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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 27 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:

Pure Ultrasonic Communication in an Endemic Bornean Frog:

Huia cavitympanum, an endemic Bornean frog, is the first amphibian species known to emit exclusively ultrasonic (i.e., >20 kHz) vocal signals. To test the hypothesis that these frogs use purely ultrasonic vocalizations for intraspecific communication, we performed playback experiments with male frogs in their natural calling sites. We found that the frogs respond with increased calling to broadcasts of conspecific calls containing only ultrasound. The field study was complemented by electrophysiological recordings from the auditory midbrain and by laser Doppler vibrometer measurements of the tympanic membrane’s response to acoustic stimulation. These measurements revealed that the frog’s auditory system is broadly tuned over high frequencies, with peak sensitivity occurring within the ultrasonic frequency range. Our results demonstrate that H. cavitympanum is the first non-mammalian vertebrate described to communicate with purely ultrasonic acoustic signals. These data suggest that further examination of the similarities and differences in the high-frequency/ultrasonic communication systems of H. cavitympanum and Odorrana tormota, an unrelated frog species that produces and detects ultrasound but does not emit exclusively ultrasonic calls, will afford new insights into the mechanisms underlying vertebrate high-frequency communication.

Scaling of Soaring Seabirds and Implications for Flight Abilities of Giant Pterosaurs:

The flight ability of animals is restricted by the scaling effects imposed by physical and physiological factors. In comparisons of the power available from muscle and the mechanical power required to fly, it is predicted that the margin between the powers should decrease with body size and that flying animals have a maximum body size. However, predicting the absolute value of this upper limit has proven difficult because wing morphology and flight styles varies among species. Albatrosses and petrels have long, narrow, aerodynamically efficient wings and are considered soaring birds. Here, using animal-borne accelerometers, we show that soaring seabirds have two modes of flapping frequencies under natural conditions: vigorous flapping during takeoff and sporadic flapping during cruising flight. In these species, high and low flapping frequencies were found to scale with body mass (mass−0.30 and mass−0.18) in a manner similar to the predictions from biomechanical flight models (mass−1/3 and mass−1/6). These scaling relationships predicted that the maximum limits on the body size of soaring animals are a body mass of 41 kg and a wingspan of 5.1 m. Albatross-like animals larger than the limit will not be able to flap fast enough to stay aloft under unfavourable wind conditions. Our result therefore casts doubt on the flying ability of large, extinct pterosaurs. The largest extant soarer, the wandering albatross, weighs about 12 kg, which might be a pragmatic limit to maintain a safety margin for sustainable flight and to survive in a variable environment.

Range Expansion Drives Dispersal Evolution In An Equatorial Three-Species Symbiosis:

Recurrent climatic oscillations have produced dramatic changes in species distributions. This process has been proposed to be a major evolutionary force, shaping many life history traits of species, and to govern global patterns of biodiversity at different scales. During range expansions selection may favor the evolution of higher dispersal, and symbiotic interactions may be affected. It has been argued that a weakness of climate fluctuation-driven range dynamics at equatorial latitudes has facilitated the persistence there of more specialized species and interactions. However, how much the biology and ecology of species is changed by range dynamics has seldom been investigated, particularly in equatorial regions. We studied a three-species symbiosis endemic to coastal equatorial rainforests in Cameroon, where the impact of range dynamics is supposed to be limited, comprised of two species-specific obligate mutualists -an ant-plant and its protective ant- and a species-specific ant parasite of this mutualism. We combined analyses of within-species genetic diversity and of phenotypic variation in a transect at the southern range limit of this ant-plant system. All three species present congruent genetic signatures of recent gradual southward expansion, a result compatible with available regional paleoclimatic data. As predicted, this expansion has been accompanied by the evolution of more dispersive traits in the two ant species. In contrast, we detected no evidence of change in lifetime reproductive strategy in the tree, nor in its investment in food resources provided to its symbiotic ants. Despite the decreasing investment in protective workers and the increasing investment in dispersing females by both the mutualistic and the parasitic ant species, there was no evidence of destabilization of the symbiosis at the colonization front. To our knowledge, we provide here the first evidence at equatorial latitudes that biological traits associated with dispersal are affected by the range expansion dynamics of a set of interacting species.

