonies of the seed-harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex californicus. To determine metabolic rates, flow-through respirometry made it possible to directly measure the carbon dioxide production and oxygen consumption of whole colonies. By recording video of colony behavior, for which ants were individually paint-marked for identification, it was possible to reconstruct the communication networks through which information is transmitted throughout the colony. Whole colonies of P. californicus were found to exhibit a robust hypometric allometry in which mass-specific metabolic rates decrease with increasing colony size. The distribution of walking speeds also scaled with colony size so that larger colonies were composed of relatively more inactive ants than smaller colonies. If colonies were broken into random collections of workers, metabolic rates scaled isometrically, but when entire colonies were reduced in size while retaining functionality (queens, juveniles, workers), they continued to exhibit a metabolic hypometry. The communication networks in P. californicus colonies contain a high frequency of feed-forward interaction patterns consistent with those of complex regulatory systems. Furthermore, the scaling of these communication pathways with size is a plausible mechanism for the regulation of whole-colony metabolic scaling. The continued development of a network theory approach to integrating behavior and metabolism will reveal insights into the evolution of collective animal behavior, ecological dynamics, and social cohesion.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Matters of Size: Behavioral, Morphological, and Physiological Performance Scaling Among Stingless Bees (Meliponini)

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Body size plays a pervasive role in determining physiological and behavioral performance across animals. It is generally thought that smaller animals are limited in performance measures compared to larger animals;

Body size plays a pervasive role in determining physiological and behavioral performance across animals. It is generally thought that smaller animals are limited in performance measures compared to larger animals; yet, the vast majority of animals on earth are small and evolutionary trends like miniaturization occur in every animal clade. Therefore, there must be some evolutionary advantages to being small and/or compensatory mechanisms that allow small animals to compete with larger species. In this dissertation I specifically explore the scaling of flight performance (flight metabolic rate, wing beat frequency, load-carrying capacity) and learning behaviors (visual differentiation visual Y-maze learning) across stingless bee species that vary by three orders of magnitude in body size. I also test whether eye morphology and calculated visual acuity match visual differentiation and learning abilities using honeybees and stingless bees. In order to determine what morphological and physiological factors contribute to scaling of these performance parameters I measure the scaling of head, thorax, and abdomen mass, wing size, brain size, and eye size. I find that small stingless bee species are not limited in visual learning compared to larger species, and even have some energetic advantages in flight. These insights are essential to understanding how small size evolved repeatedly in all animal clades and why it persists. Finally, I test flight performance across stingless bee species while varying temperature in accordance with thermal changes that are predicted with climate change. I find that thermal performance curves varied greatly among species, that smaller species conform closely to air temperature, and that larger bees may be better equipped to cope with rising temperatures due to more frequent exposure to high temperatures. This information may help us predict whether small or large species might fare better in future thermal climate conditions, and which body-size related traits might be expected to evolve.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2018