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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 8 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:

A Dance to the Music of Time: Aesthetically-Relevant Changes in Body Posture in Performing Art:

In performing arts, body postures are both means for expressing an artist’s intentions, and also artistic objects, appealing to the audience. The postures of classical ballet obey the body’s biomechanical limits, but also follow strict rules established by tradition. This combination offers a perfect milieu for assessing scientifically how the execution of this particular artistic activity has changed over time, and evaluating what factors may induce such changes. We quantified angles between body segments in archive material showing dancers from a leading company over a 60-year period. The data showed that body positions supposedly fixed by codified choreography were in fact implemented by very different elevation angles, according to the year of ballet production. Progressive changes lead to increasingly vertical positions of the dancer’s body over the period studied. Experimental data showed that these change reflected aesthetic choices of na├»ve modern observers. Even when reduced to stick figures and unrecognisable shapes, the more vertical postures drawn from later productions were systematically preferred to less vertical postures from earlier productions. This gradual change within a conservative art form provides scientific evidence that aesthetic change may arise from continuous interaction between artistic tradition, individual artists’ creativity, and a wider environmental context. This context may include social aesthetic pressure from audiences.

Early Fasting Is Long Lasting: Differences in Early Nutritional Conditions Reappear under Stressful Conditions in Adult Female Zebra Finches:

Conditions experienced during early life can have profound effects on individual development and condition in adulthood. Differences in nutritional provisioning in birds during the first month of life can lead to differences in growth, reproductive success and survival. Yet, under natural conditions shorter periods of nutritional stress will be more prevalent. Individuals may respond differently, depending on the period of development during which nutritional stress was experienced. Such differences may surface specifically when poor environmental conditions challenge individuals again as adults. Here, we investigated long term consequences of differences in nutritional conditions experienced during different periods of early development by female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) on measures of management and acquisition of body reserves. As nestlings or fledglings, subjects were raised under different nutritional conditions, a low or high quality diet. After subjects reached sexual maturity, we measured their sensitivity to periods of food restriction, their exploration and foraging behaviour as well as adult resting metabolic rate (RMR). During a short period of food restriction, subjects from the poor nutritional conditions had a higher body mass loss than those raised under qualitatively superior nutritional conditions. Moreover, subjects that were raised under poor nutritional conditions were faster to engage in exploratory and foraging behaviour. But RMR did not differ among treatments. These results reveal that early nutritional conditions affect adult exploratory behaviour, a representative personality trait, foraging and adult’s physiological condition. As early nutritional conditions are reflected in adult phenotypic plasticity specifically when stressful situations reappear, the results suggest that costs for poor developmental conditions are paid when environmental conditions deteriorate.

The Growth of Easements as a Conservation Tool:

The numerous studies examining where efforts to conserve biodiversity should be targeted are not matched by comparable research efforts addressing how conservation investments should be structured and what balance of conservation approaches works best in what contexts. An obvious starting point is to examine the past allocation of effort among conservation approaches and how this has evolved. We examine the past allocation of conservation investment between conservation easements and fee simple acquisitions using the largest land trust in operation, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), as a case study. We analyse the balance of investments across the whole of the US and in individual states when measured in terms of the area protected and upfront cost of protecting land. Across the US as a whole, the proportion of conservation investment allocated to easements is growing exponentially. Already 70% of the area of land protected in a given year, and half of all the financial investment in land conservation, is allocated to easements. The growth rate of conservation easements varies by a factor of two across states when measured in terms of the area protected and by a factor of three in terms of financial expenditure. Yet, we were unable to find consistent predictors that explained this variation. Our results underscore the urgency of implementing best practice guidelines for designing easements and of initiating a wider discussion of what balance of conservation approaches is desirable.