There are 56 new articles published in PLoS ONE this week and it was hard to make the picks as this seems to be a very, very good week with lots of cool papers. Here are some of the highlights – please post ratings, notes and comments on the papers, write blog posts and send trackbacks:
The Janzen-Connell model states that plant-specific natural enemies may have a disproportionately large negative effect on progeny close to maternal trees. The majority of experimental and theoretical studies addressing the Janzen-Connell model have explored how it can explain existing patterns of species diversity in tropical mainland areas. Very few studies have investigated how the model’s predictions apply to isolated oceanic islands, or to the conservation management of endangered plants. Here, we provide the first experimental investigation of the predictions of the Janzen-Connell model on an oceanic island, in a conservation context. In addition, we experimentally evaluate the use of ecological analogue animals to resurrect the functional component of extinct frugivores that could have dispersed seeds away from maternal trees. In Mauritius, we investigated seed germination and seedling survival patterns of the critically endangered endemic plant Syzygium mamillatum (Myrtaceae) in relation to proximity to maternal trees. We found strong negative effects of proximity to maternal trees on growth and survival of seedlings. We successfully used giant Aldabran tortoises as ecological analogues for extinct Mauritian frugivores. Effects of gut-passage were negative at the seed germination stage, but seedlings from gut-passed seeds grew taller, had more leaves, and suffered less damage from natural enemies than any of the other seedlings. We provide the first experimental evidence of a distance-dependent Janzen-Connell effect on an oceanic island. Our results potentially have serious implications for the conservation management of rare plant species on oceanic islands, which harbour a disproportionately large fraction of the world’s endemic and endangered plants. Furthermore, in contrast to recent controversy about the use of non-indigenous extant megafauna for re-wilding projects in North America and elsewhere, we argue that Mauritius and other oceanic islands are ideal study systems in which to empirically explore the use of ecological analogue species in restoration ecology.
Phylogenetic mitochondrial DNA haplogroups are highly partitioned across global geographic regions. A unique exception is the X haplogroup, which has a widespread global distribution without major regions of distinct localization. We have examined mitochondrial DNA sequence variation together with Y-chromosome-based haplogroup structure among the Druze, a religious minority with a unique socio-demographic history residing in the Near East. We observed a striking overall pattern of heterogeneous parental origins, consistent with Druze oral tradition, together with both a high frequency and a high diversity of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) X haplogroup within a confined regional subpopulation. Furthermore demographic modeling indicated low migration rates with nearby populations. These findings were enabled through the use of a paternal kindred based sampling approach, and suggest that the Galilee Druze represent a population isolate, and that the combination of a high frequency and diversity of the mtDNA X haplogroup signifies a phylogenetic refugium, providing a sample snapshot of the genetic landscape of the Near East prior to the modern age.
Uncertainty persists over the environmental effects of genetically-engineered crops that produce the insecticidal Cry proteins of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). We performed meta-analyses on a modified public database to synthesize current knowledge about the effects of Bt cotton, maize and potato on the abundance and interactions of arthropod non-target functional guilds. We compared the abundance of predators, parasitoids, omnivores, detritivores and herbivores under scenarios in which neither, only the non-Bt crops, or both Bt and non-Bt crops received insecticide treatments. Predators were less abundant in Bt cotton compared to unsprayed non-Bt controls. As expected, fewer specialist parasitoids of the target pest occurred in Bt maize fields compared to unsprayed non-Bt controls, but no significant reduction was detected for other parasitoids. Numbers of predators and herbivores were higher in Bt crops compared to sprayed non-Bt controls, and type of insecticide influenced the magnitude of the difference. Omnivores and detritivores were more abundant in insecticide-treated controls and for the latter guild this was associated with reductions of their predators in sprayed non-Bt maize. No differences in abundance were found when both Bt and non-Bt crops were sprayed. Predator-to-prey ratios were unchanged by either Bt crops or the use of insecticides; ratios were higher in Bt maize relative to the sprayed non-Bt control. Overall, we find no uniform effects of Bt cotton, maize and potato on the functional guilds of non-target arthropods. Use of and type of insecticides influenced the magnitude and direction of effects; insecticde effects were much larger than those of Bt crops. These meta-analyses underscore the importance of using controls not only to isolate the effects of a Bt crop per se but also to reflect the replacement of existing agricultural practices. Results will provide researchers with information to design more robust experiments and will inform the decisions of diverse stakeholders regarding the safety of transgenic insecticidal crops.
