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1.  Intralocus sexual conflict over human height 
Biology Letters  2012;8(6):976-978.
Intralocus sexual conflict (IASC) occurs when a trait under selection in one sex constrains the other sex from achieving its sex-specific fitness optimum. Selection pressures on body size often differ between the sexes across many species, including humans: among men individuals of average height enjoy the highest reproductive success, while shorter women have the highest reproductive success. Given its high heritability, IASC over human height is likely. Using data from sibling pairs from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, we present evidence for IASC over height: in shorter sibling pairs (relatively) more reproductive success (number of children) was obtained through the sister than through the brother of the sibling pair. By contrast, in average height sibling pairs most reproductive success was obtained through the brother relative to the sister. In conclusion, we show that IASC over a heritable, sexually dimorphic physical trait (human height) affects Darwinian fitness in a contemporary human population.
PMCID: PMC3497124  PMID: 22875819
stature; sexual antagonism; reproductive success; genetic conflict
2.  Increased aggression during human group contests when competitive ability is more similar 
Biology Letters  2012;8(6):921-923.
Theoretical analyses and empirical studies have revealed that conflict escalation is more likely when individuals are more similar in resource-holding potential (RHP). Conflicts can also occur between groups, but it is unknown whether conflicts also escalate more when groups are more similar in RHP. We tested this hypothesis in humans, using data from two professional sports competitions: football (the Bundesliga, the German first division of football) and basketball (the NBA, the North American National Basketball Association). We defined RHP based on the league ranks of the teams involved in the competition (i.e. their competitive ability) and measured conflict escalation by the number of fouls committed. We found that in both sports the number of fouls committed increased when the difference in RHP was smaller. Thus, we provide what is to our best knowledge the first evidence that, as in conflicts between individuals, conflicts escalate more when groups are more similar in RHP.
PMCID: PMC3497125  PMID: 22896272
resource-holding potential; aggression; group competition; human sports
3.  Western scrub-jays conceal auditory information when competitors can hear but cannot see 
Biology Letters  2009;5(5):583-585.
Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) engage in a variety of cache-protection strategies to reduce the chances of cache theft by conspecifics. Many of these strategies revolve around reducing visual information to potential thieves. This study aimed to determine whether the jays also reduce auditory information during caching. Each jay was given the opportunity to cache food in two trays, one of which was filled with small pebbles that made considerable noise when cached in (‘noisy’ tray), whereas the other one contained soil that made little detectable noise when cached in (‘quiet’ tray). When the jays could be heard, but not seen, by a competitor, they cached proportionally less food items in the ‘noisy’ substrate than when they cached alone in the room, or when they could be seen and heard by competitors. These results suggest that western scrub-jays know when to conceal auditory information, namely when a competitor cannot see but can hear the caching event.
PMCID: PMC2781959  PMID: 19605383
western scrub-jays; social cognition; cache protection; corvids
4.  Metabolic ageing in individual zebra finches 
Biology Letters  2008;5(1):86-89.
Oxidative stress is suggested as a contributor to the ageing process. Knowledge of the relationship between age and energy expenditure may contribute to our understanding of ageing patterns, due to the link between oxygen consumption and free radical production. However, studies on basal metabolic rate (BMR) and age have generally been cross-sectional, which may confound estimates of the age effect due to disproportionate mortality (also known as ‘selective disappearance’). We therefore performed a longitudinal study of BMR using captive zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) up to 5 years of age. BMR declined with age in individuals of both sexes when body mass was controlled for. Males gained mass with age while females did not. There was no evidence for disproportionate mortality with respect to BMR in either sex. To our knowledge, this is the first longitudinal study of avian BMR over such a long proportion of the lifespan of the study species.
PMCID: PMC2657745  PMID: 18842568
ageing; basal metabolic rate; senescence; zebra finches; Taeniopygia guttata; energy metabolism
5.  Immune activation suppresses plasma testosterone level: a meta-analysis 
Biology Letters  2008;4(6):741-744.
Females often select mates on the basis of sexual signals, which can be reliable indicators of male quality when the costliness of these signals prevents cheating. The immunocompetence handicap hypothesis (ICHH) provides a mechanistic explanation of these costs, by proposing a trade-off between immune function and sexual displays. This trade-off arises because testosterone enhances sexual signals, but suppresses immune function. Many studies have investigated the ICHH by administrating testosterone, and a recent meta-analysis found little evidence that testosterone suppressed immune function. However, another component of the ICHH, which has received less empirical interest, suggests that there may also be an interaction in the other direction, with immune activation suppressing testosterone levels. We present a meta-analysis to test for this effect. Overall, there was a strong suppressive effect of experimental immune activation on testosterone levels (r=−0.52), regardless of whether live pathogens or non-pathogenic antigens were used to challenge the immune system. The latter is important because it shows that immune activation per se suppresses testosterone levels. Thus, a trade-off between immunocompetence and sexual displays may primarily be generated by the effect of immune activation on testosterone, rather than the opposite effect that has received most attention.
PMCID: PMC2614147  PMID: 18700197
immunocompetence handicap hypothesis; sexual selection; testosterone; sexual signals
6.  Long-term effects of manipulated natal brood size on metabolic rate in zebra finches 
Biology Letters  2006;2(3):478-480.
Long-term effects of developmental conditions on health, longevity and other fitness components in humans are drawing increasing attention. In evolutionary ecology, such effects are of similar importance because of their role in the trade-off between quantity and quality of offspring. The central role of energy consumption is well documented for some long-term health effects in humans (e.g. obesity), but little is known of the long-term effects of rearing conditions on energy requirements later in life. We manipulated the rearing conditions in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) using brood size manipulation and cross-fostering. It has previously been shown in this species that being reared in a large brood has negative fitness consequences, and that such effects are stronger in daughters than in sons. We show that, independent of mass, standard metabolic rate of 1-year-old birds was higher when they had been reared in a large brood, and this is to our knowledge the first demonstration of such an effect. Furthermore, the brood size effect was stronger in daughters than in sons. This suggests that metabolic efficiency may play a role in mediating the long-term fitness consequences of rearing conditions.
PMCID: PMC1686193  PMID: 17148435
metabolic programming; metabolic syndrome; brood size manipulation; developmental stress; Taeniopygia guttata

Results 1-6 (6)