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Behavior genetics  2013;43(2):151-160.
Conspecifics of many animal species physically compete to gain reproductive resources and thus fitness. Despite the importance of competitive ability across the animal kingdom, specific traits that influence or underpin competitive ability are poorly characterized. Here, we investigate whether there are genetic influences on competitive ability within male house mice. Additionally, we examined if litter demographics (litter size and litter sex ratio) influence competitive ability. We phenotyped two generations for a male s ability to possess a reproductive resource--a prime nesting site--using semi-natural enclosures with mixed sex groupings. We used the animal model coupled with an extensive pedigree to estimate several genetic parameters. Competitive ability was found to be highly heritable, but only displayed a moderate genetic correlation to body mass. Interestingly, litter sex ratio had a weak negative influence on competitive ability. Litter size had no significant influence on competitive ability. Our study also highlights how much remians unknown about the proximal causes of competitive ability.
PMCID: PMC3626107  PMID: 23291957
Heritability; Genetic Correlation; Life-History Evolution; Male-Male Competition; Sexual Selection
2.  Impact Loading and Locomotor-Respiratory Coordination Significantly Influence Breathing Dynamics in Running Humans 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e70752.
Locomotor-respiratory coupling (LRC), phase-locking between breathing and stepping rhythms, occurs in many vertebrates. When quadrupedal mammals gallop, 1∶1 stride per breath coupling is necessitated by pronounced mechanical interactions between locomotion and ventilation. Humans show more flexibility in breathing patterns during locomotion, using LRC ratios of 2∶1, 2.5∶1, 3∶1, or 4∶1 and sometimes no coupling. Previous studies provide conflicting evidence on the mechanical significance of LRC in running humans. Some studies suggest LRC improves breathing efficiency, but others suggest LRC is mechanically insignificant because ‘step-driven flows’ (ventilatory flows attributable to step-induced forces) contribute a negligible fraction of tidal volume. Yet, although step-driven flows are brief, they cause large fluctuations in ventilatory flow. Here we test the hypothesis that running humans use LRC to minimize antagonistic effects of step-driven flows on breathing. We measured locomotor-ventilatory dynamics in 14 subjects running at a self-selected speed (2.6±0.1 ms−1) and compared breathing dynamics in their naturally ‘preferred’ and ‘avoided’ entrainment patterns. Step-driven flows occurred at 1-2X step frequency with peak magnitudes of 0.97±0.45 Ls−1 (mean ±S.D). Step-driven flows varied depending on ventilatory state (high versus low lung volume), suggesting state-dependent changes in compliance and damping of thoraco-abdominal tissues. Subjects naturally preferred LRC patterns that minimized antagonistic interactions and aligned ventilatory transitions with assistive phases of the step. Ventilatory transitions initiated in ‘preferred’ phases within the step cycle occurred 2x faster than those in ‘avoided’ phases. We hypothesize that humans coordinate breathing and locomotion to minimize antagonistic loading of respiratory muscles, reduce work of breathing and minimize rate of fatigue. Future work could address the potential consequences of locomotor-ventilatory interactions for elite endurance athletes and individuals who are overweight or obese, populations in which respiratory muscle fatigue can be limiting.
PMCID: PMC3741319  PMID: 23950997
3.  The Advantage of Standing Up to Fight and the Evolution of Habitual Bipedalism in Hominins 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19630.
Many quadrupedal species stand bipedally on their hindlimbs to fight. This posture may provide a performance advantage by allowing the forelimbs to strike an opponent with the range of motion that is intrinsic to high-speed running, jumping, rapid braking and turning; the range of motion over which peak force and power can be produced.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To test the hypothesis that bipedal (i.e., orthograde) posture provides a performance advantage when striking with the forelimbs, I measured the force and energy produced when human subjects struck from “quadrupedal” (i.e., pronograde) and bipedal postures. Downward and upward directed striking energy was measured with a custom designed pendulum transducer. Side and forward strikes were measured with a punching bag instrumented with an accelerometer. When subjects struck downward from a bipedal posture the work was 43.70±12.59% (mean ± S.E.) greater than when they struck from a quadrupedal posture. Similarly, 47.49±17.95% more work was produced when subjects struck upward from a bipedal stance compared to a quadrupedal stance. Importantly, subjects did 229.69±44.19% more work in downward than upward directed strikes. During side and forward strikes the force impulses were 30.12±3.68 and 43.04±9.00% greater from a bipedal posture than a quadrupedal posture, respectively.
These results indicate that bipedal posture does provide a performance advantage for striking with the forelimbs. The mating systems of great apes are characterized by intense male-male competition in which conflict is resolved through force or the threat of force. Great apes often fight from bipedal posture, striking with both the fore- and hindlimbs. These observations, plus the findings of this study, suggest that sexual selection contributed to the evolution of habitual bipedalism in hominins.
PMCID: PMC3097185  PMID: 21611167
5.  Genetic regulation of canine skeletal traits: trade-offs between the hind limbs and forelimbs in the fox and dog 
Genetic variation in functionally integrated skeletal traits can be maintained over 10 million years despite bottlenecks and stringent selection. Here, we describe an analysis of the genetic architecture of the canid axial skeleton using populations of the Portuguese Water Dog Canis familiaris) and silver fox (Vulpes vulpes). Twenty-one skeletal metrics taken from radiographs of the forelimbs and hind limbs of the fox and dog were used to construct separate anatomical principal component (PC) matrices of the two species. In both species, 15 of the 21 PCs exhibited significant heritability, ranging from 25% to 70%. The second PC, in both species, represents a trade-off in which limb-bone width is inversely correlated with limb-bone length. PC2 accounts for approximately 15% of the observed skeletal variation, ~30% of the variation in shape. Many of the other significant PCs affect very small amounts of variation (e.g., 0.2–2%) along trade-off axes that partition function between the forelimbs and hind limbs. These PCs represent shape axes in which an increase in size of an element of the forelimb is associated with a decrease in size of an element of the hind limb and vice versa. In most cases, these trade-offs are heritable in both species and genetic loci have been identified in the Portuguese Water Dog for many of these. These PCs, present in both the dog and the fox, include ones that affect lengths of the forelimb versus the hind limb, length of the forefoot versus that of the hind foot, muscle moment (i.e., lever) arms of the forelimb versus hind limb, and cortical thickness of the bones of the forelimb versus hind limb. These inverse relationships suggest that genetic regulation of the axial skeleton results, in part, from the action of genes that influence suites of functionally integrated traits. Their presence in both dogs and foxes suggests that the genes controlling the regulation of these PCs of the forelimb versus hind limb may be found in other tetrapod taxa.
PMCID: PMC2367254  PMID: 18458753

Results 1-5 (5)