Modeling Statistical Properties of Written Text:

Written text is one of the fundamental manifestations of human language, and the study of its universal regularities can give clues about how our brains process information and how we, as a society, organize and share it. Among these regularities, only Zipf’s law has been explored in depth. Other basic properties, such as the existence of bursts of rare words in specific documents, have only been studied independently of each other and mainly by descriptive models. As a consequence, there is a lack of understanding of linguistic processes as complex emergent phenomena. Beyond Zipf’s law for word frequencies, here we focus on burstiness, Heaps’ law describing the sublinear growth of vocabulary size with the length of a document, and the topicality of document collections, which encode correlations within and across documents absent in random null models. We introduce and validate a generative model that explains the simultaneous emergence of all these patterns from simple rules. As a result, we find a connection between the bursty nature of rare words and the topical organization of texts and identify dynamic word ranking and memory across documents as key mechanisms explaining the non trivial organization of written text. Our research can have broad implications and practical applications in computer science, cognitive science and linguistics.

Distribution and Extinction of Ungulates during the Holocene of the Southern Levant:

The southern Levant (Israel, Palestinian Authority and Jordan) has been continuously and extensively populated by succeeding phases of human cultures for the past 15,000 years. The long human impact on the ancient landscape has had great ecological consequences, and has caused continuous and accelerating damage to the natural environment. The rich zooarchaeological data gathered at the area provide a unique opportunity to reconstruct spatial and temporal changes in wild species distribution, and correlate them with human demographic changes. Zoo-archaeological data (382 animal bone assemblages from 190 archaeological sites) from various time periods, habitats and landscapes were compared. The bone assemblages were sorted into 12 major cultural periods. Distribution maps showing the presence of each ungulate species were established for each period. The first major ungulate extinction occurred during the local Iron Age (1,200-586 BCE), a period characterized by significant human population growth. During that time the last of the largest wild ungulates, the hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), aurochs (Bos primigenius) and the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) became extinct, followed by a shrinking distribution of forest-dwelling cervids. A second major wave of extinction occurred only in the 19th and 20th centuries CE. Furthermore, a negative relationship was found between the average body mass of ungulate species that became extinct during the Holocene and their extinction date. It is thus very likely that the intensified human activity through habitat destruction and uncontrolled hunting were responsible for the two major waves of ungulate extinction in the southern Levant during the late Holocene.

Contact Networks in a Wildlife-Livestock Host Community: Identifying High-Risk Individuals in the Transmission of Bovine TB among Badgers and Cattle:

The management of many pathogens, which are of concern to humans and their livestock, is complicated by the pathogens’ ability to cross-infect multiple host species, including wildlife. This has major implications for the management of such diseases, since the dynamics of infection are dependent on the rates of both intra- and inter-specific transmission. However, the difficulty of studying transmission networks in free-living populations means that the relative opportunities for intra- versus inter-specific disease transmission have not previously been demonstrated empirically within any wildlife-livestock disease system. Using recently-developed proximity data loggers, we quantify both intra-and inter-specific contacts in a wildlife-livestock disease system, using bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in badgers and cattle in the UK as our example. We assess the connectedness of individuals within the networks in order to identify whether there are certain ‘high-risk’ individuals or groups of individuals for disease transmission within and between species. Our results show that contact patterns in both badger and cattle populations vary widely, both between individuals and over time. We recorded only infrequent interactions between badger social groups, although all badgers fitted with data loggers were involved in these inter-group contacts. Contacts between badgers and cattle occurred more frequently than contacts between different badger groups. Moreover, these inter-specific contacts involved those individual cows, which were highly connected within the cattle herd. This work represents the first continuous time record of wildlife-host contacts for any free-living wildlife-livestock disease system. The results highlight the existence of specific individuals with relatively high contact rates in both livestock and wildlife populations, which have the potential to act as hubs in the spread of disease through complex contact networks. Targeting testing or preventive measures at high-contact groups and individuals within livestock populations would enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of disease management strategies.