Many predators display two foraging modes, an ambush strategy and a cruising mode. These foraging strategies have been classically studied in energetic, biomechanical and ecological terms, without considering the role of signals produced by predators and perceived by prey. Wolf spiders are a typical example; they hunt in leaf litter either using an ambush strategy or by moving at high speed, taking over unwary prey. Air flow upstream of running spiders is a source of information for escaping prey, such as crickets and cockroaches. However, air displacement by running arthropods has not been previously examined. Here we show, using digital particle image velocimetry, that running spiders are highly conspicuous aerodynamically, due to substantial air displacement detectable up to several centimetres in front of them. This study explains the bimodal distribution of spider’s foraging modes in terms of sensory ecology and is consistent with the escape distances and speeds of cricket prey. These findings may be relevant to the large and diverse array of arthropod prey-predator interactions in leaf litter.
Little is known about the effect of physical exercise on influenza-associated mortality. We collected information about exercise habits and other lifestyles, and socioeconomic and demographic status, the underlying cause of death of 24,656 adults (21% aged 30-64, 79% aged 65 or above) who died in 1998 in Hong Kong, and the weekly proportion of specimens positive for influenza A (H3N1 and H1N1) and B isolations during the same period. We assessed the excess risks (ER) of influenza-associated mortality due to all-natural causes, cardiovascular diseases, or respiratory disease among different levels of exercise: never/seldom (less than once per month), low/moderate (once per month to three times per week), and frequent (four times or more per week) by Poisson regression. We also assessed the differences in ER between exercise groups by case-only logistic regression. For all the mortality outcomes under study in relation to each 10% increase in weekly proportion of specimens positive for influenza A+B, never/seldom exercise (as reference) was associated with 5.8% to 8.5% excess risks (ER) of mortality (P<0.0001), while low/moderate exercise was associated with ER which were 4.2% to 6.4% lower than those of the reference (P<0.001 for all-natural causes; P = 0.001 for cardiovascular; and P = 0.07 for respiratory mortality). Frequent exercise was not different from the reference (change in ER −0.8% to 1.7%, P = 0.30 to 0.73). When compared with never or seldom exercise, exercising at low to moderate frequency is beneficial with lower influenza-associated mortality.
Many animals both display and assess multiple signals. Two prominently studied traits are symmetry and sexual dimorphism, which, for many animals, are proposed cues to heritable fitness benefits. These traits are associated with other potential benefits, such as fertility. In humans, the face has been extensively studied in terms of attractiveness. Faces have the potential to be advertisements of mate quality and both symmetry and sexual dimorphism have been linked to the attractiveness of human face shape. Here we show that measurements of symmetry and sexual dimorphism from faces are related in humans, both in Europeans and African hunter-gatherers, and in a non-human primate. Using human judges, symmetry measurements were also related to perceived sexual dimorphism. In all samples, symmetric males had more masculine facial proportions and symmetric females had more feminine facial proportions. Our findings support the claim that sexual dimorphism and symmetry in faces are signals advertising quality by providing evidence that there must be a biological mechanism linking the two traits during development. Such data also suggests that the signalling properties of faces are universal across human populations and are potentially phylogenetically old in primates.
Animals are evolutionarily related to fungi and to the predominantly unicellular protozoan phylum Choanozoa, together known as opisthokonts. To establish the sequence of events when animals evolved from unicellular ancestors, and understand those key evolutionary transitions, we need to establish which choanozoans are most closely related to animals and also the evolutionary position of each choanozoan group within the opisthokont phylogenetic tree. Here we focus on Ministeria vibrans, a minute bacteria-eating cell with slender radiating tentacles. Single-gene trees suggested that it is either the closest unicellular relative of animals or else sister to choanoflagellates, traditionally considered likely animal ancestors. Sequencing thousands of Ministeria protein genes now reveals about 14 with domains of key significance for animal cell biology, including several previously unknown from deeply diverging Choanozoa, e.g. domains involved in hedgehog, Notch and tyrosine kinase signaling or cell adhesion (cadherin). Phylogenetic trees using 78 proteins show that Ministeria is not sister to animals or choanoflagellates (themselves sisters to animals), but to Capsaspora, another protozoan with thread-like (filose) tentacles. The Ministeria/Capsaspora clade (new class Filasterea) is sister to animals and choanoflagellates, these three groups forming a novel clade (filozoa) whose ancestor presumably evolved filose tentacles well before they aggregated as a periciliary collar in the choanoflagellate/sponge common ancestor. Our trees show ichthyosporean choanozoans as sisters to filozoa; a fusion between ubiquitin and ribosomal small subunit S30 protein genes unifies all holozoa (filozoa plus Ichthyosporea), being absent in earlier branching eukaryotes. Thus, several successive evolutionary innovations occurred among their unicellular closest relatives prior to the origin of the multicellular body-plan of animals.
