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Whether, why and how pair bonding exists in a family of lower vertebrate, the Chaetodontidae


Tuesday 26th of November 2013; 12:00 to 13:00 hrs.

Building 19 (Kevin Stark Research Building), Room #106 (upstairs), JCU, Townsville; video-linked to the University of Queensland (GCI Boardroom, Level 7, Gehrmann Building 60).
Jessica Nowicki, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Townsville
Jessica Nowicki, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Townsville

Abstract: Pair bonding is defined as a preferential, pro-social, and enduring affiliation between two individuals, and is known to be widespread among birds and mammals, including primates. In these taxa, pair bonding has been shown to be linked to several fitness-associated social processes, principally mate acquisition/defense and cooperative parental care. Mechanistically, the neurological basis of pair bonding in birds and mammals is also reasonably well established. Specifically, pharmacological experimentation and neurological comparative analyses have revealed fundamental roles for the neurochemicals oxytocin, arginine vasopressin, dopamine, and µ-opioids, their conjugate receptor-expressing neurons, and their targeted brain regions, in the expression of pair bond traits. In general, this neurobiological network is hypothesized to govern pair bonding through a cognitive process known as “conditioned partner preference”. As is the case for mammals and birds; amphibians, reptiles and fishes also form pair bonds. However, the occurrence, and adaptive significance, and neurobiology of pair bonding in these taxa currently remains unclear. This knowledge gap limits our capacity to formalize and test general evolutionary-developmental theories for pair bonding in vertebrates. Using butterflyfishes as a model system, Jess will begin by quantifying pair bonding characters (i.e., partner preference, pro-sociality, and permanency) across 6 species  in order to determine the extent to which they are strongly vs. weakly pair bonded.  Then, she will use the strong ‘pair bonders’ as model species for examining whether the permanency of a pair bond contributes to its ecological benefits (i.e., territory defense and foraging efficiency).  Next,  pharmacological experiments  will be used to determine whether candidate neuron receptors (i.e., the isotocin, arginine vasotocin, dopamine, and opioid receptors) promote pair bonding.  In the final chapter, strongly and weakly bonding species will be used to comparatively examine how candidate neuron receptors promote pair bonding (i.e., by identifying the brain regions that they target).”

Biography: Having been born and raised in Wisconsin, USA, Jess had not become enlightened (i.e. seen the ocean) until she was 17 years-old, during a vacation to North Carolina. With much bewilderment, she realized there was more meaning to life than Miller Light beer and ridiculously good cheese. Exchanging her cheese head for fins, she embarked upon her journey toward becoming a marine biologist. From 2008-2010, she focused her research on the effects of ocean acidification and increased sea surface temperatures on the behaviour of marine invertebrates and fishes.  Today, she is pursuing a PhD, with a focus on understanding the ecological and neurobiological basis of pair bonding in a family of coral reef fish, the Chaetodontidae (butterflyfishes).   Her PhD supervisors are Dr. Stefan Walker and Prof. Morgan Pratchett, from ARC CoE for Coral reef Studies and Dr. Lauren O’Connell, from Harvard University.


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