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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 57 articles this week in PLoS ONE – look around for yourself, these are my own picks:

The Secret World of Shrimps: Polarisation Vision at Its Best:

Animal vision spans a great range of complexity, with systems evolving to detect variations in light intensity, distribution, colour, and polarisation. Polarisation vision systems studied to date detect one to four channels of linear polarisation, combining them in opponent pairs to provide intensity-independent operation. Circular polarisation vision has never been seen, and is widely believed to play no part in animal vision. Polarisation is fully measured via Stokes’ parameters–obtained by combined linear and circular polarisation measurements. Optimal polarisation vision is the ability to see Stokes’ parameters: here we show that the crustacean Gonodactylus smithii measures the exact components required. This vision provides optimal contrast-enhancement and precise determination of polarisation with no confusion states or neutral points–significant advantages. Linear and circular polarisation each give partial information about the polarisation of light–but the combination of the two, as we will show here, results in optimal polarisation vision. We suggest that linear and circular polarisation vision not be regarded as different modalities, since both are necessary for optimal polarisation vision; their combination renders polarisation vision independent of strongly linearly or circularly polarised features in the animal’s environment.

Sticky Gecko Feet: The Role of Temperature and Humidity:

Gecko adhesion is expected to be temperature insensitive over the range of temperatures typically experienced by geckos. Previous work is limited and equivocal on whether this expectation holds. We tested the temperature dependence of adhesion in Tokay and Day geckos and found that clinging ability at 12°C was nearly double the clinging ability at 32°C. However, rather than confirming a simple temperature effect, our data reveal a complex interaction between temperature and humidity that can drive differences in adhesion by as much as two-fold. Our findings have important implications for inferences about the mechanisms underlying the exceptional clinging capabilities of geckos, including whether performance of free-ranging animals is based solely on a dry adhesive model. An understanding of the relative contributions of van der Waals interactions and how humidity and temperature variation affects clinging capacities will be required to test hypotheses about the evolution of gecko toepads and is relevant to the design and manufacture of synthetic mimics.

Rival Male Relatedness Does Not Affect Ejaculate Allocation as Predicted by Sperm Competition Theory:

When females are sexually promiscuous, the intensity of sperm competition for males depends on how many partners females mate with. To maximize fitness, males should adjust their copulatory investment in relation to this intensity. However, fitness costs associated with sperm competition may not only depend on how many males a female has mated with, but also how related rival males are. According to theoretical predictions, males should adjust their copulatory investment in response to the relatedness of their male rival, and transfer more sperm to females that have first mated with a non-sibling male than females that have mated to a related male. Here, for the first time, we empirically test this theory using the Australian field cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus. We expose male crickets to sperm competition from either a full sibling or non-sibling male, by using both the presence of a rival male and the rival male’s actual competing ejaculate as cues. Contrary to predictions, we find that males do not adjust ejaculates in response to the relatedness of their male rival. Instead, males with both full-sibling and non-sibling rivals allocate sperm of similar quality to females. This lack of kin biased behaviour is independent of any potentially confounding effect of strong competition between close relatives; kin biased behaviour was absent irrespective of whether males were raised in full sibling or mixed relatedness groups.

Pointed Wings, Low Wingloading and Calm Air Reduce Migratory Flight Costs in Songbirds:

Migratory bird, bat and insect species tend to have more pointed wings than non-migrants. Pointed wings and low wingloading, or body mass divided by wing area, are thought to reduce energy consumption during long-distance flight, but these hypotheses have never been directly tested. Furthermore, it is not clear how the atmospheric conditions migrants encounter while aloft affect their energy use; without such information, we cannot accurately predict migratory species’ response(s) to climate change. Here, we measured the heart rates of 15 free-flying Swainson’s Thrushes (Catharus ustulatus) during migratory flight. Heart rate, and therefore rate of energy expenditure, was positively associated with individual variation in wingtip roundedness and wingloading throughout the flights. During the cruise phase of the flights, heart rate was also positively associated with wind speed but not wind direction, and negatively but not significantly associated with large-scale atmospheric stability. High winds and low atmospheric stability are both indicative of the presence of turbulent eddies, suggesting that birds may be using more energy when atmospheric turbulence is high. We therefore suggest that pointed wingtips, low wingloading and avoidance of high winds and turbulence reduce flight costs for small birds during migration, and that climate change may have the strongest effects on migrants’ in-flight energy use if it affects the frequency and/or severity of high winds and atmospheric instability.


