Wild About the Wild Model
- Wednesday, 01 February 2006
Periodically I'll attend a meeting at which someone will passionately pronounce that we should forget about wolf, wild dog, small wildcat, and any other animal studies except those regarding dogs and cats because they're irrelevant to what our pets do. According to them, we should focus all our energy on the behaviors displayed by companion animals right here and right now. I can understand the logic behind this approach, but I can't accept it for one perhaps selfish, but also highly practical reason.
To dispense with the selfish part first, few feelings delight me more than the realization that something that appears mind-numbingly complex and unique to a particular species shares common and quite elegant roots with all others. The highly practical reason is simple: it enables me to better diagnose and treat companion animal problems Three areas of current scientific research on "lower" animals demonstrate these connections quite clearly.
The first involves that incredible bearer of genetic revelations, the lowly fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Scientists have demonstrated that the same gene associated with male sexual behavior is also associated with starvation tolerance. Of course, this connection makes sense given the elegant efficiency that underlies the workings of DNA. Males who are more concerned about finding a meal than a mate are less likely to reproduce than those willing to dedicate themselves to mating. Ditto for those whose intolerance to reduced or no rations makes them too weak or distracted to do the job. In both cases, chances are those males won't be adding their genes to the gene pool.
What happens when we move this simple awareness into the world of companion animals? On the nitty-gritty scale, it might provide insight into why neutered males gain weight; perhaps castration turns off that gene and turns on one associated