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.