29 January 2016

Rabid Alaskan foxes

Karsten Hueffer was on our campus yesterday, giving an interesting talk on the biology of rabies in Alaska. And yes, whenever someone from Alaska comes to Teas, there were a few pointed jokes about the relative size of the two states.

Rabies is one of those diseases that almost everybody knows about, but not very many people actually experience it, either directly or indirectly. (Well, in North America, anyway: about 50,000 people worldwide die of rabies annually.) The pathology of rabies is still not understood: the brains of people who die from rabies are not dramatically different from those of people who don’t have rabies. almost 100% mortality for people who are infected.

Rabies in Alaska is a big problem, and is primarily spread by foxes. Most cases of rabies occur along the Alaskan coast, where arctic foxes predominate. Red fox dominate central Alaska. Hueffer hypothesized that Arctic foxes are main rabies reservoir, and red foxes are just spillover hosts. He tested this by examining the three different strains of rabies, and looking at the population structure of the arctic foxes. It turned out there were three populations of Arctic foxes, and they all lined up very well with the three rabies strains.

Hueffer went on to do some species distribution models of rabies, to answer why is there no significant rabies problems in central Alaska? The models predicted rabies distribution well, but was also good at predicting the occasional outbreaks that occur sporadically in central Alaska. The species distribution models also predicted that the rabies will retract in the future, due to climate change.

Hueffer then switched gears to look at how rabies affects its host mammals. Normally, lethal infections doesn’t spread well, because the hosts are killed before the infection spreads. Rabies is able to beat this problem, in part, by manipulating their hosts into biting other animals. One protein in the rabies virus binds to nicotonic acetylcholine receptors, which are surprisingly similar to snake bungarotoxins.

In collaboration with molecular biologists, Hueffer and colleagues were able to create a toxin that was derived from the rabies protein (basically, a portion of the whole protein, if I understood right). From an experimental point of view, this is convenient because you can study the effects of rabies on nervous systems with none of the normal immune responses, and so on, that are triggered by infections.

They were able to show in a disk that this toxin interacted with acetycholine receptors. They then moved to testing their toxin in Caenorhabditis elegans (a.k.a. “a worm model”), and the rabies-derived peptide blocked normal feeding in their worms.

When this rabies-derived peptide was put in mice, the effect on behaviour was dramatic. The infected mouse kept running around its cage, up to ten times more than control mice. This strongly suggests that the virus is manipulating its host by directly interacting with neuronal receptors. While many viruses bind to cell receptors, usually they are doing do to trick the cell into bringing the some part of the virus into the cell. Rabies does not get into the neurons at all.

The entire rabies virus consists of just five genes. Rabies appear to be a particularly nice, simple model for behavioral manipulation by infectious agents.

External links

Karsten Hueffer’s faculty page
Karsten Hueffer on Google Scholar

Fox photo by Ralf Κλενγελ on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

28 January 2016

The cost of selectivity

Scientific Reports and Nature Communications are both published by the same company, Nature Publishing Group. Both are online only, open access journals.

But Eigenfactor pointed out that Scientific Reports charges an article processing fee of US$1,495, while Nature Communications costs more than double that, US$5,200.

Why the price difference? Since they are both at the same publisher, it’s obviously not a simple infrastructure difference, like one journal having a physical print run, different manuscript submission systems, and so on. Both appear to offer the same services to authors.

There seem to be two factors that might explain the price difference: staff and selectivity.

Scientific Reports seems to be run by editors who are working scientists. Presumably they are not drawing most of their salary from the publisher, and are working mostly on a volunteer basis, which is common for scientific journals. The editors of Nature Communications are Nature Publishing Group staffers, who presumably are getting salary from the publisher. I wonder what the expected and actual difference in outcomes are between these two editorial schemes.

Neither journal seems to report what percent of manuscripts are ultimately published, but the criteria for Scientific Reports is that research be “scientifically valid and technically sound.” On the other hand, Nature Communications says it publishes “important advances of significance to specialists,” so clearly it is setting itself up as the more exclusive club.

Why be selective in a purely online journal? There is no limit to the number of pages, and I expect the cost of server storage per paper is fairly trivial. The selectivity is no doubt to increase journal Impact Factor, which in turn drives prestige and desirability. And at first glance, it seems to be working: the journals’ web pages report Scientific Reports Impact Factor is about 5, and Nature Communications is 11 and change.

