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Cognitive Empathy as Imagination: Evidence From Reading the Mind in the Eyes in Autism and Schizotypy

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-04-01
Abstract: 

How is cognitive empathy related to sociality, imagination, and other psychological constructs? How is it altered in disorders of human social cognition? We leveraged a large data set (1,168 students, 62% female) on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMET), the Autism Quotient (AQ), and the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire (SPQ-BR) to test the hypotheses that the RMET, as a metric of cognitive empathy, reflects mainly social abilities, imagination, or both. RMET showed the expected female bias in performance, though only for eyes that expressed emotions and not for neutral expressions. RMET performance was significantly, and more strongly, associated with the AQ and SPQ subscales that reflect aspects of imagination (AQ-Imagination and SPQ-Magical Ideation) than aspects of social abilities (AQ-Social, AQ-Communication, and SPQ-Interpersonal subscales). These results were confirmed with multiple regression analysis, which also implicated increased attention (AQ-Attention Switching and, marginally non-significantly, AQ-Attention to Detail) in RMET performance. The two imagination-related correlates of RMET performance also show the strongest sex biases for the AQ and SPQ: male biased in AQ-Imagination, and female biased in SPQ-Magical Ideation, with small to medium effect sizes. Taken together, these findings suggest that cognitive empathy, as quantified by the RMET, centrally involves imagination, which is underdeveloped (with a male bias) on the autism spectrum and overdeveloped (with a female bias) on the schizotypy spectrum, with optimal emotion-recognition performance intermediate between the two. The results, in conjunction with previous studies, implicate a combination of optimal imagination and focused attention in enhanced RMET performance.

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Article
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How Is Quantification of Social Deficits Useful for Studying Autism and Schizophrenia?

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Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-11-22
Document type: 
Article
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Telomere Dynamics From Hatching to Sexual Maturity and the Multivariate Egg

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-12-15
Abstract: 

Avian eggs contain a large number of molecules deposited by the mother that provide the embryo with energy but also potentially influence its development via the effects of maternally derived hormones and antibodies: the avian egg is thus ‘multivariate’. Multivariate effects on offspring phenotype were evaluated in a study on captive zebra finches, by simultaneously manipulating maternally derived antibodies (MAb) by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) treatment of mothers and injection of testosterone into the egg yolk. LPS treatment had a positive effect on body mass growth at 30 days after hatching and immune response at sexual maturity, while egg testosterone treatment positively influenced immune response at fledging and courtship behaviour in sexually mature male offspring. Maternal effects are known to modulate offspring telomere length (TL). However, the multivariate effects of egg-derived maternal components on offspring telomere dynamics from hatching to sexual maturity are undefined. Here, we tested: (1) the effects of LPS and testosterone treatments on TL from hatching to sexual maturity (day 82); (2) how LPS treatment modulated TL over reproduction in adult females; and (3) the relationship between maternal and offspring TL. We predicted that TL would be shorter in LPS fledglings (as a cost of faster growth) and that TL would be longer in sexually mature adults after yolk testosterone treatment (as a proxy of individual quality). In adult females, there was an overall negative relationship between laying and rearing investments and TL, this relationship was weaker in LPS-treated females. In chicks, there was an overall negative effect of LPS treatment on TL measured at fledging and sexual maturity (day 25–82). In addition, at fledging, there was a Sex×LPS×Testosterone interaction, suggesting the existence of antagonistic effects of our treatments. Our data partially support the hypothesis that telomeres are proxies of individual quality and that individual differences in TL are established very early in life.

Document type: 
Article

Oxidative Status and Telomere Length Are Related to Somatic and Physiological Maturation in Chicks of European Starlings (Sturnus Vulgaris)

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-10-15
Abstract: 

Telomere length can be considered as an indicator of an organism's somatic state, long telomeres reflecting higher energy investment in self-maintenance. Early-life is a period of intense investment in somatic growth and in physiological maturation but how this is reflected in telomere length remains unclear. Using European starling chicks we tested: (i) how telomere length measured at asymptotic mass is related to proxies of somatic growth and physiological maturity in 17-day-old nestlings; (ii) how telomere length measured at 17 days then predicts the changes in somatic and physiological maturity occurring in fledglings (between 17 and 21 days); (iii) how growth and telomere length co-vary when chicks are under experimentally good (fed) growth conditions. Depending on environmental conditions, our data suggest links between somatic growth, physiological maturation and body maintenance parameters (positive with oxidative stress and negative with telomere length) in nestlings. Telomere length measured at day 17 predicted a subsequent change in physiological maturation variables observed in fledglings, but only in second-brood chicks: chicks with shorter telomeres had a higher pre-fledging rate of increase in haematocrit and haemoglobin content and a greater decrease in reticulocyte count. Finally, food supplementation of chicks did not change telomere length compared with that in control siblings. Our results suggest that physiological maturation prior to fledging may occur at the expense of telomere length but only when environmental conditions are sub-optimal.