Understanding fixed motor pattern diversity across related species provides a window for exploring the evolution of their underlying neural mechanisms. The electric organ discharges of weakly electric fishes offer several advantages as paradigmatic models for investigating how a neural decision is transformed into a spatiotemporal pattern of action. Here, we compared the far fields, the near fields and the electromotive force patterns generated by three species of the pulse generating New World gymnotiform genus Gymnotus. We found a common pattern in electromotive force, with the far field and near field diversity determined by variations in amplitude, duration, and the degree of synchronization of the different components of the electric organ discharges. While the rostral regions of the three species generate similar profiles of electromotive force and local fields, most of the species-specific differences are generated in the main body and tail regions of the fish. This causes that the waveform of the field is highly site dependant in all the studied species. These findings support a hypothesis of the relative separation of the electrolocation and communication carriers. The presence of early head negative waves in the rostral region, a species-dependent early positive wave at the caudal region, and the different relationship between the late negative peak and the main positive peak suggest three points of lability in the evolution of the electrogenic system: a) the variously timed neuronal inputs to different groups of electrocytes; b) the appearance of both rostrally and caudally innervated electrocytes, and c) changes in the responsiveness of the electrocyte membrane.
In the Neotropics, nearly 35% of amphibian species are threatened by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and habitat split; anuran species with different developmental modes respond to habitat disturbance in different ways. This entails broad-scale strategies for conserving biodiversity and advocates for the identification of high conservation-value regions that are significant in a global or continental context and that could underpin more detailed conservation assessments towards such areas. We identified key ecoregion sets for anuran conservation using an algorithm that favors complementarity (beta-diversity) among ecoregions. Using the WWF’s Wildfinder database, which encompasses 700 threatened anuran species in 119 Neotropical ecoregions, we separated species into those with aquatic larvae (AL) or terrestrial development (TD), as this life-history trait affects their response to habitat disturbance. The conservation target of 100% of species representation was attained with a set of 66 ecoregions. Among these, 30 were classified as priority both for species with AL and TD, 26 were priority exclusively for species with AL, and 10 for species with TD only. Priority ecoregions for both developmental modes are concentrated in the Andes and in Mesoamerica. Ecoregions important for conserving species with AL are widely distributed across the Neotropics. When anuran life histories were ignored, species with AL were always underrepresented in priority sets. The inclusion of anuran developmental modes in prioritization analyses resulted in more comprehensive coverage of priority ecoregions-especially those essential for species that require an aquatic habitat for their reproduction-when compared to usual analyses that do not consider this life-history trait. This is the first appraisal of the most important regions for conservation of threatened Neotropical anurans. It is also a first endeavor including anuran life-history traits in priority area-selection for conservation, with a clear gain in comprehensiveness of the selection process.
Disclosure of authors’ financial interests has been proposed as a strategy for protecting the integrity of the biomedical literature. We examined whether authors’ financial interests were disclosed consistently in articles on coronary stents published in 2006. We searched PubMed for English-language articles published in 2006 that provided evidence or guidance regarding the use of coronary artery stents. We recorded article characteristics, including information about authors’ financial disclosures. The main outcome measures were the prevalence, nature, and consistency of financial disclosures. There were 746 articles, 2985 authors, and 135 journals in the database. Eighty-three percent of the articles did not contain disclosure statements for any author (including declarations of no interests). Only 6% of authors had an article with a disclosure statement. In comparisons between articles by the same author, the types of disagreement were as follows: no disclosure statements vs declarations of no interests (64%); specific disclosures vs no disclosure statements (34%); and specific disclosures vs declarations of no interests (2%). Among the 75 authors who disclosed at least 1 relationship with an organization, there were 2 cases (3%) in which the organization was disclosed in every article the author wrote. In the rare instances when financial interests were disclosed, they were not disclosed consistently, suggesting that there are problems with transparency in an area of the literature that has important implications for patient care. Our findings suggest that the inconsistencies we observed are due to both the policies of journals and the behavior of some authors.