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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 17 new articles in PLoS ONE today. 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:

Mitochondrial Phylogeography Illuminates the Origin of the Extinct Caspian Tiger and Its Relationship to the Amur Tiger:

The Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) flourished in Central Asian riverine forest systems in a range disjunct from that of other tigers, but was driven to extinction in 1970 prior to a modern molecular evaluation. For over a century naturalists puzzled over the taxonomic validity, placement, and biogeographic origin of this enigmatic animal. Using ancient-DNA (aDNA) methodology, we generated composite mtDNA haplotypes from twenty wild Caspian tigers from throughout their historic range sampled from museum collections. We found that Caspian tigers carry a major mtDNA haplotype differing by only a single nucleotide from the monomorphic haplotype found across all contemporary Amur tigers (P. t. altaica). Phylogeographic analysis with extant tiger subspecies suggests that less than 10,000 years ago the Caspian/Amur tiger ancestor colonized Central Asia via the Gansu Corridor (Silk Road) from eastern China then subsequently traversed Siberia eastward to establish the Amur tiger in the Russian Far East. The conservation implications of these findings are far reaching, as the observed genetic depletion characteristic of modern Amur tigers likely reflects these founder migrations and therefore predates human influence. Also, due to their evolutionary propinquity, living Amur tigers offer an appropriate genetic source should reintroductions to the former range of the Caspian tiger be implemented.

A Trivers-Willard Effect in Contemporary Humans: Male-Biased Sex Ratios among Billionaires:

Natural selection should favour the ability of mothers to adjust the sex ratio of offspring in relation to the offspring’s potential reproductive success. In polygynous species, mothers in good condition would be advantaged by giving birth to more sons. While studies on mammals in general provide support for the hypothesis, studies on humans provide particularly inconsistent results, possibly because the assumptions of the model do not apply. Here, we take a subset of humans in very good condition: the Forbe’s billionaire list. First, we test if the assumptions of the model apply, and show that mothers leave more grandchildren through their sons than through their daughters. We then show that billionaires have 60% sons, which is significantly different from the general population, consistent with our hypothesis. However, women who themselves are billionaires have fewer sons than women having children with billionaires, suggesting that maternal testosterone does not explain the observed variation. Furthermore, paternal masculinity as indexed by achievement, could not explain the variation, since there was no variation in sex ratio between self-made or inherited billionaires. Humans in the highest economic bracket leave more grandchildren through sons than through daughters. Therefore, adaptive variation in sex ratios is expected, and human mothers in the highest economic bracket do give birth to more sons, suggesting similar sex ratio manipulation as seen in other mammals.

Reappraising Social Insect Behavior through Aversive Responsiveness and Learning:

The success of social insects can be in part attributed to their division of labor, which has been explained by a response threshold model. This model posits that individuals differ in their response thresholds to task-associated stimuli, so that individuals with lower thresholds specialize in this task. This model is at odds with findings on honeybee behavior as nectar and pollen foragers exhibit different responsiveness to sucrose, with nectar foragers having higher response thresholds to sucrose concentration. Moreover, it has been suggested that sucrose responsiveness correlates with responsiveness to most if not all other stimuli. If this is the case, explaining task specialization and the origins of division of labor on the basis of differences in response thresholds is difficult. To compare responsiveness to stimuli presenting clear-cut differences in hedonic value and behavioral contexts, we measured appetitive and aversive responsiveness in the same bees in the laboratory. We quantified proboscis extension responses to increasing sucrose concentrations and sting extension responses to electric shocks of increasing voltage. We analyzed the relationship between aversive responsiveness and aversive olfactory conditioning of the sting extension reflex, and determined how this relationship relates to division of labor. Sucrose and shock responsiveness measured in the same bees did not correlate, thus suggesting that they correspond to independent behavioral syndromes, a foraging and a defensive one. Bees which were more responsive to shock learned and memorized better aversive associations. Finally, guards were less responsive than nectar foragers to electric shocks, exhibiting higher tolerance to low voltage shocks. Consequently, foragers, which are more sensitive, were the ones learning and memorizing better in aversive conditioning.

Versatile Aggressive Mimicry of Cicadas by an Australian Predatory Katydid:

In aggressive mimicry, a predator or parasite imitates a signal of another species in order to exploit the recipient of the signal. Some of the most remarkable examples of aggressive mimicry involve exploitation of a complex signal-response system by an unrelated predator species. We have found that predatory Chlorobalius leucoviridis katydids (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae) can attract male cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) by imitating the species-specific wing-flick replies of sexually receptive female cicadas. This aggressive mimicry is accomplished both acoustically, with tegminal clicks, and visually, with synchronized body jerks. Remarkably, the katydids respond effectively to a variety of complex, species-specific Cicadettini songs, including songs of many cicada species that the predator has never encountered. We propose that the versatility of aggressive mimicry in C. leucoviridis is accomplished by exploiting general design elements common to the songs of many acoustically signaling insects that use duets in pair-formation. Consideration of the mechanism of versatile mimicry in C. leucoviridis may illuminate processes driving the evolution of insect acoustic signals, which play a central role in reproductive isolation of populations and the formation of species.

Serotonin Transporter Genotype Modulates Social Reward and Punishment in Rhesus Macaques:

Serotonin signaling influences social behavior in both human and nonhuman primates. In humans, variation upstream of the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) has recently been shown to influence both behavioral measures of social anxiety and amygdala response to social threats. Here we show that length polymorphisms in 5-HTTLPR predict social reward and punishment in rhesus macaques, a species in which 5-HTTLPR variation is analogous to that of humans. In contrast to monkeys with two copies of the long allele (L/L), monkeys with one copy of the short allele of this gene (S/L) spent less time gazing at face than non-face images, less time looking in the eye region of faces, and had larger pupil diameters when gazing at photos of a high versus low status male macaques. Moreover, in a novel primed gambling task, presentation of photos of high status male macaques promoted risk-aversion in S/L monkeys but promoted risk-seeking in L/L monkeys. Finally, as measured by a “pay-per-view” task, S/L monkeys required juice payment to view photos of high status males, whereas L/L monkeys sacrificed fluid to see the same photos. These data indicate that genetic variation in serotonin function contributes to social reward and punishment in rhesus macaques, and thus shapes social behavior in humans and rhesus macaques alike.

Molecular Implications of Repeated Aggression: Th, Dat1, Snca and Bdnf Gene Expression in the VTA of Victorious Male Mice:

It is generally recognized that recurrent aggression can be the result of various psychiatric disorders. The aim of our study was to analyze the mRNA levels, in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the midbrain, of the genes that may possibly be associated with aggression consistently shown by male mice in special experimental settings. The genes were Th, Dat1, Snca and Bdnf; the male mice were a group of animals that had each won 20 daily encounters in succession and a group of animals that had the same winning track record followed by a no-fight period for 14 days. Increased Th, Dat1 and Snca mRNA levels were in the fresh-from-the-fight group as compared to the controls. Increased Th and Dat1 mRNA levels were in the no-fight winners as compared to the controls. Significant positive correlations were found between the level of aggression and Th and Snca mRNA levels. Repeated positive fighting experience enhances the expression of the Th, Dat1 and Snca genes, which are associated with brain dopaminergic systems. The expression of the Th and Dat1 genes stays enhanced for a long time.