A Blog Around The Clock

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 13 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 (wow! two circadian papers, plus dinosaurs and honeybees and heterochrony! – what a week!) – you go and look for your own favourites:

Evidence of Combat in Triceratops:

The horns and frill of Triceratops and other ceratopsids (horned dinosaurs) are interpreted variously as display structures or as weapons against conspecifics and predators. Lesions (in the form of periosteal reactive bone, healing fractures, and alleged punctures) on Triceratops skulls have been used as anecdotal support of intraspecific combat similar to that in modern horned and antlered animals. If ceratopsids with different cranial morphologies used their horns in such combat, this should be reflected in the rates of lesion occurrence across the skull. We used a G-test of independence to compare incidence rates of lesions in Triceratops (which possesses two large brow horns and a smaller nasal horn) and the related ceratopsid Centrosaurus (with a large nasal horn and small brow horns), for the nasal, jugal, squamosal, and parietal bones of the skull. The two taxa differ significantly in the occurrence of lesions on the squamosal bone of the frill (P = 0.002), but not in other cranial bones (P>0.20). This pattern is consistent with Triceratops using its horns in combat and the frill being adapted as a protective structure for this taxon. Lower pathology rates in Centrosaurus may indicate visual rather than physical use of cranial ornamentation in this genus, or a form of combat focused on the body rather than the head.

Already blogged about by one of the authors, Andy Farke and by Ed Yong.

Number-Based Visual Generalisation in the Honeybee:

Although the numerical abilities of many vertebrate species have been investigated in the scientific literature, there are few convincing accounts of invertebrate numerical competence. Honeybees, Apis mellifera, by virtue of their other impressive cognitive feats, are a prime candidate for investigations of this nature. We therefore used the well-established delayed match-to-sample paradigm, to test the limits of honeybees’ ability to match two visual patterns solely on the basis of the shared number of elements in the two patterns. Using a y-maze, we found that bees can not only differentiate between patterns containing two and three elements, but can also use this prior knowledge to differentiate three from four, without any additional training. However, bees trained on the two versus three task could not distinguish between higher numbers, such as four versus five, four versus six, or five versus six. Control experiments confirmed that the bees were not using cues such as the colour of the exact configuration of the visual elements, the combined area or edge length of the elements, or illusory contours formed by the elements. To our knowledge, this is the first report of number-based visual generalisation by an invertebrate.

Circadian Control of Dendrite Morphology in the Visual System of Drosophila melanogaster:

In the first optic neuropil (lamina) of the fly’s visual system, monopolar cells L1 and L2 and glia show circadian rhythms in morphological plasticity. They change their size and shape during the day and night. The most pronounced changes have been detected in circadian size of the L2 axons. Looking for a functional significance of the circadian plasticity observed in axons, we examined the morphological plasticity of the L2 dendrites. They extend from axons and harbor postsynaptic sites of tetrad synaptic contacts from the photoreceptor terminals. The plasticity of L2 dendrites was evaluated by measuring an outline of the L2 dendritic trees. These were from confocal images of cross sections of L2 cells labeled with GFP. They were in wild-type and clock mutant flies held under different light conditions and sacrified at different time points. We found that the L2 dendrites are longest at the beginning of the day in both males and females. This rhythm observed under a day/night regime (LD) was maintained in constant darkness (DD) but not in continuous light (LL). This rhythm was not present in the arrhythmic per01 mutant in LD or in DD. In the clock photoreceptor cryb mutant the rhythm was maintained but its pattern was different than that observed in wild-type flies. The results obtained showed that the L2 dendrites exhibit circadian structural plasticity. Their morphology is controlled by the per gene-dependent circadian clock. The L2 dendrites are longest at the beginning of the day when the daytime tetrad presynaptic sites are most numerous and L2 axons are swollen. The presence of the rhythm, but with a different pattern in cryb mutants in LD and DD indicates a new role of cry in the visual system. The new role is in maintaining the circadian pattern of changes of the L2 dendrite length and shape.

Genetic and Molecular Analysis of Wild-Derived Arrhythmic Mice:

A new circadian variant was isolated by screening the intercross offspring of wild-caught mice (Mus musculus castaneus). This variant was characterized by an initial maintenance of damped oscillations and subsequent loss of rhythmicity after being transferred from light-dark (LD) cycles to constant darkness (DD). To map the genes responsible for the persistence of rhythmicity (circadian ratio) and the length of free-running period (τ), quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis was performed using F2 mice obtained from an F1 cross between the circadian variant and C57BL/6J mice. As a result, a significant QTL with a main effect for circadian ratio (Arrhythmicity; Arrh-1) was mapped on Chromosome (Chr) 8. For τ, four significant QTLs, Short free-running period (Sfp-1) (Chr 1), Sfp-2 (Chr 6), Sfp-3 (Chr 8), Sfp-4 (Chr 11) were determined. An epistatic interaction was detected between Chr 3 (Arrh-2) and Chr 5 (Arrh-3). An in situ hybridization study of clock genes and mouse Period1::luciferase (mPer1::luc) real-time monitoring analysis in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) suggested that arrhythmicity in this variant might not be attributed to core circadian mechanisms in the SCN neurons. Our strategy using wild-derived variant mice may provide a novel opportunity to evaluate circadian and its related disorders in human that arise from the interaction between multiple variant genes.

Heterochrony and Cross-Species Intersensory Matching by Infant Vervet Monkeys:

Understanding the evolutionary origins of a phenotype requires understanding the relationship between ontogenetic and phylogenetic processes. Human infants have been shown to undergo a process of perceptual narrowing during their first year of life, whereby their intersensory ability to match the faces and voices of another species declines as they get older. We investigated the evolutionary origins of this behavioral phenotype by examining whether or not this developmental process occurs in non-human primates as well. We tested the ability of infant vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops), ranging in age from 23 to 65 weeks, to match the faces and voices of another non-human primate species (the rhesus monkey, Macaca mulatta). Even though the vervets had no prior exposure to rhesus monkey faces and vocalizations, our findings show that infant vervets can, in fact, recognize the correspondence between rhesus monkey faces and voices (but indicate that they do so by looking at the non-matching face for a greater proportion of overall looking time), and can do so well beyond the age of perceptual narrowing in human infants. Our results further suggest that the pattern of matching by vervet monkeys is influenced by the emotional saliency of the Face+Voice combination. That is, although they looked at the non-matching screen for Face+Voice combinations, they switched to looking at the matching screen when the Voice was replaced with a complex tone of equal duration. Furthermore, an analysis of pupillary responses revealed that their pupils showed greater dilation when looking at the matching natural face/voice combination versus the face/tone combination. Because the infant vervets in the current study exhibited cross-species intersensory matching far later in development than do human infants, our findings suggest either that intersensory perceptual narrowing does not occur in Old World monkeys or that it occurs later in development. We argue that these findings reflect the faster rate of neural development in monkeys relative to humans and the resulting differential interaction of this factor with the effects of early experience.