Timing and Tempo of Early and Successive Adaptive Radiations in Macaronesia:

The flora of Macaronesia, which encompasses five Atlantic archipelagos (Azores, Canaries, Madeira, Cape Verde, and Salvage), is exceptionally rich and diverse. Spectacular radiation of numerous endemic plant groups has made the Macaronesian islands an outstanding area for studies of evolution and speciation. Despite intensive investigation in the last 15 years, absolute age and rate of diversification are poorly known for the flora of Macaronesia. Here we report molecular divergence estimates and rates of diversification for five representative, putative rapid radiations of monophyletic endemic plant lineages across the core eudicot clade of flowering plants. Three discrete windows of colonization during the Miocene and early Pliocene are suggested for these lineages, all of which are inferred to have had a single colonization event followed by rapid radiation. Subsequent inter-archipelago dispersal events into Madeira and the Cape Verdes took place very recently during the late Pliocene and Pleistocene after initial diversification on the Canary Islands. The tempo of adaptive radiations differs among the groups, but is relatively rapid compared to continental and other island radiations. Our results demonstrate that opportunity for island colonization and successful radiation may have been constrained to discrete time periods of profound climatic and geological changes in northern African and the Mediterranean.

Telomere Attrition Due to Infection:

Telomeres-the terminal caps of chromosomes-become shorter as individuals age, and there is much interest in determining what causes telomere attrition since this process may play a role in biological aging. The leading hypothesis is that telomere attrition is due to inflammation, exposure to infectious agents, and other types of oxidative stress, which damage telomeres and impair their repair mechanisms. Several lines of evidence support this hypothesis, including observational findings that people exposed to infectious diseases have shorter telomeres. Experimental tests are still needed, however, to distinguish whether infectious diseases actually cause telomere attrition or whether telomere attrition increases susceptibility to infection. Experiments are also needed to determine whether telomere erosion reduces longevity. We experimentally tested whether repeated exposure to an infectious agent, Salmonella enterica, causes telomere attrition in wild-derived house mice (Mus musculus musculus). We repeatedly infected mice with a genetically diverse cocktail of five different S. enterica strains over seven months, and compared changes in telomere length with sham-infected sibling controls. We measured changes in telomere length of white blood cells (WBC) after five infections using a real-time PCR method. Our results show that repeated Salmonella infections cause telomere attrition in WBCs, and particularly for males, which appeared less disease resistant than females. Interestingly, we also found that individuals having long WBC telomeres at early age were relatively disease resistant during later life. Finally, we found evidence that more rapid telomere attrition increases mortality risk, although this trend was not significant. Our results indicate that infectious diseases can cause telomere attrition, and support the idea that telomere length could provide a molecular biomarker for assessing exposure and ability to cope with infectious diseases.

On How Network Architecture Determines the Dominant Patterns of Spontaneous Neural Activity:

In the absence of sensory stimulation, neocortical circuits display complex patterns of neural activity. These patterns are thought to reflect relevant properties of the network, including anatomical features like its modularity. It is also assumed that the synaptic connections of the network constrain the repertoire of emergent, spontaneous patterns. Although the link between network architecture and network activity has been extensively investigated in the last few years from different perspectives, our understanding of the relationship between the network connectivity and the structure of its spontaneous activity is still incomplete. Using a general mathematical model of neural dynamics we have studied the link between spontaneous activity and the underlying network architecture. In particular, here we show mathematically how the synaptic connections between neurons determine the repertoire of spatial patterns displayed in the spontaneous activity. To test our theoretical result, we have also used the model to simulate spontaneous activity of a neural network, whose architecture is inspired by the patchy organization of horizontal connections between cortical columns in the neocortex of primates and other mammals. The dominant spatial patterns of the spontaneous activity, calculated as its principal components, coincide remarkably well with those patterns predicted from the network connectivity using our theory. The equivalence between the concept of dominant pattern and the concept of attractor of the network dynamics is also demonstrated. This in turn suggests new ways of investigating encoding and storage capabilities of neural networks.

