A Blog Around The Clock

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 25 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:

Identification of a Circadian Clock-Controlled Neural Pathway in the Rabbit Retina:

Although the circadian clock in the mammalian retina regulates many physiological processes in the retina, it is not known whether and how the clock controls the neuronal pathways involved in visual processing. By recording the light responses of rabbit axonless (A-type) horizontal cells under dark-adapted conditions in both the day and night, we found that rod input to these cells was substantially increased at night under control conditions and following selective blockade of dopamine D2, but not D1, receptors during the day, so that the horizontal cells responded to very dim light at night but not in the day. Using neurobiotin tracer labeling, we also found that the extent of tracer coupling between rabbit rods and cones was more extensive during the night, compared to the day, and more extensive in the day following D2 receptor blockade. Because A-type horizontal cells make synaptic contact exclusively with cones, these observations indicate that the circadian clock in the mammalian retina substantially increases rod input to A-type horizontal cells at night by enhancing rod-cone coupling. Moreover, the clock-induced increase in D2 receptor activation during the day decreases rod-cone coupling so that rod input to A-type horizontal cells is minimal. Considered together, these results identify the rod-cone gap junction as a key site in mammals through which the retinal clock, using dopamine activation of D2 receptors, controls signal flow in the day and night from rods into the cone system.

Functional Synchronization of Biological Rhythms in a Tritrophic System:

In a tritrophic system formed by a plant, an herbivore and a natural enemy, each component has its own biological rhythm. However, the rhythm correlations among the three levels and the underlying mechanisms in any tritrophic system are largely unknown. Here, we report that the rhythms exhibited bidirectional correlations in a model tritrophic system involving a lima bean, a pea leafminer and a parasitoid. From the bottom-up perspective, the rhythm was initiated from herbivore feeding, which triggered the rhythms of volatile emissions; then the rhythmic pattern of parasitoid activities was affected, and these rhythms were synchronized by a light switch signal. Increased volatile concentration can enhance the intensity of parasitoid locomotion and oviposition only under light. From the top-down perspective, naive and oviposition-experienced parasitoids were able to utilize the different volatile rhythm information from the damaged plant to locate host leafminers respectively. Our results indicated that the three interacting organisms in this system can achieve rhythmic functional synchronization under a natural light-dark photoperiod, but not under constant light or darkness. These findings provide new insight into the rhythm synchronization of three key players that contribute to the utilization of light and chemical signals, and our results may be used as potential approaches for manipulating natural enemies.

Inhibition of Predator Attraction to Kairomones by Non-Host Plant Volatiles for Herbivores: A Bypass-Trophic Signal:

Insect predators and parasitoids exploit attractive chemical signals from lower trophic levels as kairomones to locate their herbivore prey and hosts. We hypothesized that specific chemical cues from prey non-hosts and non-habitats, which are not part of the trophic chain, are also recognized by predators and would inhibit attraction to the host/prey kairomone signals. To test our hypothesis, we studied the olfactory physiology and behavior of a predaceous beetle, Thanasimus formicarius (L.) (Coleoptera: Cleridae), in relation to specific angiosperm plant volatiles, which are non-host volatiles (NHV) for its conifer-feeding bark beetle prey. Olfactory detection in the clerid was confirmed by gas chromatography coupled to electroantennographic detection (GC-EAD) for a subset of NHV components. Among NHV, we identified two strongly antennally active molecules, 3-octanol and 1-octen-3-ol. We tested the potential inhibition of the combination of these two NHV on the walking and flight responses of the clerid to known kairomonal attractants such as synthetic mixtures of bark beetle (Ips spp.) aggregation pheromone components (cis-verbenol, ipsdienol, and E-myrcenol) combined with conifer (Picea and Pinus spp.) monoterpenes (α-pinene, terpinolene, and Δ3-carene). There was a strong inhibitory effect, both in the laboratory (effect size d = −3.2, walking bioassay) and in the field (d = −1.0, flight trapping). This is the first report of combining antennal detection (GC-EAD) and behavioral responses to identify semiochemical molecules that bypass the trophic system, signaling habitat information rather than food related information. Our results, along with recent reports on hymenopteran parasitoids and coleopteran predators, suggest that some NHV chemicals for herbivores are part of specific behavioral signals for the higher trophic level and not part of a background noise. Such bypass-trophic signals could be of general importance for third trophic level players in avoiding unsuitable habitats with non-host plants of their prey.

Reduced Wind Speed Improves Plant Growth in a Desert City:

The often dramatic effects of urbanization on community and ecosystem properties, such as primary productivity, abundances, and diversity are now well-established. In most cities local primary productivity increases and this extra energy flows upwards to alter diversity and relative abundances in higher trophic levels. The abiotic mechanisms thought to be responsible for increases in urban productivity are altered temperatures and light regimes, and increased nutrient and water inputs. However, another abiotic factor, wind speed, is also influenced by urbanization and well known for altering primary productivity in agricultural systems. Wind effects on primary productivity have heretofore not been studied in the context of urbanization. We designed a field experiment to test if increased plant growth often observed in cities is explained by the sheltering effects of built structures. Wind speed was reduced by protecting Encelia farinosa (brittlebush) plants in urban, desert remnant and outlying desert localities via windbreaks while controlling for water availability and nutrient content. In all three habitats, we compared E. farinosa growth when protected by experimental windbreaks and in the open. E. farinosa plants protected against ambient wind in the desert and remnant areas grew faster in terms of biomass and height than exposed plants. As predicted, sheltered plants did not differ from unprotected plants in urban areas where wind speed is already reduced. Our results indicate that reductions in wind speed due to built structures in cities contribute to increased plant productivity and thus also to changes in abundances and diversity of higher trophic levels. Our study emphasizes the need to incorporate wind speed in future urban ecological studies, as well as in planning for green space and sustainable cities.