Some really cool stuff just got published a few minutes ago in PLoS Biology:
A crucial step in the emergence of self-recognition is the understanding that one’s own mirror reflection does not represent another individual but oneself. In nonhuman species and in children, the “mark test” has been used as an indicator of self-recognition. In these experiments, subjects are placed in front of a mirror and provided with a mark that cannot be seen directly but is visible in the mirror. Mirror self-recognition has been shown in apes and, recently, in dolphins and elephants. Although experimental evidence in nonmammalian species has been lacking, some birds from the corvid family show skill in tasks that require perspective taking, a likely prerequisite for the occurrence of mirror self-recognition. Using the mark test, we obtained evidence for mirror self-recognition in the European Magpie, Pica pica. This finding shows that elaborate cognitive skills arose independently in corvids and primates, taxonomic groups with an evolutionary history that diverged about 300 million years ago. It further proves that the neocortex is not a prerequisite for self-recognition.
Read the accompanying ‘Primer’ by Frans B. M. de Waal: The Thief in the Mirror:
The Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) has a poor reputation. As a child, I learned never to leave small shiny objects, such as teaspoons, unattended outdoors as these raucous birds will steal anything they can put their beaks on. This folklore even inspired a Rossini opera, “La gazza ladra” (“The Thieving Magpie”). Nowadays, this view has been replaced with one that is more sensitive to ecological balance, in which magpies are depicted as murderous plunderers of the nests of innocent songbirds. Either way, they are black-and-white gangsters.
But no one has ever accused a magpie of being stupid. The bird belongs to the Corvidae, a worldwide family (also including crows, ravens, jackdaws, jays, and nutcrackers) marked by an exceptionally large forebrain, which permits innovative foraging . In recent years, this family has begun to pose a challenge to the idea that primates constitute the pinnacle of cognitive evolution by showing creative tool-use, visual perspective-taking, foresight, and so on.
And a book review: Redefining “Natural” in Agriculture:
The place of genetically modified crops in sustainable agriculture has been the subject of heated debate for decades. A new book takes an innovative approach to this debate by presenting the perspectives of an unlikely pair of co-authors . Pam Ronald is a plant molecular biologist, genetic engineer, and supporter of genetically engineering crops for the benefit of humanity. Raoul Adamchak is an organic farmer. Given the known antagonism of many organic advocates to genetically engineered (GE) crops, one would not have thought these two authors would be able to provide an agreed text. But Adamchak is married to Ronald and, to judge from the text, happily so. The authorship of the individual chapters alternates between the two. The subject matter deals with organic farming methods, GE methods, questions of environmental conservation, risk, trust, and ownership of seeds and genes. The last chapter, and the only one written jointly, concludes that some marriage of organic and GE technology will represent the agriculture of the future.