Dogs mouth-lick to communicate with angry humans

Animal behaviour researchers in the UK and Brazil have found that dogs lick their mouths as a response to angry human faces, according to a new study.

Scientists examined the behaviour of dogs in response to emotionally significant images and sounds, and found that mouth licking in domestic dogs is not simply a response to food or uncertainty, but appears to be used as a signal to try to communicate with humans in response to visual cues of anger.

Significantly, audio cues of angry human voices did not elicit the same response.

Dogs were exposed simultaneously to two facial expressions (one positive and one negative from the same individual), which could be either human or canine of either sex, along with a sound, which could be positive or negative from the same species and gender.

The findings, published in the scientific journal Behavioural Processes, shine new light on our understanding of the emotional world of dogs.

The research was conducted by researchers from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the University of Lincoln, UK.

Lead author Natalia Albuquerque from the University of Sao Paulo, said: “Mouth-licking was triggered by visual cues only (facial expressions). There was also a species effect, with dogs mouth-licking more often when looking at humans than at other dogs. Most importantly, the findings indicate that this behaviour is linked to the animals’ perception of negative emotions.”

The researchers believe that this behavioural trait may have been selected during domestication. The findings, combined with previous evidence of the cognitive processing of emotional expressions, suggest that dogs may have a functional understanding of emotional information and greatly increase our understanding of their emotional world.

Co-author Professor Daniel Mills of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “Humans are known to be very visual in both intra and inter-specific interactions, and because the vision of dogs is much poorer than humans, we often tend to think of them using their other senses to make sense of the world. But these results indicate that dogs may be using the visual display of mouth-licking to facilitate dog-human communication in particular.”

 

Touchscreen test reveals new findings on intelligence of birds

 

Birds such as parrots and crows have been using touchscreen technology as part of an international research study examining whether the ways in which animals respond to new things influences how eager they are to explore.
The new research, involving scientists from across Europe, looks at how a number of factors affect the speed and frequency with which the birds investigate new objects that they have never seen before.The study was carried out by researchers from the Messerli Research Institute (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna) and the University of Vienna in Austria, the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany and University of Lincoln, UK.It has generally been assumed that neophobic species (species that do not like new things) have a tendency to explore less than those that do (referred to as neophilic). For example, kea parrots in New Zealand have been known to destroy cars because they are so interested in new things.The research results reveal that the neotic style of a bird (how neophobic or neophilic an animal is) has an impact on when they choose to explore new objects, but not on their level of exploration. Those who are more neophobic carry out the same amount of exploration, but simply make the approach much later. The results also show that juvenile animals explore more quickly than adults do.

Significantly, the scientists found that individual differences and characteristics seem to be much more important than species-level differences in determining how eager a bird is to explore. This suggests that neotic style is not, as is frequently assumed, a result of the challenges faced by an entire species, but instead appears to differ depending on the individual bird.

As part of the investigation, the parrots and crows were introduced to a touchscreen which revealed two different coloured shapes on a regular basis, and they were trained to understand that choosing one of the shapes (by pecking it) could result in a food reward. The researchers showed each bird 16 pairs of shapes, and throughout the task introduced a few novel stimuli that they had never seen before. The researchers measured how quickly they responded to the new shapes, and at which point in the test they chose to investigate them.

A video of Sven the Eclectus parrot working the touchscreen is available to view on YouTube.

Dr Anna Wilkinson, a specialist in animal cognition from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, explained: “Rather than its species, we found that individual differences have a significant impact upon how quickly a bird begins to explore. This is likely to be due to a combination of the bird’s age, its individual position in the social hierarchy, and its own previous experiences.”

The birds that featured in the study were from nine different species of parrots and corvids – also known as the crow family. They were selected to represent different ecological backgrounds so that factors such as the likelihood of pressure from predators could also be taken into account. For example, species originating from islands such as Goffin’s cockatoos and vasa parrots are less likely to face pressure from predators than those such as ravens, jackdaws and African grey parrots, which are much more widely distributed.

As part of the study, researchers worked with Eclectus parrots from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park to assess their reactions.

The first author of the study, Dr Mark O’Hara from the Messerli Research Institute and the University of Vienna, said: “Our findings allow for a more accurate interpretation of behaviour and the processes which control responses to changes in the environment.”

The full paper, The temporal dependence of exploration on noetic style in birds, is published in Scientific Reports and is available to read online.

Follow the School of Life Sciences on Twitter and Facebook.

A tortoise (almost) never forgets!

Research undertaken by the School of Life Sciences shows that the red-footed tortoise is able remember the location of their favourite food sources along with the biggest stashes of food for at least 18 months! These findings were published this month in the Royal Society journal, Biology Letters. 
Image Credit: Sophie Moszuti.
When animals are making decisions in their environment, it is important that they remember not only the location of key food sources, but also where the best or the most food is likely to be.