Optimal Swimming Speed in Head Currents and Effects on Distance Movement of Winter-Migrating Fish:

Migration is a commonly described phenomenon in nature that is often caused by spatial and temporal differences in habitat quality. However, as migration requires energy, the timing of migration may depend not only on differences in habitat quality, but also on temporal variation in migration costs. Such variation can, for instance, arise from changes in wind or current velocity for migrating birds and fish, respectively. Whereas behavioural responses of birds to such changing environmental conditions have been relatively well described, this is not the case for fish, although fish migrations are both ecologically and economically important. We here use passive and active telemetry to study how winter migrating roach regulate swimming speed and distance travelled per day in response to variations in head current velocity. Furthermore, we provide theoretical predictions on optimal swimming speeds in head currents and relate these to our empirical results. We show that fish migrate farther on days with low current velocity, but travel at a greater ground speed on days with high current velocity. The latter result agrees with our predictions on optimal swimming speed in head currents, but disagrees with previously reported predictions suggesting that fish ground speed should not change with head current velocity. We suggest that this difference is due to different assumptions on fish swimming energetics. We conclude that fish are able to adjust both swimming speed and timing of swimming activity during migration to changes in head current velocity in order to minimize energy use.

Reproductive Isolation and Ecological Niche Partition among Larvae of the Morphologically Cryptic Sister Species Chironomus riparius and C. piger:

One of the central issues in ecology is the question what allows sympatric occurrence of closely related species in the same general area? The non-biting midges Chironomus riparius and C. piger, interbreeding in the laboratory, have been shown to coexist frequently despite of their close relatedness, similar ecology and high morphological similarity. In order to investigate factors shaping niche partitioning of these cryptic sister species, we explored the actual degree of reproductive isolation in the field. Congruent results from nuclear microsatellite and mitochondrial haplotype analyses indicated complete absence of interspecific gene-flow. Autocorrelation analysis showed a non-random spatial distribution of the two species. Though not dispersal limited at the scale of the study area, the sister species occurred less often than expected at the same site, indicating past or present competition. Correlation and multiple regression analyses suggested the repartition of the available habitat along water chemistry gradients (nitrite, conductivity, CaCO3), ultimately governed by differences in summer precipitation regime. We show that these morphologically cryptic sister species partition their niches due to a certain degree of ecological distinctness and total reproductive isolation in the field. The coexistence of these species provides a suitable model system for the investigation of factors shaping the distribution of closely related, cryptic species.

Visual Coding in Locust Photoreceptors:

Information capture by photoreceptors ultimately limits the quality of visual processing in the brain. Using conventional sharp microelectrodes, we studied how locust photoreceptors encode random (white-noise, WN) and naturalistic (1/f stimuli, NS) light patterns in vivo and how this coding changes with mean illumination and ambient temperature. We also examined the role of their plasma membrane in shaping voltage responses. We found that brightening or warming increase and accelerate voltage responses, but reduce noise, enabling photoreceptors to encode more information. For WN stimuli, this was accompanied by broadening of the linear frequency range. On the contrary, with NS the signaling took place within a constant bandwidth, possibly revealing a ‘preference’ for inputs with 1/f statistics. The faster signaling was caused by acceleration of the elementary phototransduction current – leading to bumps – and their distribution. The membrane linearly translated phototransduction currents into voltage responses without limiting the throughput of these messages. As the bumps reflected fast changes in membrane resistance, the data suggest that their shape is predominantly driven by fast changes in the light-gated conductance. On the other hand, the slower bump latency distribution is likely to represent slower enzymatic intracellular reactions. Furthermore, the Q10s of bump duration and latency distribution depended on light intensity. Altogether, this study suggests that biochemical constraints imposed upon signaling change continuously as locust photoreceptors adapt to environmental light and temperature conditions.

