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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

What a Christmas present – there are 32 new articles in PLoS ONE today and they are amazing! As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

Norepinephrine Controls Both Torpor Initiation and Emergence via Distinct Mechanisms in the Mouse:

Some mammals, including laboratory mice, enter torpor in response to food deprivation, and leptin can attenuate these bouts of torpor. We previously showed that dopamine β-hydroxylase knockout (Dbh −/−) mice, which lack norepinephrine (NE), do not reduce circulating leptin upon fasting nor do they enter torpor. To test whether the onset of torpor in mice during a fast requires a NE-mediated reduction in circulating leptin, double mutant mice deficient in both leptin (ob/ob) and DBH (DBL MUT) were generated. Upon fasting, control and ob/ob mice entered torpor as assessed by telemetric core Tb acquisition. While fasting failed to induce torpor in Dbh −/− mice, leptin deficiency bypassed the requirement for NE, as DBL MUT mice readily entered torpor upon fasting. These data indicate that sympathetic activation of white fat and suppression of leptin is required for the onset of torpor in the mouse. Emergence from torpor was severely retarded in DBL MUT mice, revealing a novel, leptin-independent role for NE in torpor recovery. This phenotype was mimicked by administration of a β3 adrenergic receptor antagonist to control mice during a torpor bout. Hence, NE signaling via β3 adrenergic receptors presumably in brown fat is the first neurotransmitter-receptor system identified that is required for normal recovery from torpor.

Gaze Strategy in the Free Flying Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata):

Fast moving animals depend on cues derived from the optic flow on their retina. Optic flow from translational locomotion includes information about the three-dimensional composition of the environment, while optic flow experienced during a rotational self motion does not. Thus, a saccadic gaze strategy that segregates rotations from translational movements during locomotion will facilitate extraction of spatial information from the visual input. We analysed whether birds use such a strategy by highspeed video recording zebra finches from two directions during an obstacle avoidance task. Each frame of the recording was examined to derive position and orientation of the beak in three-dimensional space. The data show that in all flights the head orientation was shifted in a saccadic fashion and was kept straight between saccades. Therefore, birds use a gaze strategy that actively stabilizes their gaze during translation to simplify optic flow based navigation. This is the first evidence of birds actively optimizing optic flow during flight.

Neanderthal Extinction by Competitive Exclusion:

Despite a long history of investigation, considerable debate revolves around whether Neanderthals became extinct because of climate change or competition with anatomically modern humans (AMH). We apply a new methodology integrating archaeological and chronological data with high-resolution paleoclimatic simulations to define eco-cultural niches associated with Neanderthal and AMH adaptive systems during alternating cold and mild phases of Marine Isotope Stage 3. Our results indicate that Neanderthals and AMH exploited similar niches, and may have continued to do so in the absence of contact. The southerly contraction of Neanderthal range in southwestern Europe during Greenland Interstadial 8 was not due to climate change or a change in adaptation, but rather concurrent AMH geographic expansion appears to have produced competition that led to Neanderthal extinction.

Male Weaponry in a Fighting Cricket:

Sexually selected male weaponry is widespread in nature. Despite being model systems for the study of male aggression in Western science and for cricket fights in Chinese culture, field crickets (Orthoptera, Gryllidae, Gryllinae) are not known to possess sexually dimorphic weaponry. In a wild population of the fall field cricket, Gryllus pennsylvanicus, we report sexual dimorphism in head size as well as the size of mouthparts, both of which are used when aggressive contests between males escalate to physical combat. Male G. pennsylvanicus have larger heads, maxillae and mandibles than females when controlling for pronotum length. We conducted two experiments to test the hypothesis that relatively larger weaponry conveys an advantage to males in aggressive contests. Pairs of males were selected for differences in head size and consequently were different in the size of maxillae and mandibles. In the first experiment, males were closely matched for body size (pronotum length), and in the second, they were matched for body mass. Males with proportionately larger weaponry won more fights and increasing differences in weaponry size between males increased the fighting success of the male with the larger weaponry. This was particularly true when contests escalated to grappling, the most intense level of aggression. However, neither contest duration nor intensity was related to weaponry size as predicted by models of contest settlement. These results are the first evidence that the size of the head capsule and mouthparts are under positive selection via male-male competition in field crickets, and validate 800-year-old Chinese traditional knowledge.

