New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 61 cool new papers in PLoS ONE this week - take a look at these for starters:

Risk and Ethical Concerns of Hunting Male Elephant: Behavioural and Physiological Assays of the Remaining Elephants:

Hunting of male African elephants may pose ethical and risk concerns, particularly given their status as a charismatic species of high touristic value, yet which are capable of both killing people and damaging infrastructure. We quantified the effect of hunts of male elephants on (1) risk of attack or damage (11 hunts), and (2) behavioural (movement dynamics) and physiological (stress hormone metabolite concentrations) responses (4 hunts) in Pilanesberg National Park. For eleven hunts, there were no subsequent attacks on people or infrastructure, and elephants did not break out of the fenced reserve. For three focal hunts, there was an initial flight response by bulls present at the hunting site, but their movements stabilised the day after the hunt event. Animals not present at the hunt (both bulls and herds) did not show movement responses. Physiologically, hunting elephant bulls increased faecal stress hormone levels (corticosterone metabolites) in both those bulls that were present at the hunts (for up to four days post-hunt) and in the broader bull and breeding herd population (for up to one month post-hunt). As all responses were relatively minor, hunting male elephants is ethically acceptable when considering effects on the remaining elephant population; however bulls should be hunted when alone. Hunting is feasible in relatively small enclosed reserves without major risk of attack, damage, or breakout. Physiological stress assays were more effective than behavioural responses in detecting effects of human intervention. Similar studies should evaluate intervention consequences, inform and improve best practice, and should be widely applied by management agencies.

i-9d96184f0a395edad7c5f6547a4f8d07-LOL-chimps.jpgFemale Chimpanzees Use Copulation Calls Flexibly to Prevent Social Competition:

The adaptive function of copulation calls in female primates has been debated for years. One influential idea is that copulation calls are a sexually selected trait, which enables females to advertise their receptive state to males. Male-male competition ensues and females benefit by getting better mating partners and higher quality offspring. We analysed the copulation calling behaviour of wild female chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) at Budongo Forest, Uganda, but found no support for the male-male competition hypothesis. Hormone analysis showed that the calling behaviour of copulating females was unrelated to their fertile period and likelihood of conception. Instead, females called significantly more while with high-ranking males, but suppressed their calls if high-ranking females were nearby. Copulation calling may therefore be one potential strategy employed by female chimpanzees to advertise receptivity to high-ranked males, confuse paternity and secure future support from these socially important individuals. Competition between females can be dangerously high in wild chimpanzees, and our results indicate that females use their copulation calls strategically to minimise the risks associated with such competition.

The Price of Play: Self-Organized Infant Mortality Cycles in Chimpanzees:

Chimpanzees have been used extensively as a model system for laboratory research on infectious diseases. Ironically, we know next to nothing about disease dynamics in wild chimpanzee populations. Here, we analyze long-term demographic and behavioral data from two habituated chimpanzee communities in Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire, where previous work has shown respiratory pathogens to be an important source of infant mortality. In this paper we trace the effect of social connectivity on infant mortality dynamics. We focus on social play which, as the primary context of contact between young chimpanzees, may serve as a key venue for pathogen transmission. Infant abundance and mortality rates at Taï cycled regularly and in a way that was not well explained in terms of environmental forcing. Rather, infant mortality cycles appeared to self-organize in response to the ontogeny of social play. Each cycle started when the death of multiple infants in an outbreak synchronized the reproductive cycles of their mothers. A pulse of births predictably arrived about twelve months later, with social connectivity increasing over the following two years as the large birth cohort approached the peak of social play. The high social connectivity at this play peak then appeared to facilitate further outbreaks. Our results provide the first evidence that social play has a strong role in determining chimpanzee disease transmission risk and the first record of chimpanzee disease cycles similar to those seen in human children. They also lend more support to the view that infectious diseases are a major threat to the survival of remaining chimpanzee populations.

i-25f832906ad9b4d3d264882cabda5fa9-LOL-boobies.jpgPerinatal Androgens and Adult Behavior Vary with Nestling Social System in Siblicidal Boobies:

