This is Scientific American — 60-Second Science. I'm Jason Goldman.
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River otters, like other social animals, have to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of hanging out in large groups. A big group makes it easier to catch fish, which seems like a good deal, but there's a downside to social life too. More otters means more chances for disease transmission, for example, or for aggressive conflict. So they balance these pressures by living in what researchers call a "fission-fusion society."
"There's this constant dynamic of splitting and joining into larger groups."
University of Wyoming ecologist Adi Barocas. To understand the factors that drive these social dynamics, Barocas's team, from the University of Wyoming and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, has spent decades spying on the coastal river otters of Alaska near Prince William Sound. To do it, they use motion-activated camera traps as well as implanted radio trackers.
"The latrines, which are pretty much communal toilets that the river otters use, they seem to have an important function in the life of river otters."
That's right: river otter society is organized around the bathroom. It makes good sense. By investigating a latrine, an otter can sniff out just how many otters there are in the area, and who they might be.
The researchers found that the otters performed more signaling behaviors like sniffing, body rubbing, or urinating, than social behaviors, like grooming or play, at what they called crossover latrines, which were located at the junctions of water bodies.
Thanks to all that communicative signaling, these crossover latrines were also more likely to host fusion events, resulting in large aggregations of up to eighteen otters. In other words, the otters see latrines as a place to exchange information, a sort of central marketplace.
Because the location of crossover latrines was determined by the physical landscape, this suggests that the complexity of the physical environment plays an important role in determining their social behavior.
Next, the researchers want to see just how and what the otters communicate at latrines.
"We often see the river otters sniffing at the latrines and also defecating, and before defecating they do a little ritualized behavior that we termed 'the poop dance.'"
What scents are they trying to sniff out? Which olfactory compounds are at play? Can the otters control the scents they leave behind? Who's watching the poop dance?
And most importantly, why doesn't anybody ever remember to flush?
Thanks for the minute for Scientific American — 60-Second Science Science. I'm Jason Goldman.
水獭和其他群居动物一样，必须仔细权衡一下群居的利与弊 。群居生活使捕鱼更加容易，这似乎很不错，但是群居对社交生活也有坏处 。更多的水獭意味着疾病传染的几率也就越大，也可能会引发更多的矛盾冲突 。所以，他们会通过在“聚散型群体”中的生活来平衡压力 。
阿迪·巴罗卡斯是美国怀俄明大学的生态学家 。为了了解导致这种社交动态的原因，由怀俄明大学和阿拉斯加渔业和捕猎部门组成的巴罗卡斯的团队，花费数十年的时间对威廉王子湾附近阿拉斯加地区的海岸水獭进行监测 。为了进行观察，他们使用了动态感应照相机捕捉技术以及无线电追踪技术 。
的确，水獭群是围绕厕所形成的 。这很容易理解 。通过调查公共厕所，一只水獭就可以嗅出还有多少只水獭在这个区域，以及有哪些水獭在这里 。
得益于所有的交际性信号，这些交叉公厕更有可能举办融合活动，最终使多达18只水獭聚集起来 。换句话说，水獭把公厕视为一个交流信息的地方，就像是集市中心一样 。
谢谢大家收听科学美国人——60秒科学 。我是杰森·古德曼 。
1. spy on 秘密监视；
例句：Jack was paid by the police to spy on his colleagues.
2. sniff out 嗅找；发现；
例句：A police dog, trained to sniff out explosives, found evidence of a bomb in the apartment.
3. thanks to 幸亏；归因于；
例句：Thanks to his effort, it is more successful than we have expected.
4. result in 导致；引起；造成；
例句：Indecision can also result in missed opportunities.
5. in other words 换言之；换句话说；也就是说；
例句：You needn't come to work tomorrow, in other words, you are out of work.
6. leave behind 留下；余留；
例句：I don't want to leave anything behind.