Studies of modern vertebrates show that bone is “plastic” and highly responsive to its environment. It appears that the microscopic structure of bone is affected by the actual rate at which it forms, the biomechanical functioning of the particular element within the skeleton, the ontogenetic age of the individual, disease, etc. It is indeed fortunate that even after millions of years of fossilisation, the microscopic structure of fossil bone remains intact, thereby providing a tool to directly assess various aspects of the biology of extinct vertebrates.
This talk will briefly outline some of the histological studies that have been conducted on fossil bones in order to unravel aspects of the biology of extinct animals. For example, studies of non-avian and avian dinosaurs have permitted an understanding of the evolution of growth patterns among the Dinosauria, as well as the evidence of disease that afflicted these animals. Recent studies comparing dinosaur taxa at high and lower latitudes have provided fresh insight into the adaptations of dinosaurs living well within the arctic circle. In addition research on different ontogenetic stages of Pterodaustro, an unusual filter feeding pterosaur (flying reptile), has permitted an assessment of their growth dynamics, and studies of the early bird Confuciusornis has allowed the identification of females in the fossil record.
Many species of insects such as those of ants, bees and wasps organize themselves into societies with sophisticated levels of organization, communication and division of labour, paralleling and sometimes surpassing our own societies. We therefore have a natural curiosity to understand how these tiny insects with small brains can achieve such feats of social organization. What are the rules that govern their lives and how does a bee or a wasp know what to do when? Can we really understand them and what can we learn from such understanding as we might achieve? The science of ethology makes attempts to demystify the workings of insect societies. In this talk I will illustrate the results of such an endeavour, taking the example of the efforts of my research group to understand the workings of the primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia marginata, widely distributed in peninsular India. My goal will not merely be to summarize our current knowledge of this matter and convey the product of our research but even more to describe the process of our science, our methodology and the logic that drives our experiments. I will conclude by reflecting on what we can learn from insect societies and argue that understanding our fellow social creatures helps us to reflect on how and why we live our lives the way we do and thus leads to a better understanding of ourselves.
Lead image: Glass Roof, Glass House, Lalbagh, BangaloreDownload calendar
Professor MRS Rao Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research
Professor Martyn Poliakoff FRS Foreign Secretary, Royal Society
Professor Raghavendra Gadagkar President of the Indian National Science Academy
Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan Palaeobiologist and Head of the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town (South Africa)