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Evolutionary biology

Analysis and Comment (42)

The human Y chromosome has retained only 3% of its ancestral genes. So why’s it a shadow of its former self? Rafael Anderson Gonzales Mendoza/Flickr

Sex, genes, the Y chromosome and the future of men

The Y chromosome, that little chain of genes that determines the sex of humans, is not as tough as you might think. In fact, if we look at the Y chromosome over the course of our evolution we’ve seen it…
Male orb-web spiders are dwarfed by their female counterparts, but they can maximise success if they don’t mate indiscriminately. Brian Gratwicke/Flickr

Tiny male spiders can get a leg over – as long as they’re picky

Males will mate with anything. Well, that is the general view, one that exists because of a simple biological underpinning: females are reproductively limited by costly gestation, while males are only…
Your inner self. pureblacklove

The science of anatomy is undergoing a revival

Only two decades ago, when I was starting my PhD studies at the University of California in Berkeley, there was talk about the death of anatomy as a research subject. That hasn’t happened. Instead the…
Hydrogen peroxide – widely used in hair bleach – may also hold the key to life on early Earth. Brandon Milner Photography/Flickr

Can bleach help solve the origin of life in the primordial soup?

A chemical found in hair bleach may help answer questions about the origins of life and explain why new life does not emerge on modern Earth. Hydrogen peroxide may have helped transform RNA (ribonucleic…
No beating around the bush from the Genesis Expo in Portsmouth. ian_rickard

Redacting exam questions on evolution is a slippery slope

Writing good science exam questions is hard. Getting the wording right, making sure that what you are asking about is clear, pitching the question at the right level, takes time, lots of experience and…
We have fish to thank for the makeup of our face. Flickr/Ben Shepherd

Hello fish face – a fossil fish reveals the origins of the face

Lets face it – without a face no-one would recognise us, nor would we be able to guess what others might be thinking or feeling. Faces and their subtle degrees of symmetry and expression have defined human…
Air-breathing fishes such as Polypterus ornatipinnis laid foundations for modern ears. Flickr/lapradei

Now listen: air-breathing fish gave humans the ability to hear

A century-old mystery about how ancient freshwater fishes breathe has finally been put to rest, thanks to a study published today in Nature Communications by me and a team of ichthyologists. The fishes…
I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Runs with Scissors

Disgust stops us from doing things we shouldn’t

If you read about the record-breaking “fatberg” lurking under Kingston recently and reacted the same way as me - “Oh my God - a gob of fat in the London sewers as big as a bus - that’s disgusting!” - you’ll…
Don’t want to move home? MissTessmacher

Adapt, move, or die: the pressures of global warming

We all know that weather is not the same as climate, but it is surprising how our perceptions of global warming vary according to what we see outside our window. In the UK for example, last year’s washed-out…
We’ve come a long way evolution-wise but vestigial traits from our caveman days are important for the study of human evolution today. Matthew Cieplak

We’re carrying evolution’s excess baggage – so why can’t we let go?

Wisdom teeth, the palmaris longis tendon, ear wiggling: these qualities were desirable millions of years ago, but due to changes in our diet and environment, are slowly disappearing. However, such features…
The males of one of our closer cousins in the animal kingdom, chimpanzees prefer to mate with older females. CBS Television via Wikimedia Commons

Male desire for young women doesn’t drive menopause

Research claiming that men are to blame for menopause has gone viral in the popular media in the past week. But does the theoretical model’s fundamental assumption – that men prefer young women – stack…
Only a handful of mammals aside from us – primates, some bat species and the elephant shrew – get their period. Image from shutterstock.com

Explainer: why do women menstruate?

For half the population, it comes three to five days each month, 12 months each year, for 40 years of our lives. Menstruation can be debilitating, relieving, disappointing, or simply an inconvenient fact…
The sexual activity of the southern bottletail squid involves choosy females eating losers' ejaculate. Saspotato

Squid or swallow: the sexual tastes of a cephalopod

In romantic circles, reproduction is viewed as a harmonious venture between the sexes. After all, if you aim to produce the best offspring possible, wouldn’t it also be best to cooperate with your partner…
One suggestion is that menopause enables women to provide for their grandchildren. Image from shutterstock.com

Explainer: why do women go through menopause?

Menstruation is a reproductive quirk that humans share with only a few other mammals. But even stranger is the fact that women stop menstruating when they have a whole third of their lives left to live…
It turns out guppy genital length is genetic – for females as well as males. Alice Chaos

Guppies and sexual conflict? It’s a genital arms race

It’s not always easy to tell if a fish is male or female: they look more or less the same. But there are exceptions, such as guppies and, as with humans, guppy genitalia varies in size across the species…
You may not forget the pain, but if you’re lucky, the end will justify the means. Image from shutterstock.com

Monday’s medical myth: women forget the pain of childbirth

In an evolutionary sense, memory of pain serves an important purpose. Pain indicates a threat to our safety or our life, and human survival depends on us avoiding things that are going to kill us. Historically…
How and why have the colour patterns of coral reef fish changed over time? David Cook

