Prairie voles can wreak havoc on people’s lawns and well-kept landscapes, such as golf courses. This is especially true during the winter season when food sources become scarce. As a result of seasonal food shortages, prairie voles will often burrow into the ground near small plants and trees in a desperate effort to feed on roots. This makes the prairie vole a natural enemy to anyone who wishes to maintain a pristine year-round display of ornamental plants. While prairie voles may not inflict property damage on a regular basis, their activity can become particularly problematic every four years, as this is the amount of time it takes for prairie vole populations to reach their peak. This increase in vole populations is dramatic enough for their numbers to increase from a mere 10 to 250 voles per acre of land within a few short years. These small critters are closely related to mice and they resemble mice so closely that many non-experts can scarcely discern between the two animals.
While voles may seem like any other rodent, they are unique in that they are one of the very few mammals (humans included) that maintain monogamous sexual relationships. In fact, the monogamous nature of the prairie vole is allowing researchers to better understand the human neurochemistry behind the grief experienced as the result of losing a loved one. This research may contribute to the development of therapeutic remedies for treating grief in humans.
Love and loss are the two primary categories of human emotion, and some people experience one or both of these emotions with greater intensity than others. But experts are not sure why this is, at least not from a neuroscientific perspective. However, Zoe Donaldson, a researcher at the University of Colorado in Boulder is literally peering into the brains of voles in order to observe their neural activity. The neural activity of one group of voles is being observed at the moment they become deprived of their sexual partner, while another group’s brain activity is being observed as they are reunited with their partner. Although this experiment sounds tragic, the results can better explain the neurochemistry that facilitates the feelings of both love and grief in humans.
Do you believe that the above described experiment is inhumane or unethical?