Exposure to androgens early in development, while activating adaptive aggressive behavior, may also exert long-lasting effects on non-target components of phenotype. Here we compare these organizational effects of perinatal androgens in closely related Nazca (Sula granti) and blue-footed (S. nebouxii) boobies that differ in neonatal social system. The older of two Nazca booby hatchlings unconditionally attacks and ejects the younger from the nest within days of hatching, while blue-footed booby neonates lack lethal aggression. Both Nazca booby chicks facultatively upregulate testosterone (T) during fights, motivating the prediction that baseline androgen levels differ between obligately siblicidal and other species. We show that obligately siblicidal Nazca boobies hatch with higher circulating androgen levels than do facultatively siblicidal blue-footed boobies, providing comparative evidence of the role of androgens in sociality. Although androgens confer a short-term benefit of increased aggression to Nazca booby neonates, exposure to elevated androgen levels during this sensitive period in development can also induce long-term organizational effects on behavior or morphology. Adult Nazca boobies show evidence of organizational effects of early androgen exposure in aberrant adult behavior: they visit unattended non-familial chicks in the colony and direct mixtures of aggression, affiliative, and sexual behavior toward them. In a longitudinal analysis, we found that the most active Non-parental Adult Visitors (NAVs) were those with a history of siblicidal behavior as a neonate, suggesting that the tendency to show social interest in chicks is programmed, in part, by the high perinatal androgens associated with obligate siblicide. Data from closely related blue-footed boobies provide comparative support for this interpretation. Lacking obligate siblicide, they hatch with a corresponding low androgen level, and blue-footed booby adults show a much lower frequency of NAV behavior and a lower probability of behaving aggressively during NAV interactions. This species difference in adult social behavior appears to have roots in both pleiotropic and experiential effects of nestling social system. Our results indicate that Nazca boobies experience life-long consequences of androgenic preparation for an early battle to the death.

Sexually Antagonistic Selection in Human Male Homosexuality:

Several lines of evidence indicate the existence of genetic factors influencing male homosexuality and bisexuality. In spite of its relatively low frequency, the stable permanence in all human populations of this apparently detrimental trait constitutes a puzzling 'Darwinian paradox'. Furthermore, several studies have pointed out relevant asymmetries in the distribution of both male homosexuality and of female fecundity in the parental lines of homosexual vs. heterosexual males. A number of hypotheses have attempted to give an evolutionary explanation for the long-standing persistence of this trait, and for its asymmetric distribution in family lines; however a satisfactory understanding of the population genetics of male homosexuality is lacking at present. We perform a systematic mathematical analysis of the propagation and equilibrium of the putative genetic factors for male homosexuality in the population, based on the selection equation for one or two diallelic loci and Bayesian statistics for pedigree investigation. We show that only the two-locus genetic model with at least one locus on the X chromosome, and in which gene expression is sexually antagonistic (increasing female fitness but decreasing male fitness), accounts for all known empirical data. Our results help clarify the basic evolutionary dynamics of male homosexuality, establishing this as a clearly ascertained sexually antagonistic human trait.

i-ac342f09b64d50abd71b85a5c1a83b32-LOL-coral.jpgCoral Pathogens Identified for White Syndrome (WS) Epizootics in the Indo-Pacific:

White Syndrome (WS), a general term for scleractinian coral diseases with acute signs of advancing tissue lesions often resulting in total colony mortality, has been reported from numerous locations throughout the Indo-Pacific, constituting a growing threat to coral reef ecosystems. Bacterial isolates were obtained from corals displaying disease signs at three WS outbreak sites: Nikko Bay in the Republic of Palau, Nelly Bay in the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and Majuro Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and used in laboratory-based infection trials to satisfy Henle-Koch's postulates, Evan's rules and Hill's criteria for establishing causality. Infected colonies produced similar signs to those observed in the field following exposure to bacterial concentrations of 1Ã106 cells mlâ1. Phylogenetic 16S rRNA gene analysis demonstrated that all six pathogens identified in this study were members of the γ-Proteobacteria family Vibrionacae, each with greater than 98% sequence identity with the previously characterized coral bleaching pathogen Vibrio coralliilyticus. Screening for proteolytic activity of more than 150 coral derived bacterial isolates by a biochemical assay and specific primers for a Vibrio family zinc-metalloprotease demonstrated a significant association between the presence of isolates capable of proteolytic activity and observed disease signs. This is the first study to provide evidence for the involvement of a unique taxonomic group of bacterial pathogens in the aetiology of Indo-Pacific coral diseases affecting multiple coral species at multiple locations. Results from this study strongly suggest the need for further investigation of bacterial proteolytic enzymes as possible virulence factors involved in Vibrio associated acute coral infections.