Wind, Waves, and Wing Loading: Morphological Specialization May Limit Range Expansion of Endangered Albatrosses:

Among the varied adaptations for avian flight, the morphological traits allowing large-bodied albatrosses to capitalize on wind and wave energy for efficient long-distance flight are unparalleled. Consequently, the biogeographic distribution of most albatrosses is limited to the windiest oceanic regions on earth; however, exceptions exist. Species breeding in the North and Central Pacific Ocean (Phoebastria spp.) inhabit regions of lower wind speed and wave height than southern hemisphere genera, and have large intrageneric variation in body size and aerodynamic performance. Here, we test the hypothesis that regional wind and wave regimes explain observed differences in Phoebastria albatross morphology and we compare their aerodynamic performance to representatives from the other three genera of this globally distributed avian family. In the North and Central Pacific, two species (short-tailed P. albatrus and waved P. irrorata) are markedly larger, yet have the smallest breeding ranges near highly productive coastal upwelling systems. Short-tailed albatrosses, however, have 60% higher wing loading (weight per area of lift) compared to waved albatrosses. Indeed, calculated aerodynamic performance of waved albatrosses, the only tropical albatross species, is more similar to those of their smaller congeners (black-footed P. nigripes and Laysan P. immutabilis), which have relatively low wing loading and much larger foraging ranges that include central oceanic gyres of relatively low productivity. Globally, the aerodynamic performance of short-tailed and waved albatrosses are most anomalous for their body sizes, yet consistent with wind regimes within their breeding season foraging ranges. Our results are the first to integrate global wind and wave patterns with albatross aerodynamics, thereby identifying morphological specialization that may explain limited breeding ranges of two endangered albatross species. These results are further relevant to understanding past and potentially predicting future distributional limits of albatrosses globally, particularly with respect to climate change effects on basin-scale and regional wind fields.

Lions and Prions and Deer Demise:

Contagious prion diseases – scrapie of sheep and chronic wasting disease of several species in the deer family – give rise to epidemics that seem capable of compromising host population viability. Despite this prospect, the ecological consequences of prion disease epidemics in natural populations have received little consideration. Using a cohort study design, we found that prion infection dramatically lowered survival of free-ranging adult (>2-year-old) mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus): estimated average life expectancy was 5.2 additional years for uninfected deer but only 1.6 additional years for infected deer. Prion infection also increased nearly fourfold the rate of mountain lions (Puma concolor) preying on deer, suggesting that epidemics may alter predator-prey dynamics by facilitating hunting success. Despite selective predation, about one fourth of the adult deer we sampled were infected. High prevalence and low survival of infected deer provided a plausible explanation for the marked decline in this deer population since the 1980s. Remarkably high infection rates sustained in the face of intense predation show that even seemingly complete ecosystems may offer little resistance to the spread and persistence of contagious prion diseases. Moreover, the depression of infected populations may lead to local imbalances in food webs and nutrient cycling in ecosystems in which deer are important herbivores.

Effectiveness of Action to Reduce Exposure of Free-Ranging California Condors in Arizona and Utah to Lead from Spent Ammunition:

California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) released into the wild in Arizona ranged widely in Arizona and Utah. Previous studies have shown that the blood lead concentrations of many of the birds rise because of ingestion of spent lead ammunition. Condors were routinely recaptured and treated to reduce their lead levels as necessary but, even so, several died from lead poisoning. We used tracking data from VHF and satellite tags, together with the results of routine testing of blood lead concentrations, to estimate daily changes in blood lead level in relation to the location of each bird. The mean daily increment in blood lead concentration depended upon both the location of the bird and the time of year. Birds that spent time during the deer hunting season in two areas in which deer were shot with lead ammunition (Kaibab Plateau (Arizona) and Zion (Utah)) were especially likely to have high blood lead levels. The influence upon blood lead level of presence in a particular area declined with time elapsed since the bird was last there. We estimated the daily blood lead level for each bird and its influence upon daily mortality rate from lead poisoning. Condors with high blood lead over a protracted period were much more likely to die than birds with low blood lead or short-term elevation. We simulated the effect of ending the existing lead exposure reduction measures at Kaibab Plateau, which encourage the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition and removal of gut piles of deer and elk killed using lead ammunition. The estimated mortality rate due to lead in the absence of this program was sufficiently high that the condor population would be expected to decline rapidly. The extension of the existing lead reduction program to cover Zion (Utah), as well as the Kaibab plateau, would be expected to reduce mortality caused by lead substantially and allow the condor population to increase.

Harmonic Allocation of Authorship Credit: Source-Level Correction of Bibliometric Bias Assures Accurate Publication and Citation Analysis:

Authorship credit for multi-authored scientific publications is routinely allocated either by issuing full publication credit repeatedly to all coauthors, or by dividing one credit equally among all coauthors. The ensuing inflationary and equalizing biases distort derived bibliometric measures of merit by systematically benefiting secondary authors at the expense of primary authors. Here I show how harmonic counting, which allocates credit according to authorship rank and the number of coauthors, provides simultaneous source-level correction for both biases as well as accommodating further decoding of byline information. I also demonstrate large and erratic effects of counting bias on the original h-index, and show how the harmonic version of the h-index provides unbiased bibliometric ranking of scientific merit while retaining the original’s essential simplicity, transparency and intended fairness. Harmonic decoding of byline information resolves the conundrum of authorship credit allocation by providing a simple recipe for source-level correction of inflationary and equalizing bias. Harmonic counting could also offer unrivalled accuracy in automated assessments of scientific productivity, impact and achievement.

