Meredith Bastian

University of Zurich, Zürich, ZH, Switzerland

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Publications (16)77.54 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Keywords: Climate;ectomycorrhizal associations;large tree density;pan-tropical analysis;soils;species traits;tree size;tropical forest biomass;wood density;wind dispersal Abstract Aim Large trees (d.b.h. ≥ 70 cm) store large amounts of biomass. Several studies suggest that large trees may be vulnerable to changing climate, potentially leading to declining forest biomass storage. Here we determine the importance of large trees for tropical forest biomass storage and explore which intrinsic (species trait) and extrinsic (environment) variables are associated with the density of large trees and forest biomass at continental and pan-tropical scales. Location Pan-tropical. Methods Aboveground biomass (AGB) was calculated for 120 intact lowland moist forest locations. Linear regression was used to calculate variation in AGB explained by the density of large trees. Akaike information criterion weights (AICc-wi) were used to calculate averaged correlation coefficients for all possible multiple regression models between AGB/density of large trees and environmental and species trait variables correcting for spatial autocorrelation. Results Density of large trees explained c. 70% of the variation in pan-tropical AGB and was also responsible for significantly lower AGB in Neotropical [287.8 (mean) ± 105.0 (SD) Mg ha−1] versus Palaeotropical forests (Africa 418.3 ± 91.8 Mg ha−1; Asia 393.3 ± 109.3 Mg ha−1). Pan-tropical variation in density of large trees and AGB was associated with soil coarseness (negative), soil fertility (positive), community wood density (positive) and dominance of wind dispersed species (positive), temperature in the coldest month (negative), temperature in the warmest month (negative) and rainfall in the wettest month (positive), but results were not always consistent among continents. Main conclusions Density of large trees and AGB were significantly associated with climatic variables, indicating that climate change will affect tropical forest biomass storage. Species trait composition will interact with these future biomass changes as they are also affected by a warmer climate. Given the importance of large trees for variation in AGB across the tropics, and their sensitivity to climate change, we emphasize the need for in-depth analyses of the community dynamics of large trees. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/geb.12092/abstract
    Global Ecology and Biogeography 11/2013; 22:1261-1271. · 7.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Several studies suggested great ape cultures, arguing that human cumulative culture presumably evolved from such a foundation. These focused on conspicuous behaviours, and showed rich geographic variation, which could not be attributed to known ecological or genetic differences. Although geographic variation within call types (accents) has previously been reported for orang-utans and other primate species, we examine geographic variation in the presence/absence of discrete call types (dialects). Because orang-utans have been shown to have geographic variation that is not completely explicable by genetic or ecological factors we hypothesized that this will be similar in the call domain and predict that discrete call type variation between populations will be found. We examined long-term behavioural data from five orang-utan populations and collected fecal samples for genetic analyses. We show that there is geographic variation in the presence of discrete types of calls. In exactly the same behavioural context (nest building and infant retrieval), individuals in different wild populations customarily emit either qualitatively different calls or calls in some but not in others. By comparing patterns in call-type and genetic similarity, we suggest that the observed variation is not likely to be explained by genetic or ecological differences. These results are consistent with the potential presence of 'call cultures' and suggest that wild orang-utans possess the ability to invent arbitrary calls, which spread through social learning. These findings differ substantially from those that have been reported for primates before. First, the results reported here are on dialect and not on accent. Second, this study presents cases of production learning whereas most primate studies on vocal learning were cases of contextual learning. We conclude with speculating on how these findings might assist in bridging the gap between vocal communication in non-human primates and human speech.
    PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(5):e36180. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The aim of this study was to assess whether geographic variation in wild orangutan behavior reflected the presence of innovations or merely variation induced by genetic or environmental differences. We improved upon previous attempts to answer this question in three complementary ways. First, to minimize the possible effects of differences in genetic composition or the physical, biological and social environment, we compared a population of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) at a new site (Sungai Lading) with that of an established site (Tuanan). These two populations were physically separated but showed high genetic similarity and occupied very similar habitats, leaving different innovation histories as the only plausible source of significant differences in their behavioral repertoires, if these were found. Second, we used identical observation methods and overlapping observers at both sites, deliberately attempting to record the full behavioral repertoire. Third, we introduced statistical techniques to reduce the likelihood of false absences. The results showed several behavior patterns unique to the new site, as well as the absence of several patterns observed at the established site, most of them satisfying the criteria previously proposed for recognizing innovations. We, thus, confirm that orangutans produce behavioral innovations, and conclude that the geographic method for identifying innovations in wild populations is a valid, albeit conservative, approach that can complement other techniques. Finally, the results also strongly support a cultural interpretation of geographic variation in orangutan behavior.