From Offshore to Onshore: Multiple Origins of Shallow-Water Corals from Deep-Sea Ancestors:

Shallow-water tropical reefs and the deep sea represent the two most diverse marine environments. Understanding the origin and diversification of this biodiversity is a major quest in ecology and evolution. The most prominent and well-supported explanation, articulated since the first explorations of the deep sea, holds that benthic marine fauna originated in shallow, onshore environments, and diversified into deeper waters. In contrast, evidence that groups of marine organisms originated in the deep sea is limited, and the possibility that deep-water taxa have contributed to the formation of shallow-water communities remains untested with phylogenetic methods. Here we show that stylasterid corals (Cnidaria: Hydrozoa: Stylasteridae)--the second most diverse group of hard corals--originated and diversified extensively in the deep sea, and subsequently invaded shallow waters. Our phylogenetic results show that deep-water stylasterid corals have invaded the shallow-water tropics three times, with one additional invasion of the shallow-water temperate zone. Our results also show that anti-predatory innovations arose in the deep sea, but were not involved in the shallow-water invasions. These findings are the first robust evidence that an important group of tropical shallow-water marine animals evolved from deep-water ancestors.

Body Segment Differences in Surface Area, Skin Temperature and 3D Displacement and the Estimation of Heat Balance during Locomotion in Hominins:

The conventional method of estimating heat balance during locomotion in humans and other hominins treats the body as an undifferentiated mass. This is problematic because the segments of the body differ with respect to several variables that can affect thermoregulation. Here, we report a study that investigated the impact on heat balance during locomotion of inter-segment differences in three of these variables: surface area, skin temperature and rate of movement. The approach adopted in the study was to generate heat balance estimates with the conventional method and then compare them with heat balance estimates generated with a method that takes into account inter-segment differences in surface area, skin temperature and rate of movement. We reasoned that, if the hypothesis that inter-segment differences in surface area, skin temperature and rate of movement affect heat balance during locomotion is correct, the estimates yielded by the two methods should be statistically significantly different. Anthropometric data were collected on seven adult male volunteers. The volunteers then walked on a treadmill at 1.2 m/s while 3D motion capture cameras recorded their movements. Next, the conventional and segmented methods were used to estimate the volunteers' heat balance while walking in four ambient temperatures. Lastly, the estimates produced with the two methods were compared with the paired t-test. The estimates of heat balance during locomotion yielded by the two methods are significantly different. Those yielded by the segmented method are significantly lower than those produced by the conventional method. Accordingly, the study supports the hypothesis that inter-segment differences in surface area, skin temperature and rate of movement impact heat balance during locomotion. This has important implications not only for current understanding of heat balance during locomotion in hominins but also for how future research on this topic should be approached.

Shifting Global Invasive Potential of European Plants with Climate Change:

Global climate change and invasions by nonnative species rank among the top concerns for agents of biological loss in coming decades. Although each of these themes has seen considerable attention in the modeling and forecasting communities, their joint effects remain little explored and poorly understood. We developed ecological niche models for 1804 species from the European flora, which we projected globally to identify areas of potential distribution, both at present and across 4 scenarios of future (2055) climates. As expected from previous studies, projections based on the CGCM1 climate model were more extreme than those based on the HadCM3 model, and projections based on the a2 emissions scenario were more extreme than those based on the b2 emissions scenario. However, less expected were the highly nonlinear and contrasting projected changes in distributional areas among continents: increases in distributional potential in Europe often corresponded with decreases on other continents, and species seeing expanding potential on one continent often saw contracting potential on others. In conclusion, global climate change will have complex effects on invasive potential of plant species. The shifts and changes identified in this study suggest strongly that biological communities will see dramatic reorganizations in coming decades owing to shifting invasive potential by nonnative species.

Estimation of Isolation Times of the Island Species in the Drosophila simulans Complex from Multilocus DNA Sequence Data:

The Drosophila simulans species complex continues to serve as an important model system for the study of new species formation. The complex is comprised of the cosmopolitan species, D. simulans, and two island endemics, D. mauritiana and D. sechellia. A substantial amount of effort has gone into reconstructing the natural history of the complex, in part to infer the context in which functional divergence among the species has arisen. In this regard, a key parameter to be estimated is the initial isolation time (t) of each island species. Loci in regions of low recombination have lower divergence within the complex than do other loci, yet divergence from D. melanogaster is similar for both classes. This might reflect gene flow of the low-recombination loci subsequent to initial isolation, but it might also reflect differential effects of changing population size on the two recombination classes of loci when the low-recombination loci are subject to genetic hitchhiking or pseudohitchhiking. New DNA sequence variation data for 17 loci corroborate the prior observation from 13 loci that DNA sequence divergence is reduced in genes of low recombination. Two models are presented to estimate t and other relevant parameters (substitution rate correction factors in lineages leading to the island species and, in the case of the 4-parameter model, the ratio of ancestral to extant effective population size) from the multilocus DNA sequence data. In general, it appears that both island species were isolated at about the same time, here estimated at ~250,000 years ago. It also appears that the difference in divergence patterns of genes in regions of low and higher recombination can be reconciled by allowing a modestly larger effective population size for the ancestral population than for extant D. simulans.