Dazzling or deceptive? The markings of coral reef fish

Have you ever wondered why coral reef fishes are so brilliantly coloured and bizarrely patterned? A quick flick through any coral reef fish guide will leave you bewildered and awed. To answer this question…
The discovery of the skeleton of the Homo floresiensis has sparked significant debate among evolutionary scientists. Ryan Somma

Saga of ‘the Hobbit’ highlights a science in crisis

To state the obvious: human evolution is not without its drama – and the latest salvo in the ongoing Hobbit, or Homo floresiensis, battle confirms this yet again. The 2004 announcement of Homo floresiensis…
A female zebra finch finds herself surrounded by male suitors - but who to listen to? Simon Griffith

Birds and boasting: honest when mating, dishonest when dating

A new study has revealed what many people possibly already suspect – males are more honest when displaying their “quality” to a partner than to an unfamiliar female. These findings, from a study of a socially…
The giant river lizard Pannoniasaurus inexpectus (top) was roughly six metres long. In life, the animal would have resembled the smaller, related Aigialosaurus (bottom). FunkMonk/Wikimedia Commons

‘Aquatic Komodo dragon’ was the ultimate river monster

An aquatic lizard twice the length of a Komodo dragon once lurked in rivers during the age of dinosaurs, according to a team of Hungarian-Canadian researchers. The 85 million-year-old Pannoniasaurus is…
In order to drag themselves onto land, fish-like creatures needed limbs. Thierrry

They came from the sea: the gene behind limb evolution

In the late Devonian period, roughly 365 million years ago, fish-like creatures started venturing from shallow waters onto land. Among the various adaptations associated with the switch to land life was…
The butts flicked by smokers can end up lining birds' nests – but why? Matthew Kenwrick

Urban birds may use cigarettes as medicine

The negative impacts of cigarettes on both smokers and those around them are widely known. While some effects are cosmetic (wrinkling, yellowing of the skin), others, such as cancer, can be fatal. But…
It seems our impressions of faithfulness are distinct from our impressions of trustworthiness. shannonkringen

Women may have the edge on men at detecting unfaithfulness

In a study published today in the Royal Society’s journal Biology Letters, my colleagues and I ask if there is any validity in judgements of sexual faithfulness made from the faces of unfamiliar men and…
Taxonomists are in the business of classifying the life we see around us – plant, animal and otherwise. Gnilenkov Aleksey

Explainer: what is biological classification?

For taxonomists, days often start – and sometimes end – with the question: what’s that? Whether you’re an entomologist, staring at a new species of riffle bug from a rainforest stream, or a paleontologist…
Our ability to climb and swing is impressive, but not necessary for survival. spencer.lattimer

Out of our tree: did Homo mark the end of the swingers?

Just when did our human ancestors come down from the trees to become permanent ground-dwelling apes? Did the evolution of our upright posture and two-footed (bipedal) locomotion mark the end of a life…
Opsin genes, one of the building blocks of vision, first emerged roughly 700 million years ago. ~Dezz~

Eye to the past: vision may be older than previously thought

The eye is perhaps one of the best examples of Darwinian evolution. Incremental steps driven by natural selection have led to the evolution of this complex organ from its origin as a simple light-sensitive…
We share many behaviours and characteristics with our primate cousins and now we know our blood types are more closely linked as well. AAP Image/Taronga Zoo

As easy as A, B … humans and other primates are blood brothers

A study published in PNAS this week has confirmed that human blood types were present in one of our ancient primate ancestors. The ABO blood groups Beloved by genetics teachers the world over, the ABO…
If you’re a female guppy it pays to take many mates … sort of. André "Drekas" Correia/Flickr

More sex partners means more grandkids … if you’re a guppy

Here’s some good news: having more sexual partners makes females more fertile. A recent study on Trinidadian guppies has shown that females who mate with multiple males produce more grand-offspring than…
Things we’d normally turn our noses up at can become more manageable when we’re aroused. marsmet462/Flickr

Dirty but not down: how sexual arousal can dampen disgust

Does it seem strange that we will enthusiastically kiss an attractive person’s mouth, with tongues intertwining and saliva going everywhere, but that we might wrinkle our nose up at the idea of using that…
Female wasp spiders often eat their mate straight after intercourse. Wikimedia Commons

Sticky and picky: why male orb-web spiders like heavy virgins

When it comes to selecting a mate, females are traditionally thought of as the choosy sex; males, meanwhile, aren’t thought to be particularly picky. This makes sense for many species – the sex that invests…
“If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” Research shows that plants spread news of trouble. Flickr/Peter Nijenhuls

Heard it on the grapevine: the mysterious chatter of plants

Sound and its use in communication have shaped the ecology, evolution, behaviour, and ultimately the success of many animal species. But are animals the only lifeforms to communicate with sound? Do plants…

Research and News (2)

Research Briefs (7)

Butterfly family tree mapped

The “Tree of Lepidoptera” - comprising butterflies, moths and related species - has been mapped back to their earliest common…

Sea urchins rolling with the punches

Purple sea urchins have been found to be able to evolve extremely rapidly in relation to their environment. Experiments conducted…