Purdue animal social behavior expert to speak at next Science on Tap
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A leading international researcher at Purdue University who has studied the unique social behaviors of animals is the featured speaker at the next Science on Tap event Thursday (June 30) in downtown Lafayette.
Peter Waser, a longtime professor of biological sciences at Purdue, will speak at 6 p.m. in the upstairs of the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette. His talk is titled, "Meerkats, Mongooses and the Evolution of Animal Cooperation."
The Science on Tap event is free and open to the public to those ages 21 or older.
Waser will discuss his research with former Purdue graduate student Scott Creel, now an ecology professor at Montana State University, and other collaborators, which takes on the question of how a selfish process among animals could produce apparent altruistic behaviors.
Cooperative breeding refers to a social system in which those other than the parents provide offspring care. Since that delays breeding because they're invested in the offspring of others, the Darwinian explanation of the evolution of social behavior is challenged, Waser said.
"Biologists assume such behaviors are the result of natural selection, but natural selection is a notoriously selfish process," Waser said. "If you have more surviving kids than the next guy, your genes get passed on."
He points to the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania, East Africa, where he said it's not just the lions, hyenas, wild dogs and people that live in complex social groups. The dwarf mongoose, an animal the size of a lab rat with a ferocious appetite for termites, lives in groups of 10 or more whose members jointly raise the young of the dominant pair, he said.
Waser said some subordinate females, called "spontaneous lactators," even nurse the dominant female's offspring without having gone through a pregnancy beforehand.
"It turns out that Darwin's theory works fine, but it's taken nearly 150 years to understand the underlying genetics," he said.
Science on Tap, led by Purdue graduate student Patrick Dolan and postdoctoral students John Paderi and Kate Stuart, provides faculty from Purdue the opportunity to share their research activities in an informal setting, touching on subjects and providing presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience.
Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first year.
Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Peter Waser, 765-494-8129, email@example.com
Patrick Dolan, 765-496-9336, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Stuart, 765-496-1460, email@example.com
John Paderi, 765-496-1460, firstname.lastname@example.org