EST Analysis of Ostreococcus lucimarinus, the Most Compact Eukaryotic Genome, Shows an Excess of Introns in Highly Expressed Genes:

The genome of the pico-eukaryotic (bacterial-sized) prasinophyte green alga Ostreococcus lucimarinus has one of the highest gene densities known in eukaryotes, yet it contains many introns. Phylogenetic studies suggest this unusually compact genome (13.2 Mb) is an evolutionarily derived state among prasinophytes. The presence of introns in the highly reduced O. lucimarinus genome appears to be in opposition to simple explanations of genome evolution based on unidirectional tendencies, either neutral or selective. Therefore, patterns of intron retention in this species can potentially provide insights into the forces governing intron evolution. Here we studied intron features and levels of expression in O. lucimarinus using expressed sequence tags (ESTs) to annotate the current genome assembly. ESTs were assembled into unigene clusters that were mapped back to the O. lucimarinus Build 2.0 assembly using BLAST and the level of gene expression was inferred from the number of ESTs in each cluster. We find a positive correlation between expression levels and both intron number (R = +0.0893, p = <0.0005) and intron density (number of introns/kb of CDS; R = +0.0753, p = <0.005). In a species with a genome that has been recently subjected to a great reduction of non-coding DNA, these results imply the existence of selective/functional roles for introns that are principally detectable in highly expressed genes. In these cases, introns are likely maintained by balancing the selective forces favoring their maintenance with other mutational and/or selective forces acting on genome size.

Prenatal Restraint Stress Generates Two Distinct Behavioral and Neurochemical Profiles in Male and Female Rats:

Prenatal Restraint Stress (PRS) in rats is a validated model of early stress resulting in permanent behavioral and neurobiological outcomes. Although sexual dimorphism in the effects of PRS has been hypothesized for more than 30 years, few studies in this long period have directly addressed the issue. Our group has uncovered a pronounced gender difference in the effects of PRS (stress delivered to the mothers 3 times per day during the last 10 days of pregnancy) on anxiety, spatial learning, and a series of neurobiological parameters classically associated with hippocampus-dependent behaviors. Adult male rats subjected to PRS (“PRS rats”) showed increased anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze (EPM), a reduction in the survival of newborn cells in the dentate gyrus, a reduction in the activity of mGlu1/5 metabotropic glutamate receptors in the ventral hippocampus, and an increase in the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and pro-BDNF in the hippocampus. In contrast, female PRS rats displayed reduced anxiety in the EPM, improved learning in the Morris water maze, an increase in the activity of mGlu1/5 receptors in the ventral and dorsal hippocampus, and no changes in hippocampal neurogenesis or BDNF levels. The direction of the changes in neurogenesis, BDNF levels and mGlu receptor function in PRS animals was not consistent with the behavioral changes, suggesting that PRS perturbs the interdependency of these particular parameters and their relation to hippocampus-dependent behavior. Our data suggest that the epigenetic changes in hippocampal neuroplasticity induced by early environmental challenges are critically sex-dependent and that the behavioral outcome may diverge in males and females.

Different Region Analysis for Genotyping Yersinia pestis Isolates from China:

DFR (different region) analysis has been developed for typing Yesinia pestis in our previous study, and in this study, we extended this method by using 23 DFRs to investigate 909 Chinese Y. pestis strains for validating DFR-based genotyping method and better understanding adaptive microevolution of Y. pestis. On the basis of PCR and Bionumerics data analysis, 909 Y. pestis strains were genotyped into 32 genomovars according to their DFR profiles. New terms, Major genomovar and Minor genomovar, were coined for illustrating evolutionary relationship between Y. pestis strains from different plague foci and different hosts. In silico DFR profiling of the completed or draft genomes shed lights on the evolutionary scenario of Y. pestis from Y. pseudotuberculosis. Notably, several sequenced Y. pestis strains share the same DFR profiles with Chinese strains, providing data for revealing the global plague foci expansion. Distribution of Y. pestis genomovars is plague focus-specific. Microevolution of biovar Orientalis was deduced according to DFR profiles. DFR analysis turns to be an efficient and inexpensive method to portrait the genome plasticity of Y. pestis based on horizontal gene transfer (HGT). DFR analysis can also be used as a tool in comparative and evolutionary genomic research for other bacteria with similar genome plasticity.

