Final Programme

The final scientific programme and abstract book can be downloaded here.

A concise outline of the finalised meeting schedule can be viewed here.

Plenary Speakers

The plenary speakers were:

  • Additionally, the Dutch Behaviour Society (NVG) organised a symposium on the topic "Sexual conflict and behavioural traits: steps towards a mechanistic integration", featuring keynote talks from:
  • Ted Morrow (Uppsala University, Sweden)
  • Kate Lessells (NIOO-KNAW, Netherlands)

Plenary Abstracts

  • Simon Fisher - Molecular windows into speech and language. Genes involved in speech and language disorders offer novel perspectives on the evolution of human traits. People with mutations of the FOXP2 gene have problems mastering sequences of mouth movements needed for fluent speech, accompanied by expressive and receptive language impairments. FOXP2 is an evolutionarily ancient gene which switches on and off other genes in brain circuits of diverse vertebrates. Researchers are studying it in a wide range of systems, from neuronal models, mutant mice and songbirds, to humans themselves. Intriguingly, dysfunction of this gene impairs neural plasticity and motor-skill learning in mice, and impedes vocal imitation during song learning in zebra finches. Analyses of molecular evolution in
  • Marian Joëls - The adaptive value of stress for memory formation. Exposure to potentially threatening situations leads to activation of two systems which causes enhanced release of catecholamines like noradrenaline and corticosteroid hormones respectively. Both hormones reach the brain. Receptors for these stress hormones are enriched in limbic brain structures, like the hippocampus and amygdala, which are important for (emotional) memory formation. Studies in rodents as well as human subjects have shown that stress improves memory for the events during which stress hormones are released. However, this improvement is only seen when the hormones are present at the same time and at the same synapses as those involved in the processing of stress-related information. By contrast, enhanced hormone levels which are out of sync with stress exposure impair memory formation. Recent experiments have revealed some of the cellular mechanisms underlying these principles. The effect of stress hormones on memory formation is highly adaptive, enabling organisms to remember important life events.
  • Barry Keverne - Mammalian brain evolution. Viviparity has played a major role in mammalian evolution particularly in the context of maternalism, which has required radical changes in the functional evolution of the brain. Viviparity requires the action and interaction of two genomes in one individual and has resulted in a tissue type unique to mammals, namely the trophectoderm which forms the placenta. The foetal placenta exerts considerable influence on the maternal brain, determining neuroendocrine function and behaviour. Hormones secreted by the placenta act on the maternal brain to suppress maternal sexual behaviour and fertility, increase maternal food intake in anticipation of subsequent foetal demands and promote the synthesis of oxytocin in anticipation of its requirements for parturition, maternal behaviour and milk letdown. In short, the foetal genome determines its own destiny via its placenta. The question arises as to how the adult maternal brain has evolved to optimise such interactive responding with the developing foetal genome. Maternal imprinting of key regulator genes provides a unique epigenetic transcriptional regulatory mechanism that results in alleles being monoallelically expressed according to parent-of-origin. Among vertebrates, genomic imprinting is restricted to viviparous mammals and has been thought to play a significant role in the evolution of the brain and placenta. In this talk I will explore the role of genomic imprinting in brain evolution and its key role in synchronising gene expression in brain and placenta at critical developmental times. I will show how the outcome of such genetic developmental co-adaptation positively shapes the next generation's mothering capabilities.
  • Kevin Laland - Animal social learning and the evolution of culture. Both demographically and ecologically, humans are a remarkably successful species. This success is generally attributed to our capacity for culture. But how did our species' extraordinary cultural capabilities evolve from its roots in animal social learning and tradition? In this seminar I will provide a provisional answer. After characterizing contemporary research into animal social learning, I will focus in on a case study of stickleback learning that illustrates the strategic nature of animal copying. I will go on to describe the findings of an international competition (the 'social learning strategies tournament') that I organized to investigate the best way to learn. I will suggest that the tournament sheds light on why copying is widespread in nature, and why humans happen to be so good at it. Finally, I will end by describing some other theoretical and experimental projects suggesting feedback mechanisms that may have been instrumental to the evolution of culture.
  • Clive Wynne - Why your dog loves you so. Nearly half of all households harbor a dog and few people who do not have a dog of their own pass a day without seeing many of these animals. Dogs are ubiquitous, but I shall argue that many commonly-held beliefs about dogs are mistaken. Humans did not intentionally create dogs from wolves. Dogs are not even descended from big gray wolves. Dogs do not have special cognitive skills to aid in their understanding of people, rather they use the same mental abilities as are found in other canids. The difference between dogs and wolves lies in a small difference in developmental timing. A small difference with a big impact. Dogs are wolves that refused to grow up. And it is their perpetual childishness that makes them so appealing to us. (webcast of the lecture)
  • Ted Morrow - Two sexes, one genome. Males and females of many species are thought to experience unique selection pressures throughout their reproductive lives. As a consequence, the genetic code from which the phenotype arises may be doomed to failure since no single solution will satisfy the requirements of selection, which may differ between the sexes. An important issue for evolutionary biologists therefore is to determine the identity and nature of genetic loci that evolve under this form of sexually antagonistic selection. Here I will describe a series of experiments that were designed to examine sex-specific effects on gene expression in the fruit-fly with the aim of identifying sexually antagonistic loci and learning more about how sexual conflict influences the genome and the whole organism.
  • Kate Lessells - Sexual conflict over parental investment: behavioural mechanisms determine evolutionarily stable patterns of investment. Despite sexual conflict over parental investment being a universally expected consequence of sexual reproduction, we still have an incomplete understanding of how this conflict is resolved when both parents care for the offspring. Unlike sexual conflict over mating, there is little evidence for mechanisms which actively manipulate a mate's investment. Instead, models have assumed that an individual's investment is under its own control and evolves to be the best response to its partner's effort. The earliest model (Houston & Davies 1985) assumes that parents each make investment in a single bout without knowing their mate's investment (a sealed bid). However, when both parents care for their young they usually make repeated bouts of investment in the offspring, and are expected to negotiate behaviourally over the level of care that each makes. I will present two recent models (Lessells & McNamara; Johnstone et al.) which make different assumptions about the behavioural mechansims underlying negotiation. The models reveal that the resolution of sexual conflict over parental investment depends critically on the behavioural mechanism by which the conflict is resolved, and hence underline the need for more information onwhat behavioural mechanisms are actually used.

Scientific & Organising Committee

  • Chair: Johan Bolhuis (Utrecht University, NL)
  • Secretary: Thijs Zandbergen (Utrecht University, NL)
  • Dominique Adriaens (Ghent University, BE)
  • Sanne Moorman (Utrecht University, NL)
  • Will Swaney (Utrecht University, NL)
  • Eddy van der Zee (University of Groningen, NL)

2 - 4 November 2011

  • Zoology 2011
  • Academiegebouw
  • Utrecht University
  • Domplein 29
  • 3512JE Utrecht
  • The Netherlands