Random Samples

Science  03 Feb 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5761, pp. 587

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  1. Vulture Culture

    Eurasian griffon vultures. CREDIT: PALLAVA BAGLA

    Large congregations of vultures are once again appearing in the western Indian state of Rajasthan—a welcome sight after a precipitous, decade-long decline, allegedly from poisoning by an anti-inflammatory drug ingested from dead cattle (Science, 8 October 2004, p. 223). Conservationists in India have been clamoring for a phaseout of the sale of the drug, diclofenac, for veterinary use. Vibhu Prakash, head of the Vulture Care Centre at Chandigarh, says large new populations of griffon vultures, apparently migrants from Europe and Mongolia, do not appear to be affected yet, but he believes “it is merely a matter of time.”

    But scientists led by zoologist Rhys E. Green of Cambridge University in the U.K. say there may be a way out. They gave 35 captive-bred vultures in South Africa and India meat laden with a different anti-inflammatory drug, meloxicam, available for use in cattle. In the March issue of PLoS Biology, they report that the drug appears to be safe for vultures.

  2. From Predator to Pal


    Scientists have long debated just when canines and people started being such great chums. Most genetics-based estimates indicate that the domestic dog line split from its predecessor, the gray wolf, sometime between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago.

    Darcy Morey, an archaeologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, argues that dog burials are a much better indicator of domestication. Morey combed the literature for evidence of ancient dog graves and identified more than 50 sites where dogs were buried singly, in packs, or even cuddled up with people. The earliest known dog burial, 14,000 years old, was in Germany; others, in Siberia, date back 10,650 years, Morey reports in the February issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. The earliest North American site, at Koster, Illinois, is 8500 years old.

    Morey concludes that domestication most likely began about 14,000 years ago. Simon Davis, a zooarchaeologist at the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology in Lisbon, is convinced. DNA studies may tell us when doggy ancestors split from the wolf line, he says, but not when faithful mutts started curling up by the campfire.

    Carles Vilà, a geneticist and evolutionary biologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, agrees that “genetic divergence is not the same as domestication,” but he suspects that dogs were tamed long before they started being ceremonially interred. Morey disagrees, saying the “essence” of domestication is “a social relationship that is clearly signified” by the burials.

  3. Make Her Laugh

    Desirable catch? CREDIT: HO/REUTERS

    Most people agree that a sense of humor is desirable in a mate. But a study in the January issue of Evolution and Human Behavior indicates that women find this trait much more important than do men.

    Evolutionary psychologist Eric Bressler of Westfield State College in Massachusetts and behavioral ecologist Sigal Balshine of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, showed 210 undergraduates, 105 of each sex, photos of two equally attractive members of the opposite sex along with eight statements supposedly made by each. For one, all eight statements were not amusing (“Every year I go to a cabin that my uncle owns, and I go cross-country skiing”). For the other, three were humorous (“I like the lottery because it's basically a tax on people who are bad at math”), and five were not. Students were asked to rate the two subjects on characteristics such as intelligence, trustworthiness, and romantic desirability.

    Female students overwhelmingly deemed the humorous males more desirable. But the males were not swayed either way by funny women. Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque says humor is “a hard-to-fake indicator of several important traits: intelligence, creativity, and mental health.” But for many men, who are more visually oriented in matters of sex, he says, beauty still trumps wit.

  4. Fire and Ice

    Lava channel on Mount Etna. CREDIT: C. FERLITO AND J. SIEWERT

    Lava and ice couldn't be farther apart on the thermal spectrum, but when it comes to carving up mountains, the two have a lot in common. In the 20 January issue of Physical Review Letters, researchers show that—during a 2001 volcanic eruption on Sicily's Mount Etna—lava carved a channel 6 meters deep in a mere 12 hours. That's far too fast for the gully to have melted, meaning the lava plowed its way through the rock much as a glacier would. The researchers say the results may provide new understanding of how ancient lava flows dug the large channels on Venus and the moon.