But... the blog for Frontiers in journals (owned by Nature, incidentally) has a post claiming there is no relationship between Impact Factor and rejection rates. The problem that James Hardcastle and Anna Sharman pointed out is that while they archived data on Figshare, the data does no include journal names, so it’s not verifiable.

As far as I can tell, the only revenue stream for these journals is their article processing charges. As I mentioned before, this means that published papers are subsidizing the costs for the rejected ones. When I started this post, I though the comparison of these two journals might give a glimpse into just how big that subsidy is. But it’s hard to disentangle from the differences in editorial management.

I’m intrigued by all this because the open access “baby journals” that share the name of a paywalled glamour magazine (Science, Nature, Cell) seem to be able to charge prices that are well above the market for most open access journals. To reuse yesterday’s graph, they all break the axis:

I’m curious as to why this pricing scheme survives. Do people confuse Nature Communications with Nature? Is the reputation of the publisher just that strong that it commands a premium, even for a relatively new journal? Is there no competition on value or services to the authors? Do people really expect ten times the prestige because they paid ten times the cost?

Related posts

Fluctuating publication costs

External links

Selecting for impact: new data debunks old beliefs

“And by the way... this is called gravity.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson was uncharacteristically scrappy on last night’s episode of The Nightly Show, taking on B.o.B. over the flat Earth idea. I love it.

In a free society, you can and should think whatever you want. You want to think the world is flat, go right ahead. But if you think the world is flat and you have influence over others, as would successful rappers or even presidential candidates, then being wrong becomes being harmful to the health, the wealth and the security of our citizenry. Discovery and exploration got us out of the caves. And each generation benefits from what previous generations have learned. Isaac Newton, my man, said, “I have… If I have seen farther than others, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Can I get an amen?! So that’s right, B.o.B. When you stand on the shoulders of those who came before, you might just see far enough to realize the Earth isn’t fucking flat.

And by the way… This is called gravity. [mic drop]

External link

The Nightly Show video

27 January 2016

A weapon of delight instead of harm

This is a pure delight, guaranteed to lift any day.

So worth carpet bombing my social media feed for. Hat tip to John Wick.

External links

This 200-Year-Old Ridicoulsly Ornate Pistol Has a Hidden Secret

Fluctuating publication costs

Savraj Grewal was bemoaning that it would cost Canadians CAN$7,000 to publish a paper in the open access journal Cell Reports. Lively discussion about this followed on Twitter.

Here’s how Cell Report’s cost stacks up to other open access journals. You have to break the axis to compare it to most other journals.

My first reaction was, “Why would anyone pay this when they could publish in PeerJ for a tenth of the cost?” There are a lot of open access journals, so what are people criteria are authors using to distinguish between them? I don’t understand how people pick between Nature Communications (US$5,200), Science Advances, or Cell Reports. They’re all open access versions of existing “brands,” but I don’t know if they genuinely provide difference services. I don’t think they do. And providing the publisher name is the only service they provide that PLOS ONE, PeerJ, and a wide variety of other journals don’t.

Then I realized the cost to Canadians is not purely a function of Cell Press’s higher than normal article processing fees. The Canadian dollar is weak right now (0.7109 USD, according to my quick trip to CBC).

I don’t think I’ve seen discussions of open access fees and publication costs that have acknowledged currency volatility. When the cost of a publication is in US dollars, minor changes in exchange rates can make big differences in a researcher’s budget. Especially when the cost in as high as Cell Reports.

I’m not sure if anything can be done about that.

Update: Because I can’t stop plotting things,  here’s the how the big three biological publishers’ open access journals stack up:

Related posts

The sticker price on AAAS’s Zune journal 

External links 


25 January 2016

Journal circulation and citations

Stuart Cantrill, writing at The Chemical Connection blog, had this plot showing the citations of one article that was published in multiple venues:

The point is that citations are often used as a measure of the quality or impact of a paper. But since this is the identical article, “article quality” cannot explain the variation in citations. Stuart hypothesized:

(P)erhaps more people read the New England Journal of Medicine than the Medical Journal of Australia and so a wider audience will likely mean a wider potential-citation pool.

I left a comment that this should be testable, because magazines (American ones, anyway) were required to disclose their print circulation annually. Well, one thing led to another (“another” in this case meaning, “a bunch of Google searches for ‘[Journal name] print circulation’”). I couldn’t find the circulation figures for the Croatian Medical Journal. Here are the results:

I’m surprised. For a while, I’ve been thinking about what relationship there is between a scientific journal’s readership and its Impact Factor. It seemed to me that Impact Factor might just be a proxy measurement for readership. So, I genuinely expected the correlation would be similarly tight as the one Stuart had for Impact Factor.