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Article
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Plasticity in Diurnal Activity and Temporal Phenotype During Parental Care in European Starlings, Sturnus Vulgaris

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-12-04
Abstract: 

We used an automated radiotelemetry system to determine diurnal patterns of activity and temporal phenotype (onset and cessation of activity) in female European starlings during breeding. Parental care is thought to be the most ‘costly’ part of reproduction, with high rates of intense activity due to foraging and provisioning for chicks, so we predicted that variation in timing of activity should be closely related to breeding success. Diurnal variation in activity varied systematically with breeding stage in a way consistent with specific demands of each phase of parental care: incubating females were more active late in the day (1600–1800 hours), while chick-rearing females were more active early in the morning (0700–1100 hours). There was marked individual variation in timing of onset, and to a lesser extent cessation, of activity, e.g. chick-rearing females first became active 7–127 min after morning civil twilight, with low to moderate repeatability within and among breeding stages (individual explained 2–62% of total variation). On average, females were active later, and ceased being active earlier, during chick rearing compared with incubation. Chick-rearing birds had a longer active day, but only by 2.3% (36% of the seasonal increase in total available daylength). Thus, chick-rearing females were relatively less active (‘lazier’), which is consistent with the idea that parents work more efficiently rather than simply working harder. We found little evidence that chick-rearing activity was associated with variation in measures of current reproduction (provisioning rate, number and quality of chicks), future fecundity (initiating a second brood, cumulative 2-year productivity) or survival (local return rate). Our study demonstrates that time-keeping mechanisms show plasticity in response to reproductive state and can be modulated by ‘biotic’ (e.g. prey availability) or ‘social’ time (demands of parental care).

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Article
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Are There Synergistic or Antagonistic Effects of Multiple Maternally Derived Egg Components on Offspring Phenotype?

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-04-24
Abstract: 

Eggs are ‘multivariate’ in that they contain multiple maternally-derived egg components (e.g. hormones, antibodies, mRNA, antioxidants) which are thought to influence offspring phenotype. However, most studies have focused on single egg components (most often yolk testosterone, or corticosterone), and on short-term effects. Here we simultaneously manipulated two egg components, maternally-derived antibodies (MAb) and yolk testosterone to assess potential synergistic or antagonistic effects on offspring phenotype from hatching to sexual maturity. We used lipopolysaccharide treatment to generate a secondary immune response in female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), which produced clutches of eggs with high (LPS-treated) or low (control) MAb. We then used a split design manipulating yolk testosterone within clutches of high- and low-MAb eggs using in ovo egg injection. We investigated a) short-term effects of experimental manipulation of both egg components at 30 days post-hatching on chick growth and immune function at fledging, and b) long-term effects at sexual maturity (> 90 days post-hatching) on phenotypic quality of i/ males (sons) using standardise mating trials (courtship, song rate, etc); ii/ females (daughters) by measuring reproductive traits during breeding (egg size, clutch size etc), and iii/ cell-mediated and humoral immunity in both sexes.

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Article
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Nectar-Dwelling Microbes of Common Tansy Are Attractive to Its Mosquito Pollinator, Culex pipiens L.

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-02-16
Abstract: 

Background:  There is widespread interkingdom signalling between insects and microbes. For example, microbes found in floral nectar may modify its nutritional composition and produce odorants that alter the floral odor bouquet which may attract insect pollinators. Mosquitoes consume nectar and can pollinate flowers. We identified microbes isolated from nectar of common tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, elucidated the microbial odorants, and tested their ability to attract the common house mosquito, Culex pipiens.

Results:  We collected 19 microbial isolates from T. vulgare nectar, representing at least 12 different taxa which we identified with 16S or 26S rDNA sequencing as well as by biochemical and physiological tests. Three microorganisms (Lachancea thermotolerans, Micrococcus lactis, Micrococcus luteus) were grown on culture medium and tested in bioassays. Only the yeast L. thermotolerans grown on nectar, malt extract agar, or in synthetic nectar broth significantly attracted Cx. pipiens females. The odorant profile produced by L. thermotolerans varied with the nutritional composition of the culture medium. All three microbes grown separately, but presented concurrently, attracted fewer Cx. pipiens females than L. thermotolerans by itself.

Conclusions:  Floral nectar of T. vulgare contains various microbes whose odorants contribute to the odor profile of inflorescences. In addition, L. thermotolerans produced odorants that attract Cx. pipiens females. As the odor profile of L. thermotolerans varied with the composition of the culture medium, we hypothesize that microbe odorants inform nectar-foraging mosquitoes about the availability of certain macro-nutrients which, in turn, affect foraging decisions by mosquitoes.