    Behaviour 01/2012; 149(3):275-297. · 1.66 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The marked biogeographic difference between western (Malay Peninsula and Sumatra) and eastern (Borneo) Sundaland is surprising given the long time that these areas have formed a single landmass. A dispersal barrier in the form of a dry savanna corridor during glacial maxima has been proposed to explain this disparity. However, the short duration of these dry savanna conditions make it an unlikely sole cause for the biogeographic pattern. An additional explanation might be related to the coarse sandy soils of central Sundaland. To test these two nonexclusive hypotheses, we performed a floristic cluster analysis based on 111 tree inventories from Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. We then identified the indicator genera for clusters that crossed the central Sundaland biogeographic boundary and those that did not cross and tested whether drought and coarse-soil tolerance of the indicator genera differed between them. We found 11 terminal floristic clusters, 10 occurring in Borneo, 5 in Sumatra, and 3 in Peninsular Malaysia. Indicator taxa of clusters that occurred across Sundaland had significantly higher coarse-soil tolerance than did those from clusters that occurred east or west of central Sundaland. For drought tolerance, no such pattern was detected. These results strongly suggest that exposed sandy sea-bed soils acted as a dispersal barrier in central Sundaland. However, we could not confirm the presence of a savanna corridor. This finding makes it clear that proposed biogeographic explanations for plant and animal distributions within Sundaland, including possible migration routes for early humans, need to be reevaluated.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 07/2011; 108(30):12343-7. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Biological Sciences. 01/2011; 108(30):12343-12347.
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    ABSTRACT: Sundaland, a tropical hotspot of biodiversity comprising Borneo and Sumatra among other islands, the Malay Peninsula, and a shallow sea, has been subject to dramatic environmental processes. Thus, it presents an ideal opportunity to investigate the role of environmental mechanisms in shaping species distribution and diversity. We investigated the population structure and underlying mechanisms of an insular endemic, the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). Phylogenetic reconstructions based on mtDNA sequences from 211 wild orangutans covering the entire range of the species indicate an unexpectedly recent common ancestor of Bornean orangutans 176 ka (95% highest posterior density, 72-322 ka), pointing to a Pleistocene refugium. High mtDNA differentiation among populations and rare haplotype sharing is consistent with a pattern of strong female philopatry. This is corroborated by isolation by distance tests, which show a significant correlation between mtDNA divergence and distance and a strong effect of rivers as barriers for female movement. Both frequency-based and Bayesian clustering analyses using as many as 25 nuclear microsatellite loci revealed a significant separation among all populations, as well as a small degree of male-mediated gene flow. This study highlights the unique effects of environmental and biological features on the evolutionary history of Bornean orangutans, a highly endangered species particularly vulnerable to future climate and anthropogenic change as an insular endemic.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 11/2010; 107(50):21376-81. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: This study explores diet differences between two populations of wild Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) to assess whether a signal of social learning can be detected in the observed patterns. The populations live in close proximity and in similar habitats but are separated by a river barrier that is impassable to orangutans in the study region. We found a 60% between-site difference in diet at the level of plant food items (plant species-organ combinations). We also found that individuals at the same site were more likely to eat the same food items than expected by chance. These results suggest the presence of diet (food selection) traditions. Detailed tests of three predictions of three models of diet acquisition allowed us to reject a model based on exclusive social learning but could not clearly distinguish between the remaining two models: one positing individual exploration and learning of food item selection and the other one positing preferential social learning followed by individual fine tuning. We know that maturing orangutans acquire their initial diet through social learning and then supplement it by years of low-level, individual sampling. We, therefore, conclude that the preferential social learning model produces the best fit to the geographic patterns observed in this study. However, the very same taxa that socially acquire their diets as infants and show evidence for innovation-based traditions in the wild paradoxically may have diets that are not easily distinguished from those acquired exclusively through individual learning.
    American Journal of Physical Anthropology 10/2010; 143(2):175-87. · 2.48 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The correlation between brain size and life history has been investigated in many previous studies, and several viable explanations have been proposed. However, the results of these studies are often at odds, causing uncertainties about whether these two character complexes underwent correlated evolution. These disparities could arise from the mixture of wild and captive values in the datasets, potentially obscuring real relationships, and from differences in the methods of controlling for phylogenetic non independence of species values. This paper seeks to resolve these difficulties by (1) proposing an overarching hypothesis that encompasses many of the previously proposed hypotheses, and (2) testing the predictions of this hypothesis using rigorously compiled data and utilizing multiple methods of analysis. We hypothesize that the adaptive benefit of increased encephalization is an increase in reproductive lifespan or efficiency, which must be sufficient to outweigh the costs due to growing and maturing the larger brain. These costs and benefits are directly reflected in the length of life history stages. We tested this hypothesis on a wide range of primate species. Our results demonstrate that encephalization is significantly correlated with prolongation of all stages of developmental life history except the lactational period, and is significantly correlated with an extension of the reproductive lifespan. These results support the contention that the link between brain size and life history is caused by a balance between the costs of growing a brain and the survival benefits the brain provides. Thus, our results suggest that the evolution of prolonged life history during human evolution is caused by increased encephalization.
