We R nerdy

27 10 2019

Michelle and Melanie show off their R button badges: swag from a workshop attended by Aileen. We embrace our inner nerds in this lab!!  (This is while we enjoy some Fall sun, waiting for everyone to gather for this semester’s ‘journal’ club: a break from stats to read Melissa Bateson‘s draft chapters for a new edition of her father’s book, Measuring Behaviour).


Animal behaviour in the news

29 09 2019

Three imaginative animal papers made the news in the last couple of weeks.

Screenshot 2019-09-29 18.42.27First, grey squirrels were found to have a clever “it’s quiet… too quiet” vigilance response to the sudden cessation of bird chatter around them (original paper here, and nice write up by the Smithsonian here).

Next, rats were found to be great at playing hide-and-seek with humans, and to Screenshot 2019-09-29 18.49.06have (if I understand it aright) patterns of PFC firing that matched the behavioural inhibition you need to play this game well (original paper here, and cute write up by The Atlantic here). I really hope the researchers adopted them afterwards; after all, can you really kill a research animal you’ve played a role play game with?

092019_SB_cat-attachment_feat-1028x579Last but not least, cats can show attachment-like bonds with owners, it seems! (Interesting write up with a critical Danny Mills here, with the original paper here). Past work has been less kind to cats, but in my very biased experience Sylvie is less scared at the vets (where yesterday she was diagnosed as having the teeth of a homeless meth addict), when she can rub her cheek on my hand. Let the controversies rage!


Cool use of positron emission tomography to look at capture stress in sparrows

8 08 2019

house_sparrowA new paper in Scientific Reports looked at stress in wild house sparrows captured and held in a lab. Those who coped better with captivity (inferred from fewer “anxiety-related behaviours”, more time spent feeding, and greater body mass) had lower baseline corticosteroids yet higher stress-induced levels at capture (mirroring findings for cortisol and PTSD…?).

Furthermore, using a PET scanner to look at dopamine receptor binding (see cool image below), the researchers found that some of this individual variation could be predicted from changes in striatal D2 function. (Though it should be said, they ran a lot of stats tests and did not correct for multiple testing…). The main question this leaves me with is: how can I get hold of a machine like this??

Screen Shot 2019-08-07 at 10.20.15 PM

Marital stress predicts “terrible twos”?

8 08 2019

An interesting new paper got a lot of publicity today: a couple’s  perinatal relationship problems predict emotional issues in the infant two years later. Cambridge’s press release is here, while the NYT has a nice write-up here.

‘Awake but motionless’ a sign of poor welfare in dogs?

17 07 2019


Animals just published a new paper by Carole Fureix and her collaborators.  Looking at 57 dogs in 7 shelters, they tried to find out whether spending inactive, despite being awake, might be a sign of depression (as may be so in our mice), or boredom (as might be true in at least some mink). The jury’s still out, but this is early stages. One interesting result was that dogs who’d been relinquished by their owners showed the most. It’s hard not to find that a little bit heart-breaking…



Stereotypies in space?

16 04 2019

And here is the paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40789-y  (N.B. It’s not entirely clear to me how the mice can be said to be expressing a “full range of species-typical behaviors”, when they’re living in a wire mesh box. By “full” the authors must mean “limited” I guess)

Ten simple rules towards healthier research labs

15 04 2019

Fantastic, humane and very sensible paper in one of the PLoS journals this week: