Rhesus macaques live in social hierarchies, and for those at the bottom, well, life is not so great. After extensive studies on these macaques, scientists have found that low rank is correlated with poor health as well as physiological changes in stress-related hormones, sex hormones, and white blood cell counts.
In this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new study went one step further to show that gene expression, especially that of immune-related genes, was also dependent on social rank. By following female rhesus macaques as their ranks changed over time, the researchers gathered evidence for causal link’s direction, too. It wasn’t that poor health lead to low social rank; it was falling on the social ladder that led to physiological and gene-regulation changes.
Propolis (yellow) lining the inside of a beehive.
Beekeepers would love to get rid of propolis, a sticky substance made of resins that bees use to line their hives, because it makes it hard to pry hives open. But propolis isn’t just gluing the hive together, according to a new study published in PLoS ONE—honeybees use it to fight off fungal infections and seek it out when their hives are infected.
Bees have to invest effort in hunting down the resins that make up propolis, which like nectar is foraged from plants. That means that every minute a bee is looking for resin is a minute it’s not looking for food. The trade-off is worth it, apparently, because propolis kills bacteria and fungi lurking in the colony.
Life at the top ain’t easy.
What’s the News: In the hardscrabble world of a baboon troop, being the alpha male has its perks: power, food, ample opportunities to woo the ladies. But all that status brings with it a great deal of stress, a new study shows, as the alpha male constantly scrambles to stay atop the social pyramid. The life of a second-in-command beta male—somewhat fewer perks but, the researchers found, a whole lot less stress—is starting to sound like the better deal.
What’s the News: Parrots, those irrepressible mimics of the animal world, are some of the few creatures known to have individual names: each bird has its own signature call that others use when addressing it and that the bird uses itself in avian “conversation.” Scientists have long wondered where these calls come from. Now, a new study of wild parrots shows that even before chicks can “talk,” their parents have provided them with a moniker, which they will tweak and then use throughout their lives.
What’s the News: The more we study other species, the more we learn just how well we fit into the animal kingdom. Recently, scientists described how some parrots share our ability to use logical reasoning, and now a new study is showing that our syntactical language may not be all that unique either. The research, published recently in the journal Nature Neuroscience, explains that the society finches (Lonchura striata domestica) sing according to an acquired set of grammatical rules. Scientists previously thought that language syntax only existed in humans and some whales.
In the rigid social universe of Revenge of the Nerds-style 1980s movies, jocks beget jocks beget jocks, and the bespectacled geeks they push around beget generations of the same. But could being a victim of social bullying actually be inherited? A new study of DISCOVER’s favorite rodent, the marmot, shows that at least in the animal kingdom, the answer can be yes.
Daniel Blumstein and colleagues tracked yellow-bellied marmots that make their home in the Colorado Rockies for a five year period, from 2003 to 2008. For their study out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team tracked the family relationships of the individual marmots, as well as who antagonized whom.
Marmots don’t have Facebook yet, but animals living among clusters of burrows in Colorado do interact enough for observers to plot networks with each marmot as a node. An exchange might be friendly, such as a marmot grooming a neighbor or settling down tranquilly nearby. Or a social interaction might go sour, with one marmot nipping or chasing another. “Marmots are grumpy with each other,” Blumstein says, but rarely cause serious injuries. [Science News]