The first skeletons evolved multiple times independently because of unusually chalky seas, later becoming essential for survival even when chalk became scarce. Calcium-based skeletons appeared suddenly in the fossil record around 550 million years ago, fundamentally changing the global carbon cycle and introducing a wealth of new predatory strategies to the sea.


Habitat Disturbance leaves a genetic legacy

Habitat disturbance, be that logging, agriculture, or roads and infrastructure, can be hugely damaging to biodiversity. But even after the visible wounds have healed, the genetic scars of past disturbance remain in the genome, according to results from a two-decade-long study of shrubs in Spain.

The effects of habitat disturbance on plants can be seen in the genomes of the next generation, a new study reports for the first time. The team compared the genetic and epigenetic profiles of shrubs (Lavandula latifolia) that had been experimentally disturbed 20 years previously, with those left undisturbed for more than 50 years.

Continue reading

The costs of a big brain outweigh the benefits

Brains rather than braun may have guided our ancestors out of Africa, but new research suggests primates’ big brains are no longer the assets they once were.

A study published in the journal Evolution reports that larger brains are directly related to an increased risk of extinction in modern primates. Researchers led by Alejandro Gonzalez-Voyer at Doñana Biological Station in Spain, compared published data on 474 species of mammal, with their IUCN Redlist categorisations, to find out how different biological traits influence extinction risk. The team found that larger brains tend to be associated with a longer gestation period, longer weaning period and smaller litter sizes, all of which indirectly increase extinction risk.

Continue reading

Chimps use tools to get tipsy

Did you hear the one about the drunken monkey? Primates frequently encounter and consume alcohol in their natural environment, most commonly through fermented fruit. But a study published last year showed that some Chimpanzees are actively seeking it out, and have even developed tools to help them access their preferred tipple!

I’ve written before on the topic of animals and recreational drug use. Research has shown that many animals consume alcohol in their diet, from treeshrews drinking alcoholic nectar in Malaysia to Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) drinking fermented berries of the Brazilian Pepper Tree (Schunus terebinthifolius). But deliberate consumption of alcohol – which is, let’s not forget, a poison – is harder to find.

Continue reading

Ancient fossil arachnid reveals the origins of spiders

A new fossil discovered in France promises to shed light on the murky evolutionary history of spiders. The rare three-dimensional fossil of the new species shows that it is nearly, but not quite, a spider, lacking the key silk-spinning adaptation that defines spiders. This 300-million-year-old arachnid is our closest view yet of the ancestor to all spiders.
Continue reading

Cuckolding common in nature, but rare in humans

Fathers can breath a sigh of relief. Although biologists have found cuckolding, where one male unwittingly raises the offspring of another male, is common in animal societies, it appears humans are one of the few exceptions.

A recent review published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution on 5th April claims that across modern and ancient human societies, women tended to be faithful to their partners.

Continue reading

Ancient Beast was part-sabretooth, part-otter

The extinct carnivore, Kolponomos, looked like a bear, and bit like a sabre-toothed tiger.

A group of carnivores that went extinct around 20 million years ago looked superficially like modern bears, but new research shows their bite was more similar to sabre-toothed cats. Known as Kolponomos, these extinct bears were thought to feed on shelled organisms, like modern otters, but with few fossils to go on, their diet and lifestyle has remained contentious.

Continue reading

Honeybees treat their mates for STDs

Male honeybees produce antimicrobial chemicals in their semen to protect new queens from a fungal disease.

Sex always comes with the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, so male honeybees have evolved to produce antimicrobial chemicals in their semen. The fungus Nosema apis is a specialised pathogen of honeybees, which can be transmitted to new queens when they mate, but new research shows that male honeybees’ semen has powerful antifungal activity, disrupting the lifecycle of the Nosema spores and reducing their viability.
Continue reading