Of course, these circulation figures are mostly based on printed copies distributed. This confuses the issue for many reasons. First, a print issue can be read by many people. Nature estimated about eight people read one copy of their journal. Plus, print is drying up as a medium for magazines and journals. It may well be that website visits or some other measure is a more important measure of a medical journal’s “readership.”

Update, 31 March 2016: Daniel Shanahan has a new paper in PeerJ that shows the same thing as Cantrill’s blog post. When you publish the same article in multiple venues, the Impact Factor predicts how many citations the article gets, which suggests that Impact Factor mostly predicts Impact Factor, not how scientifically interesting the articles within are.

External links

Imperfect impact

Appendix 1: Journal and circulation (click journal name for source of circulation)

New England Journal of Medicine: 120,000
The Lancet: 29,103
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA): 292,902
British Medical Journal: 121,762
Canadian Medical Association Journal: 81,083
Medical Journal of Australia: 30,706
Annals of Internal Medicine: 100,014

22 January 2016

How I’ve parasitised research

Michael Hoffman did the research world a favour by highlighting a new editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine about data re-use.

The aerial view of the concept of data sharing is beautiful. ... However... There is concern among some front-line researchers that the system will be taken over by what some researchers have characterized as “research parasites.”

Oh boy.

As a biologist, I know that parasitism is one of the most successful strategies for living in the world, and play an integral role in ecosystems. But I’m no so much a biologist that I fail to recognize that those who re-use other people’s data – like me – are being disparaged.

Following Longo and Drazen, I guess creating GenBank was totally the wrong thing to do.

I became convinced of the usefulness of data sharing when I started collaborating with Paty Feria, modelling the distribution of crayfish species. About the same time, I was starting to work on the ecology of sand crabs. Both projects required using other people’s published geographic data. I spent a long time pulling out distribution records from published papers.

Without that geographic data, we couldn’t have created the new predictive models for distribution (Feria and Faulkes 2011, Faulkes et al. 2012). Those models were considered in this risk assessment for marbled crayfish, which demonstrates that, at some level, people found those new analyses useful.

While not critical in analyses, geographic data was critical in creating maps that allowed my to show the context of a range extension (Faulkes 2014). I couldn’t really prove it was an extension without that.

Because of my experiences in creating those papers, I’ve put in effort into archiving my own data, usually on Figshare. My record isn’t perfect, but I hope it might be useful to someone else.

There are a few (very few) defenses of the Longo and Drazen piece. First, they are trying to show an example of good collaboration, where everyone was happy. That could be useful, if they had stripped out the potshots about “parasites.”

Second, they are talking about medical research, where patient consent and privacy are ongoing, real concerns that shouldn’t be swept under the table. Remember issues around sequencing the DNA of HeLa cells, and people then going, “Hey, the woman those cells came from still has immediate family, and posting those cell DNA sequences could violate their medical privacy.”

But Longo and Drazen don’t frame it that way. Instead, they frame the problem as one in which researchers could suffer embarrassment or career impediments because of someone else used their data.

The first concern is that someone not involved in the generation and collection of the data may not understand the choices made in defining the parameters.

Someone might misunderstand what I was doing and I could be embarrassed.

(S)tealing from the research productivity planned by the data gatherers...

Someone could publish before me.

(E)ven use the data to try to disprove what the original investigators had posited.

Someone might show I was wrong and I could be embarrassed.

I understand wanting to protect your reputation and advance your career. But if your reputation and career can’t stand up to someone else using you’re data, it’s not a very strong career to start with.

25 January 2016: Co-author Drazen wouldn’t comment on the use of the word “parasite” when asked about it by a journalist. But Drazen has penned a response.


Faulkes Z. 2014. A new southern record for a sand crab, Lepidopa websteri Benedict, 1903 (Decapoda, Albuneidae). Crustaceana 87(7): 881-885. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685403-00003326

Faulkes Z, Feria TP, Muñoz J. 2012. Do Marmorkrebs, Procambarus fallax f. virginalis, threaten freshwater Japanese ecosystems? Aquatic Biosystems 8: 13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/2046-9063-8-13

Feria TP, Faulkes Z. 2011. Forecasting the distribution of Marmorkrebs, a parthenogenetic crayfish with high invasive potential, in Madagascar, Europe, and North America. Aquatic Invasions 6(1): 55-67. http://dx.doi.org/10.3391/ai.2011.6.1.07