Keep Your Options Open: An Information-Based Driving Principle for Sensorimotor Systems:

The central resource processed by the sensorimotor system of an organism is information. We propose an information-based quantity that allows one to characterize the efficiency of the perception-action loop of an abstract organism model. It measures the potential of the organism to imprint information on the environment via its actuators in a way that can be recaptured by its sensors, essentially quantifying the options available and visible to the organism. Various scenarios suggest that such a quantity could identify the preferred direction of evolution or adaptation of the sensorimotor loop of organisms.

Evidence of Repeated and Independent Saltational Evolution in a Peculiar Genus of Sphinx Moths (Proserpinus: Sphingidae):

Saltational evolution in which a particular lineage undergoes relatively rapid, significant, and unparalleled change as compared with its closest relatives is rarely invoked as an alternative model to the dominant paradigm of gradualistic evolution. Identifying saltational events is an important first-step in assessing the importance of this discontinuous model in generating evolutionary novelty. We offer evidence for three independent instances of saltational evolution in a charismatic moth genus with only eight species. Maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian search criteria offered congruent, well supported phylogenies based on 1,965 base pairs of DNA sequence using the mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase subunit I, and the nuclear genes elongation factor-1 alpha and wingless. Using a comparative methods approach, we examined three taxa exhibiting novelty in the form of Batesian mimicry, host plant shift, and dramatic physiological differences in light of the phylogenetic data. All three traits appear to have evolved relatively rapidly and independently in three different species of Proserpinus. Each saltational species exhibits a markedly different and discrete example of discontinuous trait evolution while remaining canalized for other typical traits shared by the rest of the genus. All three saltational taxa show insignificantly different levels of overall genetic change as compared with their congeners, implying that their divergence is targeted to particular traits and not genome-wide. Such rapid evolution of novel traits in individual species suggests that the pace of evolution can be quick, dramatic, and isolated–even on the species level. These results may be applicable to other groups in which specific taxa have generated pronounced evolutionary novelty. Genetic mechanisms and methods for assessing such relatively rapid changes are postulated.

Long-Term Cycles in the History of Life: Periodic Biodiversity in the Paleobiology Database:

Time series analysis of fossil biodiversity of marine invertebrates in the Paleobiology Database (PBDB) shows a significant periodicity at approximately 63 My, in agreement with previous analyses based on the Sepkoski database. I discuss how this result did not appear in a previous analysis of the PBDB. The existence of the 63 My periodicity, despite very different treatment of systematic error in both PBDB and Sepkoski databases strongly argues for consideration of its reality in the fossil record. Cross-spectral analysis of the two datasets finds that a 62 My periodicity coincides in phase by 1.6 My, equivalent to better than the errors in either measurement. Consequently, the two data sets not only contain the same strong periodicity, but its peaks and valleys closely correspond in time. Two other spectral peaks appear in the PBDB analysis, but appear to be artifacts associated with detrending and with the increased interval length. Sampling-standardization procedures implemented by the PBDB collaboration suggest that the signal is not an artifact of sampling bias. Further work should focus on finding the cause of the 62 My periodicity.

Looking for Myself: Current Multisensory Input Alters Self-Face Recognition:

How do I know the person I see in the mirror is really me? Is it because I know the person simply looks like me, or is it because the mirror reflection moves when I move, and I see it being touched when I feel touch myself? Studies of face-recognition suggest that visual recognition of stored visual features inform self-face recognition. In contrast, body-recognition studies conclude that multisensory integration is the main cue to selfhood. The present study investigates for the first time the specific contribution of current multisensory input for self-face recognition. Participants were stroked on their face while they were looking at a morphed face being touched in synchrony or asynchrony. Before and after the visuo-tactile stimulation participants performed a self-recognition task. The results show that multisensory signals have a significant effect on self-face recognition. Synchronous tactile stimulation while watching another person’s face being similarly touched produced a bias in recognizing one’s own face, in the direction of the other person included in the representation of one’s own face. Multisensory integration can update cognitive representations of one’s body, such as the sense of ownership. The present study extends this converging evidence by showing that the correlation of synchronous multisensory signals also updates the representation of one’s face. The face is a key feature of our identity, but at the same time is a source of rich multisensory experiences used to maintain or update self-representations.

…and many more. Enjoy the feast!