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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 12 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:

Estimating Mass Properties of Dinosaurs Using Laser Imaging and 3D Computer Modelling:

Body mass reconstructions of extinct vertebrates are most robust when complete to near-complete skeletons allow the reconstruction of either physical or digital models. Digital models are most efficient in terms of time and cost, and provide the facility to infinitely modify model properties non-destructively, such that sensitivity analyses can be conducted to quantify the effect of the many unknown parameters involved in reconstructions of extinct animals. In this study we use laser scanning (LiDAR) and computer modelling methods to create a range of 3D mass models of five specimens of non-avian dinosaur; two near-complete specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex, the most complete specimens of Acrocanthosaurus atokensis and Strutiomimum sedens, and a near-complete skeleton of a sub-adult Edmontosaurus annectens. LiDAR scanning allows a full mounted skeleton to be imaged resulting in a detailed 3D model in which each bone retains its spatial position and articulation. This provides a high resolution skeletal framework around which the body cavity and internal organs such as lungs and air sacs can be reconstructed. This has allowed calculation of body segment masses, centres of mass and moments or inertia for each animal. However, any soft tissue reconstruction of an extinct taxon inevitably represents a best estimate model with an unknown level of accuracy. We have therefore conducted an extensive sensitivity analysis in which the volumes of body segments and respiratory organs were varied in an attempt to constrain the likely maximum plausible range of mass parameters for each animal. Our results provide wide ranges in actual mass and inertial values, emphasizing the high level of uncertainty inevitable in such reconstructions. However, our sensitivity analysis consistently places the centre of mass well below and in front of hip joint in each animal, regardless of the chosen combination of body and respiratory structure volumes. These results emphasize that future biomechanical assessments of extinct taxa should be preceded by a detailed investigation of the plausible range of mass properties, in which sensitivity analyses are used to identify a suite of possible values to be tested as inputs in analytical models.

Avian Incubation Inhibits Growth and Diversification of Bacterial Assemblages on Eggs:

Microbial infection is a critical source of mortality for early life stages of oviparous vertebrates, but parental defenses against infection are less well known. Avian incubation has been hypothesized to reduce the risk of trans-shell infection by limiting microbial growth of pathogenic bacteria on eggshells, while enhancing growth of commensal or beneficial bacteria that inhibit or competitively exclude pathogens. We tested this hypothesis by comparing bacterial assemblages on naturally incubated and experimentally unincubated eggs at laying and late incubation using a universal 16S rRNA microarray containing probes for over 8000 bacterial taxa. Before treatment, bacterial assemblages on individual eggs from both treatment groups were dissimilar to one another, as measured by clustering in non-metric dimensional scaling (NMDS) ordination space. After treatment, assemblages of unincubated eggs were similar to one another, but those of incubated eggs were not. Furthermore, assemblages of unincubated eggs were characterized by high abundance of six indicator species while incubated eggs had no indicator species. Bacterial taxon richness remained static on incubated eggs, but increased significantly on unincubated eggs, especially in several families of Gram-negative bacteria. The relative abundance of individual bacterial taxa did not change on incubated eggs, but that of 82 bacterial taxa, including some known to infect the interior of eggs, increased on unincubated eggs. Thus, incubation inhibits all of the relatively few bacteria that grow on eggshells, and does not appear to promote growth of any bacteria.