Gewin V. 2016. Data sharing: An open mind on open data. Nature 529: 117–119. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nj7584-117a

Longo DL, Drazen JM. 2016. Data sharing. New England Journal of Medicine 374: 276-277. http://dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMe1516564

External links

Attack of the research parasites
I am a research parasite. Got a problem with that?
Priggish NEJM Editorial on Data-sharing Misses the Point it Almost Made
A fundamental difference of opinion
NEJM Calls Data Scientists 'Parasites.' Can Joe Biden Change Their Minds?
Criticism of ‘research parasites’ moves NEJM in the wrong direction
On research parasites and internet mobs - let's try to solve the real problem.

Data Sharing and the Journal

19 January 2016

Tuesday Crustie: Scully, is that you?

I haven’t yet been able to figure out whether this Anderson...

Inspired this one:

Or maybe I’m just too excited by The X-Files returning.

This is Cambarus andersoni, a new crayfish species described last month. As you can see, it’s a pretty hefty crustie. I’m still kind of amazed that new crayfish species are being found in well-trodden places like the southeastern United States. This one is found in south Tennessee and north Alabama.


Jones DR, Eversole AG. 2015 Two new crayfishes of the genus Cambarus (Decapoda: Cambaridae) from Northern Alabama and South Central Tennessee, U.S.A. Zootaxa 4058(2): 151–174. http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4058.2.1

Gillian Anderson picture from here.

06 January 2016

“Threats from pets” free talk next week!

I’m giving a free public talk next weekend! It’ll be held at the Coastal Studies Lab on South Padre Island on Saturday morning, 16 January. I’ll be talking about the aquarium trade in crayfish.

This will probably be my prettiest talk in a long time, because I was able to get a lot of gorgeous, jaw-dropping crayfish pictures from ace photographer Chris Lukhaup. There will be eye candy. Oh yes.

05 January 2016

SICB 2016, Day 3

This morning, I sat in the complementary talks to the neuroecology symposium, which I blogged about yesterday. My notes are not as extensive, because I had been asked to step in as session moderator just a few days before the conference started. And keeping a close eye on the clock to ensure speakers do not exceed their allotted time consumes a surprising amount of attention.

The neuroecology session faced some competition, because almost all the talks in the session were about vision, and another symposium about non-traditional visual systems was going on at the same time.

Simon Sponberg talked about how moths see in dim light. Hawk moths (Manduca) are crepuscular flower feeders, as are Macroglussum (an exceptionally agile moth) and Deilephila. All have to deal with variable light, which might even be harder than consistently dim light. 

L.J. Fleishman is looking at dewlaps in anolis lizards. As you go to drak habitats, dew laps get lighter and vice versa. The physiology of the eyes plays a role in determining the visibility of the signal. He ended his talk showing how some anoles with light dewlaps exploit not just light colour, but translucent dewlaps that allow backlighting. From the right angle, the dewlap can look spectacular.

Roz Dakin is looking at how birds use vision to control flight, particularly hummingbirds. Birds (budgies) and bees extract speed of image movement to determine distance. They steer away from vertical stripes and towards horizontal stripes. They can get hummingbirds to fly because hummingbirds have to feed so many times a day. Manipulating vertical stripes did not change hummingbird flight, but horizontal stripe manipulation made them fly up. Results were not consistent with the pattern velocity model (well established in bees). She suggested that the differences might be related to birds trying to avoid hitting the ground.

Brian Dalton asked, “What are opsins doing in the eyes of cichlids fishes when they are present in very low levels?” Coexpression seems to enhance contract and detection distance in some cases.

Michael Grace has the only non-visual sensory system in the session: he was looking at thermal imaging in snakes. A 2010 paper hypothesized that TRP channels are involved in transduction. But that was based on data from the brain of the snake, not the pit itself. Michael showed snake TRPA1 is expressed in the pit. Then they put snakes in an fMRI machine, and showed that an antagonist to the TRPA1 reduces fMRI signal to heat induced neural signal. The antagonist also diminishes the snake's thermal behaviour.

Then I gave  my talk on sand crab eyes. This project is still in the early stages, and I wasn’t happy with my talk. I haven't had a chance to pull it all together in my head yet. But I did have some questions at the end, which is always a good sign that I was at least understandable.