Complex Cooperative Networks from Evolutionary Preferential Attachment:

In spite of its relevance to the origin of complex networks, the interplay between form and function and its role during network formation remains largely unexplored. While recent studies introduce dynamics by considering rewiring processes of a pre-existent network, we study network growth and formation by proposing an evolutionary preferential attachment model, its main feature being that the capacity of a node to attract new links depends on a dynamical variable governed in turn by the node interactions. As a specific example, we focus on the problem of the emergence of cooperation by analyzing the formation of a social network with interactions given by the Prisoner's Dilemma. The resulting networks show many features of real systems, such as scale-free degree distributions, cooperative behavior and hierarchical clustering. Interestingly, results such as the cooperators being located mostly on nodes of intermediate degree are very different from the observations of cooperative behavior on static networks. The evolutionary preferential attachment mechanism points to an evolutionary origin of scale-free networks and may help understand similar feedback problems in the dynamics of complex networks by appropriately choosing the game describing the interaction of nodes.

Critical Dynamics in Genetic Regulatory Networks: Examples from Four Kingdoms:

The coordinated expression of the different genes in an organism is essential to sustain functionality under the random external perturbations to which the organism might be subjected. To cope with such external variability, the global dynamics of the genetic network must possess two central properties. (a) It must be robust enough as to guarantee stability under a broad range of external conditions, and (b) it must be flexible enough to recognize and integrate specific external signals that may help the organism to change and adapt to different environments. This compromise between robustness and adaptability has been observed in dynamical systems operating at the brink of a phase transition between order and chaos. Such systems are termed critical. Thus, criticality, a precise, measurable, and well characterized property of dynamical systems, makes it possible for robustness and adaptability to coexist in living organisms. In this work we investigate the dynamical properties of the gene transcription networks reported for S. cerevisiae, E. coli, and B. subtilis, as well as the network of segment polarity genes of D. melanogaster, and the network of flower development of A. thaliana. We use hundreds of microarray experiments to infer the nature of the regulatory interactions among genes, and implement these data into the Boolean models of the genetic networks. Our results show that, to the best of the current experimental data available, the five networks under study indeed operate close to criticality. The generality of this result suggests that criticality at the genetic level might constitute a fundamental evolutionary mechanism that generates the great diversity of dynamically robust living forms that we observe around us.

Maximum Host Survival at Intermediate Parasite Infection Intensities:

Although parasitism has been acknowledged as an important selective force in the evolution of host life histories, studies of fitness effects of parasites in wild populations have yielded mixed results. One reason for this may be that most studies only test for a linear relationship between infection intensity and host fitness. If resistance to parasites is costly, however, fitness may be reduced both for hosts with low infection intensities (cost of resistance) and high infection intensities (cost of parasitism), such that individuals with intermediate infection intensities have highest fitness. Under this scenario one would expect a non-linear relationship between infection intensity and fitness. Using data from blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) in southern Sweden, we investigated the relationship between the intensity of infection of its blood parasite (Haemoproteus majoris) and host survival to the following winter. Presence and intensity of parasite infections were determined by microscopy and confirmed using PCR of a 480bp section of the cytochrome-b-gene. While a linear model suggested no relationship between parasite intensity and survival (F = 0.01, p = 0.94), a non-linear model showed a significant negative quadratic effect (quadratic parasite intensity: F = 4.65, p = 0.032; linear parasite intensity F = 4.47, p = 0.035). Visualization using the cubic spline technique showed maximum survival at intermediate parasite intensities. Our results indicate that failing to recognize the potential for a non-linear relationship between parasite infection intensity and host fitness may lead to the potentially erroneous conclusion that the parasite is harmless to its host. Here we show that high parasite intensities indeed reduced survival, but this effect was masked by reduced survival for birds heavily suppressing their parasite intensities. Reduced survival among hosts with low parasite intensities suggests costs of controlling parasite infections; however, the nature of such costs remains to be elucidated.

