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The importance of (experimental) design


PhysOrg

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One of the hottest debates in evolutionary biology concerns the origin of behaviour: is it genetically encoded or do animals and birds copy their parents or other individuals? A classic experiment published in 2000 seemed to provide overwhelming evidence that a particular behavioural choice (whether individuals of a species of swallow breed in a small colony or a large one) is largely genetically determined. Together with colleagues in France, Richard Wagner of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna has re-examined the data and shown that the findings could be explained by random choice. The design of the original experiment – which represents a blueprint for a vast range of studies of heritability of behaviour – contains two pitfalls that combine to undermine the conclusions. The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

 

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