Random Samples

Science  15 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5865, pp. 881
  1. You Go, Gill!

    Behind every male leader, there's a female calling the shots. At least that's true in one type of African fish, according to research that contradicts previous notions about male-determined hierarchy.

    The cichlid fish Neolamprologus pulcher lives in groups in Lake Tanganyika in southeastern Africa. Each social group contains one breeding pair and about 20 other males and females that look after the young and ward off predators. When the alpha male dies or is displaced, another comes forward to breed with the alpha female.

    Behavioral ecologist Sigal Balshine of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and colleagues removed the alpha males from 18 free-living cichlid groups in Zambia and watched as males fought for the head spot. In the end, however, the decision wasn't up to the males. The alpha female would only accept a mate larger than she. If the largest male in her own group was still too small, she selected a mate from another group. Testosterone levels, aggressive behavior, and genetic relationships had no impact on her choice.

    “It turned out that females were the linchpin. That was the surprise,” says Balshine, lead author of the study, which was published online last month in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

    CREDIT: CORBIS

    Evolutionary ecologist Peter Buston of the Estación Biológica de Doñana in Spain says the study is the first to show a role for females in determining male status. “This is almost certain to occur in other species,” he notes.

  2. An Epic Journey

    In the summer of 2003, a leatherback sea turtle set out from the Indonesian coast to forage for food. A year later, she finally settled down to a feast of jellyfish along the Oregon coast, having completed one of the longest recorded migrations by a marine vertebrate.

    During nesting season, female leatherbacks lay thousands of eggs in the sands of tropical beaches, then swim out to sea. Until now, scientists didn't know where they went or how long they stayed away. But in the summer of 2003, ecologist Scott Benson of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Moss Landing, California, and colleagues outfitted nine female western Pacific leatherbacks nesting in Papau, Indonesia, with tracking devices. They expected all the turtles to migrate to the same region, just as eastern Pacific leatherbacks had been shown to do.

    These turtles, however, had other plans. Some headed northeast toward the eastern North Pacific; others turned west toward the South China Sea. One kept going along an “epic journey” that took her to Oregon. After several months of dining on jellyfish, the turtle headed toward Hawaii for the winter, returning toward Oregon the following spring. By the time her tracking device stopped working in April 2005, the turtle had traveled 20,558 km over 647 days.

    Benson says the leatherback study underscores the scale of efforts needed to protect the endangered species. “This is an animal that doesn't recognize international borders,” he says. “It's a global mariner that needs global attention.”

  3. Got Game?

    CREDIT: SIGAL BALSHINE ET AL.

    Just like cocaine, video games trigger reward centers of the brain. A new study suggests that men feel the game buzz more than women do, which could explain why men are more prone to game addiction.

    Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine recruited 22 college students—11 men and 11 women—to play a computer game while the scientists imaged their brains using functional magnetic resonance.

    As men played, the reward and addiction circuitry in their brains was more active than in the female participants. And the more the men won, the stronger their brain activity. The women's responses were less intense and didn't correlate with winning. The results “lay the foundation for why men are more likely to play games to the point of addiction,” says Stanford neuroscientist Allan Reiss, who led the study, published online 14 January in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

    That men's nucleus accumbens, the “ground zero of addiction research” in the brain, is more active during gaming is “very interesting,” says neuroscientist Lawrence Cahill of the University of California, Irvine. What's more, Cahill adds, it uncovers pronounced sex differences in the human brain, which could “impact every corner of neuroscience and clinical work.”

  4. One Wei or Another

    Earning a name for yourself in science can be a struggle. Imagine how much harder it would be if your name was routinely confused with several others. That often happens to researchers with Asian names, many of which may share the same English transliteration.

    CREDIT: J. NEWFIELD/SCIENCE

    To address the issue, the American Physical Society (APS) will let authors with Chinese, Japanese, or Korean names include the Asian spellings (in parentheses after the English equivalent) on papers in the society's journals, including Physical Review Letters. An editorial announcing the policy in December noted that at least eight different Chinese names (shown above) are transcribed as Wei Wang. “I think this is a great way to show that science is an international matter,” says Wei Wang (王为), a particle physicist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Adds Wei Wang (王巍), a biophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, “All the journals should do the same thing.”