There are 18 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, Mendeley, 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:
Theory predicts a close structural relation of formal languages with natural languages. Both share the aspect of an underlying grammar which either generates (hierarchically) structured expressions or allows us to decide whether a sentence is syntactically correct or not. The advantage of rule-based communication is commonly believed to be its efficiency and effectiveness. A particularly important class of formal languages are those underlying the mathematical syntax. Here we provide brain-imaging evidence that the syntactic processing of abstract mathematical formulae, written in a first order language, is, indeed efficient and effective as a rule-based generation and decision process. However, it is remarkable, that the neural network involved, consisting of intraparietal and prefrontal regions, only involves Broca’s area in a surprisingly selective way. This seems to imply that despite structural analogies of common and current formal languages, at the neural level, mathematics and natural language are processed differently, in principal.
The 1400 species of hawkmoths (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) comprise one of most conspicuous and well-studied groups of insects, and provide model systems for diverse biological disciplines. However, a robust phylogenetic framework for the family is currently lacking. Morphology is unable to confidently determine relationships among most groups. As a major step toward understanding relationships of this model group, we have undertaken the first large-scale molecular phylogenetic analysis of hawkmoths representing all subfamilies, tribes and subtribes. The data set consisted of 131 sphingid species and 6793 bp of sequence from five protein-coding nuclear genes. Maximum likelihood and parsimony analyses provided strong support for more than two-thirds of all nodes, including strong signal for or against nearly all of the fifteen current subfamily, tribal and sub-tribal groupings. Monophyly was strongly supported for some of these, including Macroglossinae, Sphinginae, Acherontiini, Ambulycini, Philampelini, Choerocampina, and Hemarina. Other groupings proved para- or polyphyletic, and will need significant redefinition; these include Smerinthinae, Smerinthini, Sphingini, Sphingulini, Dilophonotini, Dilophonotina, Macroglossini, and Macroglossina. The basal divergence, strongly supported, is between Macroglossinae and Smerinthinae+Sphinginae. All genes contribute significantly to the signal from the combined data set, and there is little conflict between genes. Ancestral state reconstruction reveals multiple separate origins of New World and Old World radiations. Our study provides the first comprehensive phylogeny of one of the most conspicuous and well-studied insects. The molecular phylogeny challenges current concepts of Sphingidae based on morphology, and provides a foundation for a new classification. While there are multiple independent origins of New World and Old World radiations, we conclude that broad-scale geographic distribution in hawkmoths is more phylogenetically conserved than previously postulated.
Evaluating the potential involvement of wild avifauna in the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 (hereafter H5N1) requires detailed analyses of temporal and spatial relationships between wild bird movements and disease emergence. The death of wild swans (Cygnus spp.) has been the first indicator of the presence of H5N1 in various Asian and European countries; however their role in the geographic spread of the disease remains poorly understood. We marked 10 whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) with GPS transmitters in northeastern Mongolia during autumn 2006 and tracked their migratory movements in relation to H5N1 outbreaks. The prevalence of H5N1 outbreaks among poultry in eastern Asia during 2003-2007 peaked during winter, concurrent with whooper swan movements into regions of high poultry density. However outbreaks involving poultry were detected year round, indicating disease perpetuation independent of migratory waterbird presence. In contrast, H5N1 outbreaks involving whooper swans, as well as other migratory waterbirds that succumbed to the disease in eastern Asia, tended to occur during seasons (late spring and summer) and in habitats (areas of natural vegetation) where their potential for contact with poultry is very low to nonexistent. Given what is known about the susceptibility of swans to H5N1, and on the basis of the chronology and rates of whooper swan migration movements, we conclude that although there is broad spatial overlap between whooper swan distributions and H5N1 outbreak locations in eastern Asia, the likelihood of direct transmission between these groups is extremely low. Thus, our data support the hypothesis that swans are best viewed as sentinel species, and moreover, that in eastern Asia, it is most likely that their infections occurred through contact with asymptomatic migratory hosts (e.g., wild ducks) at or near their breeding grounds.