The last talk before I left was by I. Thanigaivalen on whether Drosophila use halteres to influence gaze control. Some previous papers suggested haltere removal should affect head movements, but this held true only in certain conditions. The visual stimulus speed matters a lot. Haltere removed flies have smaller responses in flying flies, but only at high visual stimulus speeds. When the flies are not flying, the head angles are random, both with and without halteres.

And with that, I had to start making my way to the Portland airport. I am sorry that this was such a smash and grab visit to SICB an this year. That said, even with only a day and a half, I still got some leads on an interesting potential project.

The highlight of the meeting, though, was walking up to a random poster during registration on day one. I walked up to it because it was the only poster on all the boards on the row, and I thought, “This poor presenter got screwed. I want to make sure at least someone takes to her.” And we were well along chatting about the poster when I realized that it cited a chapter I wrote. Success!

(Additional, 6 January 2016: It was this poster.)

Impressions overall: SICB is growing, and the number of simultaneous sessions feels less manageable than in the past. I think if it grows much more, it may have to start shifting its emphasis to poster sessions, like other large meetings have done.

SICB has struggled with its online presence in the past, and this meeting continued the trend, whereas some years there was practically no wifi, the convention center had wifi throughout - but you had to pay for it, and it wasn’t cheap. 

Similarly, the app was a mixed bag. It worked on my tablet but not on my phone. Because I didn’t want to pay for wifi, this made it only minimally useful. You could add things to your schedule and view it without a wifi connection (although it was slow to load) though, so it wasn't a complete loss.

Portland is a nice city, but not my favourite conference venue. There was a surprising lack of places to eat around the conference center. While SICB does have some food at its socials and such, they tend to be finger fare and small desserts, not really proper meals. Similarly, a lot of the hotels were a bit of a hike / train ride away. These didn’t facilitate the informal and serendipitous networking and conversations that are often the most productive part of a scientific conference.

Related posts

SICB 2016, Day 1
SICB 2016, Day 2

SICB 2016, Day 2

(Note: These notes from talks I sat in today at SICB are largely unedited. Apologies for typos!)

I sat in the neuroecology symposium. It started with Richard Zimmer, talking about the concept of keystone molecules: those that have more impact that. You would predict by abundance, started off with tetrodotoxin, a defense molecule in salamanders.

Then, he moved on to talking about a glycoprotein used as a contact cue in rocky beaches. bArnacles seem to make it as part of their shell, which gets used as both a settlement cue by other barnacles and as a predatory cue by predatory whelks.

Moved to starfish as keystone predators, and starfish will come to a single compound, another glycoprotein. KEYSTONin protein drives predation on mussels. Take it out, and you completely lose starfish predation. There are hints mussels use the same molecule to build their shells. Closing question is how many effects described as biotic interactions are actually chemical ones.

Ashlee Rowe was next. I had worked with her before in a nonciception sympsium. She starts out pointing that many species have developed neurotoxins to interact with ion channels as defenses. One subset of these neurotoxins cause extreme pain. In particular, she is working with the Arizona bark scorpion Centroides scorpions. Their neurotoxins bins to sodium and potassium channels in neurons. The neurotoxins cause spontaneous, prolonged action potentials.

These scorpions are preyed upon by grasshopper mice, however. Grasshopper mice also eat non-painful scorpions. The mice are quite resistant to the venom, not killed, and causing little pain. The venom activates action potentials, but the signal is blocked quickly so the signal doesn't reach the grasshopper mouse brain.

But drop the mice know the difference in pain? Grasshopper mice prefer a non-painful scorpion over a painful one. But when the stingers were blocked, mice much more likely to eat the painful scorpion (when sized matched). And naive mice will go for scorpions at random - if stings are blocked. Is the stings are unblocked, the captive bred mice won't bother to attack the scorpions at all. In the real world, the painful scorpions are abundant, but skinny and painful, so there are trade offs.

Jessica Fox was next on fly mechanoreceptors. What determines a fly compared to other flying insects is that they have a sensory organ: the halteres. Haltere have 100-300 sensible at the base, which provides balance. They cannot fly without halteres. The halteres are incredibly precise in tracking the phase of their movements, up to as fast as their machine would got (150 Hz). The sensory population shows range fractionation to the phase of the halteres movement.

Some flies activate their halteres when walking. One of the most recent fly clades quite consistently move their halteres while walking. These movements are not driven by flight muscles, but by intrinsic haltere muscles. When walking, the halteres can take any phase relationship.

They created a fly Olympiad for flies with ablated halteres. The only task that haltere ablated flies had a problem with was walking up walls and falling off walls when given a surprising vibration (cup drop). Talking about mutations in "early" and "late" stages of evolution (whatever those are) in guppies. Lots of convergence in guppy phenotype. Looking at gene expression pathways in these guys.

