Saturday, August 17, 2013

ABS 2013 Wrap up

It's been two weeks since ABS 2013 finished up.  So, definitely need to get the rest of these out before I forget.

The theme of why so few comparative studies continued to pop in talks, from a brief mention in Patricia Gowaty's Tuesday morning plenary talk, to Daniel Caetano's plea for more data sharing, ironically comparing the data sharing situation to that in genomics and indirectly in phylogenetics - where the deposit situation isn't as rosy as in genomics, though certainly better than in behavior (shout out to Terry Ord and his growing collection of Dryad deposits).  One interesting comparative talk by Odom reconstructed that female song was present in the ancestry of songbirds, a conclusion that was dependent inclusion of a representative sample of taxa outside the northern temperate zone.

I missed a fair number of talks due to ongoing commitments, but managed to catch a number related to spiders, cognition, and a couple of the social learning talks on the final contributed session.  One of my favorite spider talks was Elizabeth Jakob's look at visual perception in jumping spiders - in particular a study of biological motion which used moving dot animations constructed by an undergraduate.  I spent some time looking at biological motion perception in pigeons a long time ago, so to see that jumping spiders can distinguish spider-like animations from scrambled dot animations was quite amusing. Another spider talk that caught my attention was Schwartz's Allee talk on spontaneous male death in the Dark Fishing Spider.  Although this work was published a few weeks before, the talk filled in a lot of details I missed in the paper.  Overall spiders were well represented, including Andrade's plenary talk on spider sociality.

There were also some good (and not so good) presentations in cognition and social learning.  A nice comparative study across 9 families of mammalian carnivora showed widespread (8 of 9 families, excluding Herpestidae) ability to solve a box opening task involving a latch (though not every species in the 8 families could solve the task).  The question being asked was whether sociality (as measured by group size) was predictive on performance in the task - it wasn't.  What did predict task performance was the size of the repertoire of actions used to manipulate the box and neophobia (negatively).  There was also a suggestion that brain size was predictive.  I'm very cautious about that last result - there have been too many poorly done brain size studies and this analysis seemed to be an after thought.  I saw a couple of cephalopod cognition talks that I didn't find convincing - I know cephalopods, especially free living, are hard to study, but that's all the more reason to throughly understand the issues involved before spending hundreds of hours of data that fail to address all the alternative explanations.

There were a number of good social learning talks on the last day - I unfortunately missed a good one on social learning in Drosophila, but did see Simon Reader's talk on conditions that influence choices of learning strategy, using guppies, which have become another good model system for social learning.  Ipek Kulahci looked at the role of social networks (both positive and negative relations) on demonstrator effectiveness in two Corvus species (C. corax and C. corone).  She looked at the effect of relationship on both attention to the demonstrator (observers were free to ignore demonstrators completing a box task designed to minimize scrounging) as well as learning effectiveness.  

Apart from the talks, this was a good meeting for socializing - being the 50th anniversary meeting of the ABS, lots senior and emeritus people were there, including my advisor Jack Hailman.  There was also more focused socializing, especially as several us continued our planning for next year's followups for the Behavior Ontologies workshop from last February.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ABS 2013 Part 1

It's been a productive, though at times frustrating, first 24 hours at the 2013 Animal Behavior Society meeting.  I met last night with one of my long time behavior ontology collaborators.  We are planning two NBO focussed events next year.  The second one will definitely be during the break between ISBE and ABS next summer.  The first, which will be more technically focussed will likely be around the time of the next Phenotype RCN summit though it might be at a different time or venue.