The Many Faces of Fear: Comparing the Pathways and Impacts of Nonconsumptive Predator Effects on Prey Populations:

Most ecological models assume that predator and prey populations interact solely through consumption: predators reduce prey densities by killing and consuming individual prey. However, predators can also reduce prey densities by forcing prey to adopt costly defensive strategies. We build on a simple Lotka-Volterra predator-prey model to provide a heuristic tool for distinguishing between the demographic effects of consumption (consumptive effects) and of anti-predator defenses (nonconsumptive effects), and for distinguishing among the multiple mechanisms by which anti-predator defenses might reduce prey population growth rates. We illustrate these alternative pathways for nonconsumptive effects with selected empirical examples, and use a meta-analysis of published literature to estimate the mean effect size of each pathway. Overall, predation risk tends to have a much larger impact on prey foraging behavior than measures of growth, survivorship, or fecundity. While our model provides a concise framework for understanding the many potential NCE pathways and their relationships to each other, our results confirm empirical research showing that prey are able to partially compensate for changes in energy income, mitigating the fitness effects of defensive changes in time budgets. Distinguishing the many facets of nonconsumptive effects raises some novel questions, and will help guide both empirical and theoretical studies of how predation risk affects prey dynamics.

Identifying Canadian Freshwater Fishes through DNA Barcodes:

DNA barcoding aims to provide an efficient method for species-level identifications using an array of species specific molecular tags derived from the 5â² region of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) gene. The efficiency of the method hinges on the degree of sequence divergence among species and species-level identifications are relatively straightforward when the average genetic distance among individuals within a species does not exceed the average genetic distance between sister species. Fishes constitute a highly diverse group of vertebrates that exhibit deep phenotypic changes during development. In this context, the identification of fish species is challenging and DNA barcoding provide new perspectives in ecology and systematics of fishes. Here we examined the degree to which DNA barcoding discriminate freshwater fish species from the well-known Canadian fauna, which currently encompasses nearly 200 species, some which are of high economic value like salmons and sturgeons. We bi-directionally sequenced the standard 652 bp "barcode" region of COI for 1360 individuals belonging to 190 of the 203 Canadian freshwater fish species (95%). Most species were represented by multiple individuals (7.6 on average), the majority of which were retained as voucher specimens. The average genetic distance was 27 fold higher between species than within species, as K2P distance estimates averaged 8.3% among congeners and only 0.3% among concpecifics. However, shared polymorphism between sister-species was detected in 15 species (8% of the cases). The distribution of K2P distance between individuals and species overlapped and identifications were only possible to species group using DNA barcodes in these cases. Conversely, deep hidden genetic divergence was revealed within two species, suggesting the presence of cryptic species. The present study evidenced that freshwater fish species can be efficiently identified through the use of DNA barcoding, especially the species complex of small-sized species, and that the present COI library can be used for subsequent applications in ecology and systematics.

Evaluating the Potential Effectiveness of Compensatory Mitigation Strategies for Marine Bycatch:

Conservationists are continually seeking new strategies to reverse population declines and safeguard against species extinctions. Here we evaluate the potential efficacy of a recently proposed approach to offset a major anthropogenic threat to many marine vertebrates: incidental bycatch in commercial fisheries operations. This new approach, compensatory mitigation for marine bycatch (CMMB), is conceived as a way to replace or reduce mandated restrictions on fishing activities with compensatory activities (e.g., removal of introduced predators from islands) funded by levies placed on fishers. While efforts are underway to bring CMMB into policy discussions, to date there has not been a detailed evaluation of CMMB's potential as a conservation tool, and in particular, a list of necessary and sufficient criteria that CMMB must meet to be an effective conservation strategy. Here we present a list of criteria to assess CMMB that are tied to critical ecological aspects of the species targeted for conservation, the range of possible mitigation activities, and the multi-species impact of fisheries bycatch. We conclude that, overall, CMMB has little potential for benefit and a substantial potential for harm if implemented to solve most fisheries bycatch problems. In particular, CMMB is likely to be effective only when applied to short-lived and highly-fecund species (not the characteristics of most bycatch-impacted species) and to fisheries that take few non-target species, and especially few non-seabird species (not the characteristics of most fisheries). Thus, CMMB appears to have limited application and should only be implemented after rigorous appraisal on a case-specific basis; otherwise it has the potential to accelerate declines of marine species currently threatened by fisheries bycatch.


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