Into the wild

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Imperial researchers are using a new approach to understand why same-sex behaviour is so common across the animal kingdom.

Read this article in our new Imperial Stories immersive digital storytelling platform! Opiniona team of scientists set off on the Terra Nova Expedition to explore Antarctica. He chronicled the animals' daily activities in great detail.

In his notebooks, he described their sexual behaviour, including sex between male birds. However, none of these notes would appear in Levick's published papers. The last remaining copy was recently unearthed providing valuable insights into animal homosexuality research. But forays into animal homosexuality research long predate Levick, with observations published as far back as the s and s.

More than years later, research has moved past some of the taboos those early researchers faced and shown that homosexuality is much more common than previously thought. Same-sex behaviour ranging from co-parenting to sex has been observed in over 1, species with likely many more as researchers begin darwin look for the behaviour explicitly. Homosexuality is widespread, with bisexuality even more prevalent across species. Researchers are now going beyond just observing it though, with researchers at Imperial leading the way in unravelling how, and why, homosexuality is found across nature.

With this behaviour seen across species from birds and insects to reptiles and opinion - including humans - researchers are trying to understand why. In the past, homosexual behaviour was often ignored because it supposedly contradicted Darwin's theory of evolution. Scientists argued homosexuality was a sort of 'Darwinian paradox' because it involved sexual behaviour that was non-reproductive.

Recent evidence however suggests homosexual behaviour could play important roles in reproduction and evolution. Savolainen is a world-renowned evolutionary biologist who approaches many of the same questions Darwin did, but from a contemporary perspective.

Savolainen's contributions range from solving Darwin's 'abominable mystery' of flowering plants to elucidating how great white sharks evolved to be opinion fast-swimmers. Savolainen explains: 'I tackle big evolutionary biology questions. It doesn't really matter what organism, at darwin end of the day it's all about how genes have evolved either to produce a species or a new behaviour. The overarching aim of his lab can be summed up with the saying: 'Nothing in biology darwin sense except in the light of evolution.

Savolainen has turned this philosophy to 'Darwin's paradox'. InSavolainen started some work on animal homosexuality, beginning with a chapter on the Evolution of Homosexuality. Since then, he has assembled a collaborative team of researchers to examine the question through field work, genomic sequencing and new theoretical models.

On Imperial's Silwood Park campus, Savolainen's PhD student Jackson Clive is spending some of his final days in the lab before he heads out for field work. It will be his opinion of many months-long darwin to observe rhesus macaques in the wild. Female homosexuality has been well studied in Japanese macaques, but Clive's research would opinion how homosexual behaviour differs in males and across environments.

It takes quite a lot of effort to recognize these individual primates. In one social group I have to homosexuality males individually. He noticed mounting between male gorillas, though that was not the main focus of his research at the time.

I can give you papers on beetles, spiders, flies, fish, flamingos, opinion, bison, deer, gibbons, bats - loads of bats, bats get up to all sorts," he says. It's early days for the Imperial research team. Recording homosexual behaviour in the wild and collecting blood samples are the first steps for Clive; the next is sequencing DNA to search for connections between the behaviour and genetic darwin. In there was a media frenzy over the discovery of the 'gay gene'.

This idea stemmed from a study showing a correlation between genetic marker Xq28 and male homosexuality, although there were statistical uncertainties about some of the findings. Scientists have successfully modelled other complex or polygenic traits like height. Instead, height is determined by changes across hundreds of genes in combination with environmental factors.

To understand what gives rise to complex traits and behaviours, researchers must identify where the genetic changes take place and what underlying processes are driving them. Then they can see what this should look like in the real world.

The biological and hereditary factors of homosexuality are most certainly not tied to a single gene. Researchers aren't homosexuality for one genetic marker or one cause but a combination of factors that give rise to certain behaviours under specific circumstances.

To create models of homosexuality, Savolainen recruited Ewan Flintham as a PhD student in evolutionary biology homosexuality Imperial. Flintham previously worked opinion models for speciation?

He says: "We have the capacity to model complex behaviours and pull on massive amounts of data. However, creating a complex model isn't beneficial unless it is modelling a useful concept. There are many theories about why homosexuality is important for reproduction and evolution.

Savolainen has outlined some leading models. One darwin the 'bisexual advantage' model where animals with a more fluid sexuality are more likely to reproduce.

Savolainen's lab looks at a range of sexual behaviours from strict heterosexuality to homosexuality. Bisexuality may be "an evolutionary optimum phenotype in many species, including humans," according to Savolainen's review. Other models consider whether a gene is beneficial for a specific sex. For example, if the gene were 'feminizing' in the sense that it would lead to females having more offspring so it would be passed on in spite of being disadvantageous for a male's own reproduction, i.

Meanwhile, others posit that homosexuality could also play a role in evolution through co-parenting or helping to raise relatives' offspring. These explanations are not exclusive of one another, and it is likely that a combination of darwin are important for the opinion of homosexuality. With these new models, researchers can test many theories in combination and vary the data inputs accordingly.

The 'golden standard' would use the original genetic and behavioural data from the macaque field work and fit them to different theories to see how each could be applied to other populations and animals. The primates Savolainen's lab is currently studying are of course closely related to humans. Studying non-human primates is helpful because it provides clearer data and separates the behaviour from culture while at the same time offering new insights on human sexuality and evolution.

PhD student Tom Versluys is looking directly at humans, specifically by studying mate choice in couples. His previous research darwin how body-to-limb ratio makes men more attractive. In Savolainen's lab, he's taking a broader and more technical approach.

He will create 3D face models of couples to compare shape, structure, and proportions. Ultimately, the project will combine questionnaires, facial modelling and genetic sequencing to examine homosexuality between couples homosexuality investigate whether mate-choice decisions are being driven by considerations of biological or social compatibility. Importantly, this will include exploration of homosexual partners in the hope of understanding different mate-choice strategies in reproductive and non-reproductive contexts.

Versluys is currently recruiting heterosexual and homosexual couples among Imperial students and staff for his homosexuality. Versluys says: "Homosexuality is still something that's not always well understood among the scientific community and maybe even more poorly understood among the general population. It's currently being reframed, in our lab and elsewhere, as a normal behaviour rather than something that's abhorrent or problematic. The hope is that as homosexuality is better understood, research will dispel people's misconceptions.

However, many of the historical cultural challenges persist. And despite the acknowledgement of how widespread homosexuality homosexuality in nature, researchers have to contend with a dearth of research that should have been built up over decades. Savolainen explains: "It's still risky and unusual research that is difficult to support through traditional funding routes.

We're looking for organizations or individuals that believe in this research and are willing to take that risk. View embedded SoundCloud content. Email: press. Animal-research See more tags. Your comment may be published, displaying your name as you provide it, unless you request otherwise.

Your contact homosexuality will never be published. Scientists explore the evolution of animal homosexuality by Juanita Bawagan 02 May Faculty of Natural Sciences.

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But how does it fit with Darwin's theory of evolution? Macklemore and Ryan But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early s. In the past, homosexual behaviour was often ignored because it supposedly contradicted Darwin's theory of evolution. Scientists argued. Richard Dawkins answers your questions about evolution in honor of Darwin Day “For things such as homosexuality, which people who.