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Article
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Sex-Dependent Effects of Prenatal Food and Protein Restriction on Offspring Physiology in Rats and Mice: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-02-09
Abstract: 

Background:  Males and females may experience different effects of early-life adversity on life-long health. One hypothesis is that male foetuses invest more in foetal growth and relatively less in placental growth, and that this makes them susceptible to poor nutrition in utero, particularly if nutrition is reduced part-way through gestation.

Objectives:  Our objectives were to examine whether (1) food and/ or protein restriction in rats and mice has consistent sex-dependent effects, (2) sex-dependency differs between types of outcomes, and (3) males are more severely affected when restriction starts part-way through gestation.

Data sources:  PubMed and Web of Science were searched to identify eligible studies.

Study eligibility criteria:  Eligible studies described controlled experiments that restricted protein or food during gestation in rats or mice, examined physiological traits in offspring from manipulated pregnancies, and tested whether effects differed between males and females.

Results:  Our search identified 292 articles, of which the full texts of 72 were assessed, and 65 were included for further synthesis. A majority (50) used Wistar or Sprague-Dawley rats and so these were the primary focus. Among studies in which maternal diet was restricted for the duration of gestation, no type of trait was consistently more severely affected in one particular sex, although blood pressure was generally increased in both sexes. Meta-analysis found no difference between sexes in the effect of protein restriction throughout gestation on blood pressure. Among studies restricting food in the latter half of gestation only, there were again few consistent sex-dependent effects, although three studies found blood pressure was increased in males only. Meta-analysis found that food restriction in the second half of gestation increased adult blood pressure in both sexes, with a significantly greater effect in males. Birthweight was consistently reduced in both sexes, a result confirmed by meta-analysis.

Conclusions:  We found little support for the hypotheses that males are more affected by food and protein restriction, or that effects are particularly severe if nutrition is reduced part-way through gestation. However, less than half of the studies tested for sex by maternal diet interactions to identify sex-dependent effects. As a result, many reported sex-specific effects may be false positives.

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Article
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Overfishing and Habitat Loss Drives Range Contraction of Iconic Marine Fishes to Near Extinction

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-02-10
Abstract: 

Extinctions on land are often inferred from sparse sightings over time, but this technique is ill-suited for wide-ranging species. We develop a space-for-time approach to track the spatial contraction and drivers of decline of sawfishes. These iconic and endangered shark-like rays were once found in warm, coastal waters of 90 nations and are now presumed extinct in more than half (n = 46). Using dynamic geography theory, we predict that sawfishes are gone from at least nine additional nations. Overfishing and habitat loss have reduced spatial occupancy, leading to local extinctions in 55 of the 90 nations, which equates to 58.7% of their historical distribution. Retention bans and habitat protections are urgently necessary to secure a future for sawfishes and similar species.

Document type: 
Article

Spatially Congruent Sites of Importance for Global Shark and Ray Biodiversity

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-07-06
Abstract: 

Many important areas identified for conservation priorities focus on areas of high species richness, however, it is unclear whether these areas change depending on what aspect of richness is considered (e.g. evolutionary distinctiveness, endemicity, or threatened species). Furthermore, little is known of the extent of spatial congruency between biodiversity measures in the marine realm. Here, we used the distribution maps of all known marine sharks, rays, and chimaeras (class Chondrichthyes) to examine the extent of spatial congruency across the hotspots of three measures of species richness: total number of species, evolutionarily distinct species, and endemic species. We assessed the spatial congruency between hotspots considering all species, as well as on the subset of the threatened species only. We consider three definitions of hotspot (2.5%, 5%, and 10% of cells with the highest numbers of species) and three levels of spatial resolution (1°, 4°, and 8° grid cells). Overall, we found low congruency among all three measures of species richness, with the threatened species comprising a smaller subset of the overall species patterns irrespective of hotspot definition. Areas of congruency at 1° and 5% richest cells contain over half (64%) of all sharks and rays and occurred off the coasts of: (1) Northern Mexico Gulf of California, (2) USA Gulf of Mexico, (3) Ecuador, (4) Uruguay and southern Brazil, (5) South Africa, southern Mozambique, and southern Namibia, (6) Japan, Taiwan, and parts of southern China, and (7) eastern and western Australia. Coarsening resolution increases congruency two-fold for all species but remains relatively low for threatened measures, and geographic locations of congruent areas also change. Finally, for pairwise comparisons of biodiversity measures, evolutionarily distinct species richness had the highest overlap with total species richness regardless of resolution or definition of hotspot. We suggest that focusing conservation attention solely on areas of high total species richness will not necessarily contribute efforts towards species that are most at risk, nor will it protect other important dimensions of species richness.

Document type: 
Article
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