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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 19 new articles in PLoS ONE published on Friday night. 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:

Kestrel-Prey Dynamic in a Mediterranean Region: The Effect of Generalist Predation and Climatic Factors:

Most hypotheses on population limitation of small mammals and their predators come from studies carried out in northern latitudes, mainly in boreal ecosystems. In such regions, many predators specialize on voles and predator-prey systems are simpler compared to southern ecosystems where predator communities are made up mostly of generalists and predator-prey systems are more complex. Determining food limitation in generalist predators is difficult due to their capacity to switch to alternative prey when the basic prey becomes scarce. We monitored the population density of a generalist raptor, the Eurasian kestrel Falco tinnunculus over 15 years in a mountainous Mediterranean area. In addition, we have recorded over 11 years the inter-annual variation in the abundance of two main prey species of kestrels, the common vole Microtus arvalis and the eyed lizard Lacerta lepida and a third species scarcely represented in kestrel diet, the great white-toothed shrew Crocidura russula. We estimated the per capita growth rate (PCGR) to analyse population dynamics of kestrel and predator species. Multimodel inference determined that the PCGR of kestrels was better explained by a model containing the population density of only one prey species (the common vole) than a model using a combination of the densities of the three prey species. The PCGR of voles was explained by kestrel abundance in combination with annual rainfall and mean annual temperature. In the case of shrews, growth rate was also affected by kestrel abundance and temperature. Finally, we did not find any correlation between kestrel and lizard abundances.

Mass Stranding of Marine Birds Caused by a Surfactant-Producing Red Tide:

In November-December 2007 a widespread seabird mortality event occurred in Monterey Bay, California, USA, coincident with a massive red tide caused by the dinoflagellate Akashiwo sanguinea. Affected birds had a slimy yellow-green material on their feathers, which were saturated with water, and they were severely hypothermic. We determined that foam containing surfactant-like proteins, derived from organic matter of the red tide, coated their feathers and neutralized natural water repellency and insulation. No evidence of exposure to petroleum or other oils or biotoxins were found. This is the first documented case of its kind, but previous similar events may have gone undetected. The frequency and amplitude of red tides have increased in Monterey Bay since 2004, suggesting that impacts on wintering marine birds may continue or increase.

Is Altruistic Behavior Associated with Major Depression Onset?:

Previous cross-sectional study showed altruistic behaviors were harmful on major depression (MD). It is needed to investigate the impact of altruistic behaviors by its contents on the development of MD prospectively. The National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) in 1995-1996 and the MIDUS Psychological Experience Follow-Up study in 1998 were analyzed (weighted N = 563). Financial support of 10 or more dollars per month had a significant impact on the development of MD in comparison to no financial support (OR: 2.64, 95% CI: 1.05-6.62). Unpaid assistance and providing emotional support were not significantly associated with the development of MD in later life. Those who provide financial contribution to individuals other than family members can be at risk of developing MD.

Probing Evolutionary Repeatability: Neutral and Double Changes and the Predictability of Evolutionary Adaptation:

The question of how organisms adapt is among the most fundamental in evolutionary biology. Two recent studies investigated the evolution of Escherichia coli in response to challenge with the antibiotic cefotaxime. Studying five mutations in the β-lactamase gene that together confer significant antibiotic resistance, the authors showed a complex fitness landscape that greatly constrained the identity and order of intermediates leading from the initial wildtype genotype to the final resistant genotype. Out of 18 billion possible orders of single mutations leading from non-resistant to fully-resistant form, they found that only 27 (1.5×10−7%) pathways were characterized by consistently increasing resistance, thus only a tiny fraction of possible paths are accessible by positive selection. I further explore these data in several ways. Allowing neutral changes (those that do not affect resistance) increases the number of accessible pathways considerably, from 27 to 629. Allowing multiple simultaneous mutations also greatly increases the number of accessible pathways. Allowing a single case of double mutation to occur along a pathway increases the number of pathways from 27 to 259, and allowing arbitrarily many pairs of simultaneous changes increases the number of possible pathways by more than 100 fold, to 4800. I introduce the metric ‘repeatability,’ the probability that two random trials will proceed via the exact same pathway. In general, I find that while the total number of accessible pathways is dramatically affected by allowing neutral or double mutations, the overall evolutionary repeatability is generally much less affected. These results probe the conceivable pathways available to evolution. Even when many of the assumptions of the analysis of Weinreich et al. (2006) are relaxed, I find that evolution to more highly cefotaxime resistant β-lactamase proteins is still highly repeatable.

Phylogenomics: Gene Duplication, Unrecognized Paralogy and Outgroup Choice:

Comparative genomics has revealed the ubiquity of gene and genome duplication and subsequent gene loss. In the case of gene duplication and subsequent loss, gene trees can differ from species trees, thus frequent gene duplication poses a challenge for reconstruction of species relationships. Here I address the case of multi-gene sets of putative orthologs that include some unrecognized paralogs due to ancestral gene duplication, and ask how outgroups should best be chosen to reduce the degree of non-species tree (NST) signal. Consideration of expected internal branch lengths supports several conclusions: (i) when a single outgroup is used, the degree of NST signal arising from gene duplication is either independent of outgroup choice, or is minimized by use of a maximally closely related post-duplication (MCRPD) outgroup; (ii) when two outgroups are used, NST signal is minimized by using one MCRPD outgroup, while the position of the second outgroup is of lesser importance; and (iii) when two outgroups are used, the ability to detect gene trees that are inconsistent with known aspects of the species tree is maximized by use of one MCRPD, and is either independent of the position of the second outgroup, or is maximized for a more distantly related second outgroup. Overall, these results generalize the utility of closely-related outgroups for phylogenetic analysis.