Why does evolution sometimes produce great diversity, and sometimes produce striking consistency? We look at why the vertebral column in mammals, despite clear diversity in vertebral form, demonstrates remarkable conservatism in vertebral numbers.
We are living in the Anthropocene and our planet is facing its most significant environmental crisis. Millions of species are expected to go extinct, yet we have little understanding of the mechanisms driving species sensitivity to habitat loss. New evidence arises that local sensitivity to habitat changes are in fact governed by processes occurring at regional and continental scales.
Coral records from the tropical oceans reveal the first 400 year-long seasonal record of different El Niño events. This record shows an astonishing change of El Niño’s flavour in the most recent decades.
Just as humans crowds will often contain subgroups of people moving with friends or partners, winter flocks of jackdaws contain birds flying in pairs. This reflects the long-term monogamous bonds of the species, and in our study we found that paired birds in a flock coordinate with half as many neighbours as their unpaired counterparts. While focusing on their partner rather than their position in the wider group may have some energetic benefits for paired individuals, this might come at the cost of how efficiently the group coordinates as a whole.
Beheim et al. conclude based on a reanalysis of our publicly available data and code that our title finding that “complex societies precede moralizing gods throughout world history” reverses when correctly analyzed. I am honoured to have such a distinguished group of scholars engage deeply with our research. But their reanalyses contain a crucial flaw in how they deal with known historical expansions of moralizing gods through conquest or diffusion from already complex societies. When this flaw is accounted for, their analyses in fact confirm the robustness of our central finding. More generally, this episode highlights the power of open science to allow rapid exchange of differing opinions outside the traditional journal publication process, but also highlights the need for caution before jumping to conclusions based on complicated analyses that have not undergone peer review.
The form of the pharynx in the earliest jawed vertebrates has major implications for the evolution of feeding and respiration. However, we don’t really know what it looked like, partly due to the rarity of pharyngeal fossilisation in Palaeozoic jawed vertebrates. In our Nature Communications paper, we describe our discovery of the earliest-known three-dimensional pharynx in an early relative of sharks, which looks tantalisingly like that of bony fishes.
For about a decade, Denisovans were only known from fragmentary remains recoverd from a single site in Siberia. Now, a newly described mandible from the Tibetan Plateau provides a first look at their mandibular morphology, and provides tantalizing hints at their past distribution in time and space.