Widening of Socioeconomic Inequalities in U.S. Death Rates, 1993-2001:

Socioeconomic inequalities in death rates from all causes combined widened from 1960 until 1990 in the U.S., largely because cardiovascular death rates decreased more slowly in lower than in higher socioeconomic groups. However, no studies have examined trends in inequalities using recent US national data. We calculated annual age-standardized death rates from 1993-2001 for 25-64 year old non-Hispanic whites and blacks by level of education for all causes and for the seven most common causes of death using death certificate information from 43 states and Washington, D.C. Regression analysis was used to estimate annual percent change. The inequalities in all cause death rates between Americans with less than high school education and college graduates increased rapidly from 1993 to 2001 due to both significant decreases in mortality from all causes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and other conditions in the most educated and lack of change or increases among the least educated. For white women, the all cause death rate increased significantly by 3.2 percent per year in the least educated and by 0.7 percent per year in high school graduates. The rate ratio (RR) comparing the least versus most educated increased from 2.9 (95% CI, 2.8-3.1) in 1993 to 4.4 (4.1-4.6) in 2001 among white men, from 2.1 (1.8-2.5) to 3.4 (2.9-3-9) in black men, and from 2.6 (2.4-2.7) to 3.8 (3.6-4.0) in white women. Socioeconomic inequalities in mortality are increasing rapidly due to continued progress by educated white and black men and white women, and stable or worsening trends among the least educated.

Reproductive Behaviour Evolves Rapidly When Intralocus Sexual Conflict Is Removed:

Intralocus sexual conflict can inhibit the evolution of each sex towards its own fitness optimum. In a previous study, we confirmed this prediction through the experimental removal of female selection pressures in Drosophila melanogaster, achieved by limiting the expression of all major chromosomes to males. Compared to the control populations (C1-4) where the genomes are exposed to selection in both sexes, the populations with male-limited genomes (ML1-4) showed rapid increases in male fitness, whereas the fitness of females expressing ML-evolved chromosomes decreased [1]. Here we examine the behavioural phenotype underlying this sexual antagonism. We show that males expressing the ML genomes have a reduced courtship level but acquire the same number of matings. On the other hand, our data suggest that females expressing the ML genomes had reduced attractiveness, stimulating a lower rate of courtship from males. Moreover, females expressing ML genomes tend to display reduced yeast-feeding behaviour, which is probably linked to the reduction of their fecundity. These results suggest that reproductive behaviour is shaped by opposing selection on males and females, and that loci influencing attractiveness and foraging were polymorphic for alleles with sexually antagonistic expression patterns prior to ML selection. Hence, intralocus sexual conflict appears to play a role in the evolution of a wide range of fitness-related traits and may be a powerful mechanism for the maintenance of genetic variation in fitness.

Paternal Genetic Structure of Hainan Aborigines Isolated at the Entrance to East Asia:

At the southern entrance to East Asia, early population migration has affected most of the Y-chromosome variations of East Asians. To assess the isolated genetic structure of Hainan Island and the original genetic structure at the southern entrance, we studied the Y chromosome diversity of 405 Hainan Island aborigines from all the six populations, who have little influence of the recent mainland population relocations and admixtures. Here we report that haplogroups O1a* and O2a* are dominant among Hainan aborigines. In addition, the frequency of the mainland dominant haplogroup O3 is quite low among these aborigines, indicating that they have lived rather isolated. Clustering analyses suggests that the Hainan aborigines have been segregated since about 20 thousand years ago, after two dominant haplogroups entered East Asia (31 to 36 thousand years ago). Our results suggest that Hainan aborigines have been isolated at the entrance to East Asia for about 20 thousand years, whose distinctive genetic characteristics could be used as important controls in many