Before I arrived yesterday, they held a public outreach day and apparently the human habituated wolves they brought onto the U Colorado campus were a big hit.  Continuing the canine theme this morning, the plenary was on 'Why we love dogs' - discussing various behaviors dogs and their owners use to maintain their bonds.  After the Plenary and coffee (sort of, only decaf was left by the time I got through the line), I spent most of the morning in the predation session.  The primary talks of interest to me was one on ontogeny of newly hatched spiderlings, and one on resource patch decision making by slime molds.  The spider study (on a central american Pholcid species it turns out) demonstrated that the newly hatched spiderlings could respond appropriately with differing levels of attack intensity to differing prey (Drosophila vs. a local ant species), and that this flexibility was not the result of learning from previous experience (Escalante).  The slime mold talk (Reid) mentioned previous work that showed slime mold could find the minimum distance through a maze between two food sources through a type of 'distributed processing.'   Another talk of interest described a study of chunking and the limits of memory used by caching squirrels (Jacobs).  The ABS tweeters have settled on #2013ABS as several other groups have been using ABS2013.

My favorite tweet of the morning was certainly this one:
The phylogenies have gotten better and more comprehensive, but the gathering and sharing of comparative data still has a long way to go.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

AAS 2013

Here's a belated report from the 2013 American Arachnological Society meeting last week.  While I was there I tweeted a couple of times and @nsandlin tweeted about nearly all the talks.  Time to get this off my plate before Animal Behavior next week.

I found several talks quite memorable, including Eileen Hebets talk that seems to represent a start at integrating all the multi-modal signaling data for Schizocosa she's accumulated over the past 15-20 years.  I also liked Igni Agnarsson's talk on the diversity of Malagasy Anelosimus - lots of related species in close proximity, and unlike their North American sister clade, all remain sub-social.

Another memorable talk, if for more personal reasons, was Angela DiDomenico's (student of Marshal Hedin) systematic work with the Opilione genus Sitalcina.  Turns out there is likely an undescribed species in a draw only a couple of miles from where I attended Junior High School in Palos Verdes.  I'm not really surprised - the ecology of Palos Verdes has been known to include endemics for a while now (remember the Palos Verdes Blue butterfly?).  Hopefully this (not so traditionally charismatic) arachnid will have a better future than the PV Blue butterfly.

I knew that George Uetz had done a lot with the Schizocosa system, but the shear number of Schizocosa talks, especially during the second Monday morning session, was a bit of a shock.  S. ocreata really is attaining model organism status.

Apart from the talks, I got to catch up with people I knew in the Tucson Maddison lab, particularly Greta Binford, who indicated that several spider genomes are either done or nearing completion.   Having the genome sequenced is not the same as the level of annotation we have in vertebrate model organisms, but it is a step towards the day we could do a Phenoscape like project for spiders.

I also briefly chatted with Eileen and with Jonathan Coddington, who I got to know a bit from some phenotype ontology activities prior to the launch of the RCN.

The meeting also offered several opportunities to add to my literature collection, and I took advantage of the honor system reprint table as well as a couple of items in the silent auction.

Monday, June 17, 2013


At last year's iEvoBio I gave a lightning talk about Arachnolingua, an informatics project for spider behavior.  I've been plugging away at it, but not saying much.  Not ready for a release yet, but I've decided to try blogging my progress on it.  I've also decided to do that in a separate blog, keeping this one for items of more general interest (e.g., trip reports, more general musings).  So, if you have any interest in semantic representation of spider behavior, take a peak at An Arachnolingua Blog.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This summer

After going to Evolution and iEvoBio for the past three years, it's time for a change. I'll be heading back to the Animal Behavior Society meeting this summer (representing myself this time), and, for the first time in 11 years, I'll be attending the American Arachnological Society meeting.  I'm not turning my back on Evolution or the interesting community developing in Evolutionary Informatics - I expect to be back in the Triangle for the Evolution Meetings next year.

Meanwhile, I'll hope to have some interesting reports, both here and on twitter (@pmidford) and looking forward to meeting old and new friends.

Friday, March 15, 2013

We held a workshop...

Last month George Gkoutos and I ran a behavior ontologies workshop in association with the Phenotype Ontologies RCN.  We posted a detailed report here.  This meeting was an opportunity for Animal Behaviorists (I invited Anne Clark, Sue Margulis, and Cyndy Parr who were at the 2003-2004 Cornell workshops that developed ABO) with some of the top ontologists from the OBO community.  My only regret was that we didn't have enough space to invite a broader range of behavioral interests.