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The Lemur Underground: New Evidence for Primate Hibernation

Posted 14 May 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

From bears slumbering through the winter in their dens to frogs sinking into muddy tombs of suspended animation, a wide spectrum of animals resort to hibernation to survive until spring. Just a mention of hibernation conjures images of snow-blanketed forests and ice-covered ponds, with animals hiding out from barren, dormant wintry landscapes. A group of small tropical primates is breaking the trend, however—recent research demonstrates that several dwarf lemurs in Madagascar undergo seasonal hibernation periods for up to eight months... Read more

Devil Dispatch: MHC the Key to Contagious Cancer Vaccine?

Posted 28 April 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

The contagious cancer currently ripping through Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) populations has captivated public attention and imagination. The reasons for this are understandable. First, in a world where cancer kills 7.6 million people every year, just the idea of tumor cells that can be passed along between individuals like a cold or flu is a horrific notion to contemplate—a concept straight out of a cheap thriller novel. Also, the irascible Tasmanian devil has a sort of anti-charisma—fearsome temper, frightening countenance... Read more

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors for Mesopredators?

Posted 24 April 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Mesopredator release—the increase in abundance and/or density of small predators when large predator populations decline (Soulé et al. 1988)—is a core concept underlying my own PhD research in Kenya. Although there is solid evidence for mesopredator release effects in a wide variety of circumstances around the globe—from the increases in red fox populations following lynx declines in Sweden (Helldin et al. 2006) to the proliferation of cownose rays as a result of the decimation of shark populations in the Atlantic... Read more

Constant Gardeners: Primates Shape African Forest Structure

Posted 18 April 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Charismatic animals are capable of stirring up strong emotional responses amongst the general public, and (hopefully) inspire people to take wildlife conservation seriously. These are your pandas, your tigers, your elephants, your gorillas, your baby seals—the “cover girls” of conservation. Fundraisers often laud these animals as “flagship species,” while advocates for less photogenic organisms lament that they distract people from more ecologically-based conservation issues. For example, far less media attention is granted to less glamorous organisms and processes that are... Read more

Brains Versus Brawn Amongst Wild Canids

Posted 8 April 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Continuing the theme from my last post, I'm going to cover a new study involving some of the carnivores that I'm observing and studying out here in Kenya. Last time we talked about mongoose, and this time we'll move on to one of my favorite mammalian families: the Canidae. Few things are more important for a carnivore's survival than having a lethal bite. The critical mechanics underlying bite force have significantly influenced carnivore evolution--they determine morphology, hunting behavior, and prey... Read more

DNA Detectives, Mongoose Edition

Posted 22 March 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

In case you’re wondering why this blog has been a bit quiet, I am currently in Kenya conducting the first data collection session of my PhD. My research focuses on the effects of rainfall on mesopredator release responses, and so far things are going very well. The majority of what I’m doing right now is live-trapping mesopredators—in this case the cast of characters includes genets, several species of mongoose (dwarf, slender, and white-tailed), and black-backed jackals. For a discussion of... Read more

The Whole Two Yards: Giraffe Neck Growth Patterns

Posted 18 January 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Extreme adaptations seem to serve as canvases upon which people paint their various pet theories about evolution. The origin of the giraffe’s nearly two-meter long neck has long served as fodder for “just-so” stories, and has been featured in everything from Rudyard Kipling’s tales as a metaphor for self-improvement to countless biology textbooks as the default illustration for Lamarck’s theory of evolution via inheritance of acquired characteristics. Amongst the speculation as to why any reasonable species would develop such an... Read more

Cryptic Gardeners

Posted 15 November 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Greetings, readers: I'll have a new full-length Endless Forms post up soon, but in the mean time...have you ever wondered what effect mole rats have on their environments as a result of all of their excavating? Well, if you're one of the many people that has lost sleep over that question, fear no more: you can learn about it in my new piece on the role of mole rats in promoting plant biodiversity in the December issue of Scientific American.... Read more

Dolphins Remain Alert for Weeks Without Sleep

Posted 24 October 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Modern society seems to wage a constant battle with the biological need to sleep.  We have arrays of caffeinated beverages, 24-hour stores at our disposal, and technology the provides round-the-clock entertainment sources. If you have ever been a shift worker, a new parent, a desperate student during finals week, or have traveled across multiple time zones, it’s likely that you have experienced just how mentally and physically overwhelming it can feel to be in a state of sleep deprivation.  Although... Read more

Menopausal Whales, Mama’s Boys, and the Conundrum of Reproductive Senescence

Posted 16 September 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

From a purely evolutionary perspective, our main function in life is to reproduce, with the course of our ontogeny basically being programmed to push as many copies of our genes into the next generation as possible (a view that was most famously popularized by Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene in 1976).  In the context of social systems, ecological communities, and other external influences, however, this prerogative can become much more complicated than it seems at first. One fascinating conundrum related... Read more