There are 31 new papers published on PLoS ONE this week, and here are some of my first, quick picks of titles that got my attention, but you should go and see them all, then rate, annotate and comment on them:
Stable Isotope Ratios in Hair and Teeth Reflect Biologic Rhythms by Otto Appenzeller, Clifford Qualls, Franca Barbic, Raffaello Furlan and Alberto Porta:
Biologic rhythms give insight into normal physiology and disease. They can be used as biomarkers for neuronal degenerations. We present a diverse data set to show that hair and teeth contain an extended record of biologic rhythms, and that analysis of these tissues could yield signals of neurodegenerations. We examined hair from mummified humans from South America, extinct mammals and modern animals and people, both healthy and diseased, and teeth of hominins. We also monitored heart-rate variability, a measure of a biologic rhythm, in some living subjects and analyzed it using power spectra. The samples were examined to determine variations in stable isotope ratios along the length of the hair and across growth-lines of the enamel in teeth. We found recurring circa-annual periods of slow and fast rhythms in hydrogen isotope ratios in hair and carbon and oxygen isotope ratios in teeth. The power spectra contained slow and fast frequency power, matching, in terms of normalized frequency, the spectra of heart rate variability found in our living subjects. Analysis of the power spectra of hydrogen isotope ratios in hair from a patient with neurodegeneration revealed the same spectral features seen in the patient’s heart-rate variability. Our study shows that spectral analysis of stable isotope ratios in readily available tissues such as hair could become a powerful diagnostic tool when effective treatments and neuroprotective drugs for neurodegenerative diseases become available. It also suggests that similar analyses of archaeological specimens could give insight into the physiology of ancient people and animals.
The Perils of Picky Eating: Dietary Breadth Is Related to Extinction Risk in Insectivorous Bats by Justin G. Boyles and Jonathan J. Storm:
Animals inhabiting small and specialized habitats tend to be more threatened by extinction than more generalist relatives. This study examined the diets of 44 bat species and found that those of conservation concern were also more likely to have a specialized food source. This correlation was independent of other known extinction risks, making dietary specialization an important factor for evaluating threats to insectivorous bats.
Vision and Foraging in Cormorants: More like Herons than Hawks? by Craig R. White, Norman Day, Patrick J. Butler and Graham R. Martin:
We measured the aquatic visual acuity of great cormorants under a range of viewing conditions (illuminance, target contrast, viewing distance) and found it to be unexpectedly poor. Cormorant visual acuity under a range of viewing conditions is in fact comparable to unaided humans under water, and very inferior to that of aerial predators. We present a prey detectability model based upon the known acuity of cormorants at different illuminances, target contrasts and viewing distances. This shows that cormorants are able to detect individual prey only at close range (less than 1 m). We conclude that cormorants are not the aquatic equivalent of hawks. Their efficient hunting involves the use of specialised foraging techniques which employ brief short-distance pursuit and/or rapid neck extension to capture prey that is visually detected or flushed only at short range. This technique appears to be driven proximately by the cormorant’s limited visual capacities, and is analogous to the foraging techniques employed by herons.
Population Bottlenecks Promote Cooperation in Bacterial Biofilms by Michael A. Brockhurst:
Population bottlenecks are assumed to play a key role in the maintenance of social traits in microbes. Ecological parameters such as colonisation or disturbances can favour cooperation through causing population bottlenecks that enhance genetic structuring (relatedness). However, the size of the population bottleneck is likely to play a crucial role in determining the success of cooperation. Relatedness is likely to increase with decreasing bottleneck size thus favouring the evolution of cooperation. I used an experimental evolution approach to test this prediction with biofilm formation by the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens as the cooperative trait. Replicate populations were exposed to disturbance events every four days under one of six population bottleneck treatments (from 103 to 108 bacterial cells). In line with predictions, the frequency of evolved cheats within the populations increased with increasing bottleneck size. This result highlights the importance of ecologically mediated population bottlenecks in the maintenance of social traits in microbes.