The new findings from researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, suggest these reptiles have an even greater long-term memory than previously thought. Earlier studies have shown that animals do remember the location of food, however, this new research reveals for the first time that they are also able to exercise judgements about quality and quantity and retain this vital information for a long period of time.

Dr Anna Wilkinson, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, says, “Long-term memory is an important characteristic for animals which live for a long time, particularly if they inhabit environments where resources are patchily distributed like forests…a long-term memory enables them to retain information that is crucial for survival, such as the appearance and location of key resources.
“Our study shows us that they can in fact remember visual cues associated with different reward values over a period of at least 18 months, demonstrating a significant memory for different quantities and qualities of food. They are able to remember much more than just the presence or absence of food.”

Dr Libby John, another author of the study, said: “This is an important distinction to make because, in nature, decisions are rarely clear cut so it is helpful to be able to evaluate the relative benefits of different resources.”

As part of the research, red-footed tortoises were trained to associate visual cues (coloured sheets) with specific qualities of food (a preferred mango-flavoured jelly and a less-preferred apple-flavoured jelly) and different quantities. The animals learned which colours were associated with which type and quantity of food, and when they were shown the same cues 18 months later, they remembered their preferences.
The researchers conclude that this long-term memory is likely to impact directly on an animal’s foraging decisions. The retention of this information could also improve fitness, as it would make foraging more efficient by eliminating the need to re-evaluate different food sources during each season and reduce the risk of re-visiting inadequate locations.

This new findings suggest that plants which provide better fruit in terms of quality or quantity may receive more visits in a given season, and may also receive repeat visits in successive fruiting seasons. The research suggests this pattern could also have implications for ecological interactions such as herbivory and the dispersal of seeds.

You can read the full paper online.

LiGHTING the way for research: hundreds turn out for science showcase

LiGHTS NightsScientific research which is changing the world we live in today has been opened up to the public as part of a showcase celebrating developments across all areas of science.

Hundreds of schoolchildren, University students and inquisitive members of the public came face to face with skeletons, robots and life-size terracotta warriors among other projects, as part of LiGHTS Nights (Lincoln – Get Hold of Tech and Science) at the University of Lincoln, UK.

The science extravaganza was one of more than 250 events occurring simultaneously across Europe on Friday 30th September as part of the annual European Researchers’ Night event.

The action-packed day on the University of Lincoln’s Brayford campus hosted scientific workshops and exhibitions ranging from skeletal examinations by forensic archaeologists and an extraordinary collection of replica Terracotta Warriors, to archaeological excavations in thousands of UK gardens which are mapping the impact of the Black Death.

Other activities included workshops which enabled visitors to extract DNA from everyday food using ordinary chemicals such as washing-up liquid and alcohol, learn how dogs are helping humans with their health, and meet an ensemble cast of robots from the University’s School of Computer Science. The day also included talks covering topics from sleep to animal behaviour.

The aim was to inspire people of all ages to learn more about university research. LiGHTS has been spearheaded by Carenza Lewis, a leading archaeologist who featured on the acclaimed Time Team television series.

Professor Lewis, Professor for the Public Understanding of Research at the University of Lincoln, said: “The activities and exhibits on show for LiGHTS Night 2016 were superb, with a range and variety which offered anyone and everyone an intriguing day.  More than 95 per cent of visitors enthusiastically commended the activities they took part in as enjoyable, interesting and informative, while 74 per cent of school students were inspired to consider a career in STEM (Science, technology engineering or maths). University staff enjoyed presenting the work they love to receptive audiences, and we are already looking forward to making next year even better.”

Contributions came from academics across the University’s Colleges of Science, Arts and Social Science.
The European Researchers’ Night initiative has been funded by the EU under HORIZON 2020 in the framework of the Marie Sklodowska Curie actions. LiGHTS Nights 2016 was Lincoln’s first participation in the initiative and further funding has been secured for the University to take part again in 2017.

 

Life Sciences at Lincoln ranked number 1 in NSS

Life Sciences at Lincoln has ranked number one in the latest National Student Survey!

Our third year students have rated us number one in the UK for Biochemistry, Bioveterinary Science and Animal Behaviour & Welfare, and Zoology in the National Student Survey.

The National Student Survey is completed by final year students and is a measure of how satisfied students are with their university education. These are wonderful results and as a School we are very proud! 

Head of School, Libby John would like to thank the third years who took the time to complete the survey and feed back to us on their time here.

“I think much of our success comes from the fantastic support we get from our student reps who let us know how things are going and how we can improve the experience for all students – so I want to give all our reps a huge thank you.

I look forward to seeing most of you in September – either at graduation as you move on to the next stage in your career or when you are back at Lincoln as returning students.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer in the meantime.”

Read more about the University of Lincoln’s Success in the NSS