    Journal of Human Evolution 06/2008; 54(5):568-90. · 4.09 Impact Factor
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    Grant Ramsey, Meredith L Bastian, Carel van Schaik
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    ABSTRACT: Innovation is a key component of most definitions of culture and intelligence. Additionally, innovations may affect a species' ecology and evolution. Nonetheless, conceptual and empirical work on innovation has only recently begun. In particular, largely because the existing operational definition (first occurrence in a population) requires long-term studies of populations, there has been no systematic study of innovation in wild animals. To facilitate such study, we have produced a new definition of innovation: Innovation is the process that generates in an individual a novel learned behavior that is not simply a consequence of social learning or environmental induction. Using this definition, we propose a new operational approach for distinguishing innovations in the field. The operational criteria employ information from the following sources: (1) the behavior's geographic and local prevalence and individual frequency; (2) properties of the behavior, such as the social role of the behavior, the context in which the behavior is exhibited, and its similarity to other behaviors; (3) changes in the occurrence of the behavior over time; and (4) knowledge of spontaneous or experimentally induced behavior in captivity. These criteria do not require long-term studies at a single site, but information from multiple populations of a species will generally be needed. These criteria are systematized into a dichotomous key that can be used to assess whether a behavior observed in the field is likely to be an innovation.
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 09/2007; 30(4):393-407; discussion 407-32. · 18.57 Impact Factor
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    Meredith L. Bastian, Diane K. Brockman
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    ABSTRACT: Alloparental behavior is documented for several anthropoid primates, but few researchers have investigated the extent or variability of such behavior in prosimians. We report results from a study of male-infant interactions in 2 groups of Coquerel’s sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi coquereli) at the Duke University Primate Center (DUPC). Both groups contained 1 adult pair, 2 juveniles, and a newborn. The adult males exhibited paternal behavior toward their offspring in the form of grooming and holding the infant, though males differed in the amount of time they spent engaged in these activities. Group differences in the proximity maintained between the infants’ parents suggest that the relationship between adult males and females may help account for the variation. The presence of juveniles appeared to diminish paternal behavior in the group exhibiting a higher overall rate of male-infant interaction.
    International Journal of Primatology 01/2007; 28(2):305-313. · 1.79 Impact Factor
  • Grant Ramsey, Meredith L. Bastian, Carel van Schaik
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    ABSTRACT: The commentaries have both drawn out the implications of, and challenged, our definition and operationalization of innovation. In this response, we reply to these concerns, discuss the differences between our operationalization and the preexisting operationalization if innovation, and make suggestions for the advancement of the challenging and exciting field of animal innovation.
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 01/2007; 30(04). · 18.57 Impact Factor
  • Meredith L. Bastian, Carel van Schaik
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Innovation is a key component of most definitions of culture and intelligence. Additionally, innovations may affect a species' ecology and evolution. Nonetheless, conceptual and empirical work on innovation has only recently begun. In particular, largely because the existing operational definition (first occurrence in a population) requires long-term studies of populations, there has been no systematic study of innovation in wild animals. To facilitate such study, we have produced a new definition of innovation: Innovation is the process that generates in an individual a novel learned behavior that is not simply a consequence of social learning or environmental induction. Using this definition, we propose a new operational approach for distinguishing innovations in the field. The operational criteria employ information from the following sources: (1) the behavior's geographic and local prevalence and individual frequency; (2) properties of the behavior, such as the social role of the behavior, the context in which the behavior is exhibited, and its similarity to other behaviors; (3) changes in the occurrence of the behavior over time; and (4) knowledge of spontaneous or experimentally induced behavior in captivity. These criteria do not require long-term studies at a single site, but information from multiple populations of a species will generally be needed. These criteria are systematized into a dichotomous key that can be used to assess whether a behavior observed in the field is likely to be an innovation.

Publication Stats

144 Citations
77.54 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2012
    • University of Zurich
      • Institut für Anthropologie und Anthropologisches Museum
      Zürich, ZH, Switzerland
  • 2010–2012
    • Boston University
      • Department of Anthropology
      Boston, MA, United States
  • 2007–2011
    • Duke University
      • Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
      Durham, NC, United States
    • University of Notre Dame
      • Department of Philosophy
      United States