Kim Hoke was taking about responses across different timescales. What determines the response of an animal to another member of its species at any given time. Many possibilities, but one one happens.

When lab-reared animals are reared with predator cues, several protein expressions change. She is also able compare fishes from different drainages. There is some concordance from different lineages, but there is a lot of smear. It's not a tight relationship. She is suggesting that network homeostasis could drive coordinated divergence, but this was not the case. Instead, there seems to be a few central genes in the module that are evolving quickly. Possibility are connected genes evolve in long term, but not short term. So convergence in phenotype has only moderate similarities in gene expression.

Observation around the halfway point in neuroecology symposium: both neurobiology and ecology seems to be optional in calling your research “neuroecology.”

Gabby Nevitt was studying chemical comminucation in pelagic seabirds like albatrosses, seabirds, petrels, and so on. How do they find each other to mate? Because they mate for life. They have huge olfactory turbinates and olfactory bulbs.

The major histocompatibility complex (MHc) often implication in mate choice, but very little work has been done in the wild, it tends to be underpowered, and the results are not consistent. So she went looking at MHC a storm petrel, which is a very common bird.

Having examined over 1,000 birds, they are seeing a lot of long tails in the alleles I in the population. But there is no assortative mating based on MHC in the petrels. There are a lot of underpowered studies out there, contributing to controversy.

They have also developed a chick choice assay, based on fake nests. Chicks can tell their parents' scent, and pick it over an MHC matched scent.

Jeremy Niven is looking at energy efficiency of potassium channels in eyes. Wants to know the trade off between energy consumption and information fidelity. The cost of action potential is related to movement of ions across the membranes: in particular, the long term potassium sodium pumps.

The size and shape of action potentials vary significantly in their energy cost. Squid action potential is wasteful! Spending way more energy than it needs to. Cortical relay cells are very efficient.

The overlap between sodium and potassium currents is a major driver of the energy costs of neurons. And neurons vary a lot in this regard.

To address this, Jeremy looks at fly photoreceptors. These neurons are non-spiking. They can respond to single photon, very little signal at low light, and reasonable signal in high light.

If the fly photoreceptors process more information, they pay a high energy cost. Modeled ATP costs per bit. Big flies can get up to pretty high bit rates, but high energy costs, too. Slow and fast photoreceptors also have different properties.

Why have a voltage gated potassium channel in the icky photoreceptor? By changing the resistance of the cell membrane, because the amount of membrane in a photoreceptor is constrained. Potassium channels are improving bandwidth and lowering energy costs. Eyes pull back on maximum information, and save huge amounts of energy by doing so.

Michael Markham was looking at metabolic costs of communication signals. For bats and electric fish, you can’t stay quiet without going “blind,” because communication is linked to sensory signaling. The cost of an action potential is a cost for sodium: 1 ATP for every 3 sodium ions.

Weakly electric fish modulate their electric organ discharges to save energy between day and night, or depending on social system. But some fish generate hundred of discharges every second it is alive. Eigenmammia terminates it action potential with a sodium gated potassium channel. Seems to be a mechanism to reduce overlap you see in sodium and potassium currents, which is wasteful. 30% more efficient was predicted.

The cost of the electric organ discharge is one of the most expensive known in the animal kingdom. You can see increases in amplitude depending on when the anime is fed. Food pumps up the amplitude of the signal, but this is not due to an absolute energetic limitation. It seems to be modulated by leptin.

Next question is how do the ion pumps keep up with the demands for ions of the channels running the action potentials? There are a lot of them, for one, but they are probably still not enough: there are probably specialized high volume sodium/potassium pumps.

Markham proposes that electric fish could be sentinel species for climate change, they are living on the energetic edge to live in these muddy waters. They are probably going to be very sensitive to changes in primary productivity.

Jeff Riffell is looking at insect olfactory neuroecology. The interaction between plants and pollinators have huge, community wide effects that structure communities. Sometimes, the communities are wide, with many pollinators per species, but sometimes it is more specific.

Platanthera are interesting orchids, for which some are mostly pollinated by mosquitoes (which is unusual), while some are flies, moths, etc.. How do their scents cause pollinator attraction? You can make good predictions about what pollinates a species based on what odor chemicals the plant is generating.

Of the mosquito pollinated orchids, only 3 species of mosquitoes act at pollinators. The odors seem to be very specific attractants.

