Future

What We Can Learn From Rabbits With Happy Childhoods

Recent behavioral and developmental studies of animals such as rabbits and rats show striking similarities to patterns we see in how childhood relationships and experiences shape humans.

The word you're looking for is "awwww."
The word you're looking for is "awwww."
Irene Habich

MUNSTER — Beyond genetics, no rabbit is truly like any other whether in the wild or as a house pet. Every animal has its own character that develops along the same lines as human character. Recent studies show that the closeness a rabbit shares with its parents, and whether or not it gets along with siblings or views them as rivals, help determine the animal’s character later in life. The same holds true for rats, whose personalities also develop along the same line as human personalities.

Researchers working with Aron Tulogdi at the Budapest Institute for Experimental Medicine and published in Developmental Psychobiology tried to make aggressive rats more placid. These very social animals turn aggressive when they spend their childhood in isolation. Could this be reversed if they later were raised with other rats?

To find out, the researchers put three-week-old rat babies alone in cages. That left behavioral traces on the animals: The rats that had grown up in isolation turned out to be aggressive, displayed anxiety when they were put in cages with other rats and slept apart from them. This behavior is strikingly similar to that of humans who have experienced troubled childhoods.

But within a few days in a group, something changed in the behavior of the rats brought up in isolation. Very soon they were bedding down for the night with the other animals — although they remained more aggressive than rats that had been socialized normally. Once again researchers found astonishing parallels: In human behavior, while social phobias can be treated with a high degree of therapeutic success, this is more difficult when it comes to aggressive behaviors.

Pecking order

Uncanny similarities such as these are emerging ever more strongly from animal behavioral research. "We develop hypotheses that in many regards could apply to human beings," Norbert Sachser, professor of behavioral biology at the University of Münster, says. "Although human characters are of course significantly more complex, our brains follow basic patterns that are similar to those of animals."

In this way, early ties mark the nature of both animals and humans. The relationship of a person to his or her parents and siblings is decisive when it comes to the character that person develops. The same goes for animals: Their relationships to family members determine their personality development, says Sachser.

Rats who did not receive loving maternal care were more susceptible to stress. But other factors come into play as well: "With animals, even siblings play a role in behavior profile," he says.

That is confirmed by research done at the University of Bayreuth and the University of California (Behavioral Ecology, online). Researchers showed that in behavioral tests, wild rabbits that weighed a lot at birth were braver and more curious than lighter siblings from the same litter. That held true months later when the weight of the animals had evened out.

One of the possible reasons for this, according to researchers, is the division of roles in the rabbit family. In games and pecking-order contests, the heavier newborns won more often than their lighter siblings did. They thus presumably developed more self-confident character traits that stayed with them as they got older, whereas the lighter, weaker baby rabbits had to deal with more setbacks and thus remained somewhat anxious.

Are there possibly other decisive phases in the personality development of rats and rabbits? "There are indications that personality can be marked throughout puberty," says Sachser.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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