Giving the odor to a flying mosquito in the lab changes the flight behaviour of mosquitoes: they “surge” in wing eat frequency. They respond to the scent of a moth-pollinated orchid scent by slowing a bit, although it smells much more intense to a human.

There are some antennas lobe neurons that respond very strongly to the orchid scents, while others are suppressed. The population of neurons are able to generalize between the mosquito attractive scents versus other scents, like moth pollinated orchid scents.

Marie Suver was looking at visually guided flying in fruit flies. VS and HS cells are visual neurons that seem to detect self-motion. She was able to characterize their responses to pitch and roll, and the ehnext step was to track what happened downstream from those. She found several neurons whose response was predicted by the tuning of the HS and VS neurons.

The descending inter neurons, in turn, cause various body responses, each of which is a various body axes. You see similar patterns in several vertebrates, including pigeons and rabbits, leading to some speculation that this is a common control system.

Emma Coddington looks at cortisol in salamander clasping. Vasotocin seems to be criticized cal, acting as a gate to all sensorimotor activist in clasping. Cortisol released by stress stops the clasping related behaviours.

The timing of these two hormones, and clasping, matters. The hormone or behaviour changes the salamander's response to stress (cotrtisol).

In thinking about this, she found there were limitations to thinking about time frames. Usually people just called them acute and chronic treatments. Chronic in particular was ill defined and confusing.

Cortisol interferes with the endocytosis of vasotocin in a seasonally-specific way. In no breeding animals, cortisol does very little, but has bigger effects in breeding season. Cortisol also effects brain regions differentially, as you'd expect.

Corticosterone does not affect intrinsic neural properties, but seems to tweak synaptic communication.

Hannah Ter Hofstede asks how a new signal can evolve? After all, you normally think of a sender and a received, and "signal" implies adaptation. Not incidental. There can be precursors to new signals in either a sender or receiver. But the sensitive should exist before the evolution of a signal. A sender is generally not expected to make a signal similar to a predator, say, but rather to exploit something a receiver already finds attractive.

One group of crickets, the eneopterans, produces very high frequency calls though, that normally would be categorized by crickets as an aversive bat-like sound. These female crickets don't walk towards male calling songs; the male approaches the female, who produces a brief vibrating after each male call.

Crickets will fly away from high frequency sounds, and when standing on the ground, all crickets tested show a startle response to a high frequency sound. This could be a precursor to the female "push-up."

The scenario is that males exploited female startle, so they didn't have to wait for females to come to them. Females no longer produce startle response to just any high frequency sound; it has to be the specific timing that males make. So it's now a true signal.

The females responses are tuned to about 12-15kHz, roughly that of AN2 bat detector in most species. The neural responses... Did not see any response to 5 kHz, seeming to imply AN1 is inactive or lost. AN2 type responses seemed fine. But it's not clear if the ascending neurons, especially, the AN1 homologous, are lost or just modified. All the ascending neurons respond up in righ frequency.

Exploiting predator cues may be more common than wet bought, starting off as a way for sender to exploit the receiver.

Later that night, away from the neuroscology symposium, Vincent Careau give the George Bartholomew lecture. I was grumpy about his characterization of crayfish as non-charismatic, but oh well. He was interested in the evolution of physiology, and how physiology affected evolutionary patterns. Are physiology I, performance and behaviour related in evolution? Are these complex traits evolving in a correlated way?

BMR varies by six fold even after you take body mass into account. There are a lot of explanations for this, but one might have been overlooked is behaviour. Used an open field test used in psychology, and found BMR was negatively correlated with open field behaviour.

His first species though, showed no clear relationship between the two, but later, once pedigree was taken into account, there did seem to be a correlation between the two. So how were these apparently contradictory results? It looks like it may be a species specific effect.

Next project was looking at effects of botflies on a chipmunk population. Botfly larvae on chipmunks was correlated with high BMR. Botfly infection also caused reduction in overwinter survival. If a chipmunk ever had more than 4 botflies, they didn't survive. Suggests that this is due to a reduction in oxygen consumption ability me which chimpmunks need to come out of torpor.

Careau next talked about selection for wheel running in mice. In 20 generations, selected mice run three times as much as control lines. But after generation 20, there seemed to be no increase in wheel running, suggesting there is a selection limit.

He hypothesized that wheel running on days 1-4 might constrain wheel running on days 5-6. Selection was apparent over 10 generations.

As an aside, he showed the equipment that has been used to gather the wheel running data, the experiment was started in 1993, and is still running on the same equipment: a DOS PC and floppy disks.

04 January 2016

SICB 2016, Day 1

Portland decided to snow the first day of SICB in the morning, which turned into freezing rain by the time of the plenary talk in the evening.

The opening talk was "The biology of big" by Terrie Williams. Triggered to be a biologist by Life magazine cover on "The Great Cats of Africa" in January 1967. Gave a shout out to all the great mentors she had (all men).

Started with American mink, and she was terrified of them. Moved to swimming otters, then seals, then dolphins, then killer whales, all to figure out their oxygen consumption and metabolism.

Everything she measured was above the Kleiber curve for terrestrial mammals oxygen consumption. Reason being that carnivore is expensive. What was driving the high cost for these animals?

Showed pictures of a polar bear on a treadmill, Tasul, who is from the Portland Zoo. Had video of what bears do to treadmills, who want to tear apart everything. First day of turning the treadmill on. Bear was walking in three inch steps to "Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky.

Cost of swimming, running, and flying is similar for all mammals. That was a surprise. A swimming seal has the same cost of transport as a running dog of same size. Used analogy that all of these animals are using the same engine. You have to be concerned about the net versus total energetic cost.

"The entire planet was being driven by how much these big, hungry, carnivorous animals were eating." The top predators have a profound impact on the ecosystem.

Example: where did all the marine mammals in the Aleutians go? Looked at Stellar sea lions to figure this out, and the numbers kept going down. Orcas ate ten times the amount of a large shark. Could they be responsible for the domino effect of large marine mammals disappearing? Their metabolic rate was about three times that of other marine and terrestrial carnivores.

The caloric content need to stay alive is enormous: 200-300,000 kcal a day. This means 5-7 otters a day. Keeping a single pod alive could account for all the missing sea otters.

The whaling industry took out the key top, high energy food for orcas. So they ate down the food chain - at least that was the hypothesis. How could foraging costs be assessed in the wild? Technology with accelerometers and cameras and such made it possible.

With this technology, they learned marine mammals cheat, and do as little as possible. Energetic costs are also about defending resources like air holes. Looked for the same idea of breathing holes in narwhals. Narwhals are pure endurance animals - they couldn't swim fast if they wanted to. "I didn't believe narwhals existed, so I didn't know how we would measure its heart rate."

Narwhals love in a "landscape of fear." They are very sensitive to disturbance, which is mainly humans. Their heart rate drops down to 3-4 beats a minute. "This is like paralysis for an animal."

The changes in ice are bad for the narwhals, because it's not only the ice thinning, but piling up.

After 50 years, finally got to study lions in Africa. "This was truly a dream come true." The question was chat are the impact of lions on the local prey, and can humans live with lions?

Accelerometers are so good now you can see each paw hit the ground in the records. Can track an entire kill from an accelerometer trace, and get the size of the kill from the remains.

So can we predict lion predation events to prevent human/lion conflict?

Worked with a great tracker to find a lion, Kichaka. "I did something very unscientific. ... I just had to touch every inch of this lion." They now have 7 males, 19 females and young. You can follow them on africanlions.org. They are trying to see which males are pairing together.

They can figure out whether stops are rest points or feeding points to prevent retaliatory killing. Lots of time spent talking to herdsmen to figure out why, are kills lions or hyenas, etc. Sometimes the herdsmen are at fault for not bringing cattle in.

The bottom line: measured costs of hunting are about two and a half times expected from modeling. It's costly to be a big predator, because of different terrain, etc.

Kichaka died on Christmas. The collar will probably tell them what happened to the lion. But after 50 years, it's heartbreaking to see this happen to an animal. These things are happening every day, they just happened to record it.

There is also very little money for large animals. "It just isn't transformative." The highly endangered Amur leopard has 25 papers over 50 years. "How can we save them when we don't know how they work?" Her work was funded a lot through NSF Polar - which ended up on the #3 on the congressional wastebook. She shot back with a LA Times editorial, which mostly ended it. Except she got a FOIA from Lamarr Smith.

So why bother? You have to dig deep and go back to where you started. "tHere is nothing more rewarding and exciting than exploring nature."

This morning, she learned that one of her lions, Davey, just had cubs. "The ones saved."

She's asked by the media all the time, "What good is this?" Plays a video about the race against extinction, showing many examples of her research used in protecting endangered mammals. 1980s , start. 1990s, climate change. 2000s, age of endangered mammals. 2010s, never say die!