New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 12 new articles in PLoS ONE today. I guess picking all 12 would not really be 'picking'? But all 12 are interesting to me! OK, here are six, and you go and look at the other six as well. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers.

Social Waves in Giant Honeybees Repel Hornets:

Giant honeybees (Apis dorsata) nest in the open and have evolved a plethora of defence behaviors. Against predatory wasps, including hornets, they display highly coordinated Mexican wave-like cascades termed 'shimmering'. Shimmering starts at distinct spots on the nest surface and then spreads across the nest within a split second whereby hundreds of individual bees flip their abdomens upwards. However, so far it is not known whether prey and predator interact and if shimmering has anti-predatory significance. This article reports on the complex spatial and temporal patterns of interaction between Giant honeybee and hornet exemplified in 450 filmed episodes of two A. dorsata colonies and hornets (Vespa sp.). Detailed frame-by-frame analysis showed that shimmering elicits an avoidance response from the hornets showing a strong temporal correlation with the time course of shimmering. In turn, the strength and the rate of the bees' shimmering are modulated by the hornets' flight speed and proximity. The findings suggest that shimmering creates a 'shelter zone' of around 50 cm that prevents predatory wasps from foraging bees directly from the nest surface. Thus shimmering appears to be a key defence strategy that supports the Giant honeybees' open-nesting life-style.

Functional MRI of Auditory Responses in the Zebra Finch Forebrain Reveals a Hierarchical Organisation Based on Signal Strength but Not Selectivity:

Male songbirds learn their songs from an adult tutor when they are young. A network of brain nuclei known as the 'song system' is the likely neural substrate for sensorimotor learning and production of song, but the neural networks involved in processing the auditory feedback signals necessary for song learning and maintenance remain unknown. Determining which regions show preferential responsiveness to the bird's own song (BOS) is of great importance because neurons sensitive to self-generated vocalisations could mediate this auditory feedback process. Neurons in the song nuclei and in a secondary auditory area, the caudal medial mesopallium (CMM), show selective responses to the BOS. The aim of the present study is to investigate the emergence of BOS selectivity within the network of primary auditory sub-regions in the avian pallium. Using blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI, we investigated neural responsiveness to natural and manipulated self-generated vocalisations and compared the selectivity for BOS and conspecific song in different sub-regions of the thalamo-recipient area Field L. Zebra finch males were exposed to conspecific song, BOS and to synthetic variations on BOS that differed in spectro-temporal and/or modulation phase structure. We found significant differences in the strength of BOLD responses between regions L2a, L2b and CMM, but no inter-stimuli differences within regions. In particular, we have shown that the overall signal strength to song and synthetic variations thereof was different within two sub-regions of Field L2: zone L2a was significantly more activated compared to the adjacent sub-region L2b. Based on our results we suggest that unlike nuclei in the song system, sub-regions in the primary auditory pallium do not show selectivity for the BOS, but appear to show different levels of activity with exposure to any sound according to their place in the auditory processing stream.

Valuing Insect Pollination Services with Cost of Replacement:

Value estimates of ecosystem goods and services are useful to justify the allocation of resources towards conservation, but inconclusive estimates risk unsustainable resource allocations. Here we present replacement costs as a more accurate value estimate of insect pollination as an ecosystem service, although this method could also be applied to other services. The importance of insect pollination to agriculture is unequivocal. However, whether this service is largely provided by wild pollinators (genuine ecosystem service) or managed pollinators (commercial service), and which of these requires immediate action amidst reports of pollinator decline, remains contested. If crop pollination is used to argue for biodiversity conservation, clear distinction should be made between values of managed- and wild pollination services. Current methods either under-estimate or over-estimate the pollination service value, and make use of criticised general insect and managed pollinator dependence factors. We apply the theoretical concept of ascribing a value to a service by calculating the cost to replace it, as a novel way of valuing wild and managed pollination services. Adjusted insect and managed pollinator dependence factors were used to estimate the cost of replacing insect- and managed pollination services for the Western Cape deciduous fruit industry of South Africa. Using pollen dusting and hand pollination as suitable replacements, we value pollination services significantly higher than current market prices for commercial pollination, although lower than traditional proportional estimates. The complexity associated with inclusive value estimation of pollination services required several defendable assumptions, but made estimates more inclusive than previous attempts. Consequently this study provides the basis for continued improvement in context specific pollination service value estimates.

Genome-Wide Analysis of Natural Selection on Human Cis-Elements:

It has been speculated that the polymorphisms in the non-coding portion of the human genome underlie much of the phenotypic variability among humans and between humans and other primates. If so, these genomic regions may be undergoing rapid evolutionary change, due in part to natural selection. However, the non-coding region is a heterogeneous mix of functional and non-functional regions. Furthermore, the functional regions are comprised of a variety of different types of elements, each under potentially different selection regimes. Using the HapMap and Perlegen polymorphism data that map to a stringent set of putative binding sites in human proximal promoters, we apply the Derived Allele Frequency distribution test of neutrality to provide evidence that many human-specific and primate-specific binding sites are likely evolving under positive selection. We also discuss inherent limitations of publicly available human SNP datasets that complicate the inference of selection pressures. Finally, we show that the genes whose proximal binding sites contain high frequency derived alleles are enriched for positive regulation of protein metabolism and developmental processes. Thus our genome-scale investigation provides evidence for positive selection on putative transcription factor binding sites in human proximal promoters.

Fast Inhibition of Glutamate-Activated Currents by Caffeine:

Caffeine stimulates calcium-induced calcium release (CICR) in many cell types. In neurons, caffeine stimulates CICR presynaptically and thus modulates neurotransmitter release. Using the whole-cell patch-clamp technique we found that caffeine (20 mM) reversibly increased the frequency and decreased the amplitude of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) in neocortical neurons. The increase in mEPSC frequency is consistent with a presynaptic mechanism. Caffeine also reduced exogenously applied glutamate-activated currents, confirming a separate postsynaptic action. This inhibition developed in tens of milliseconds, consistent with block of channel currents. Caffeine (20 mM) did not reduce currents activated by exogenous NMDA, indicating that caffeine block is specific to non-NMDA type glutamate receptors. Caffeine-induced inhibition of mEPSC amplitude occurs through postsynaptic block of non-NMDA type ionotropic glutamate receptors. Caffeine thus has both pre and postsynaptic sites of action at excitatory synapses.

Effect of Pictorial Depth Cues, Binocular Disparity Cues and Motion Parallax Depth Cues on Lightness Perception in Three-Dimensional Virtual Scenes:

Surface lightness perception is affected by scene interpretation. There is some experimental evidence that perceived lightness under bi-ocular viewing conditions is different from perceived lightness in actual scenes but there are also reports that viewing conditions have little or no effect on perceived color. We investigated how mixes of depth cues affect perception of lightness in three-dimensional rendered scenes containing strong gradients of illumination in depth. Observers viewed a virtual room (4 m widthÃ5 m heightÃ17.5 m depth) with checkerboard walls and floor. In four conditions, the room was presented with or without binocular disparity (BD) depth cues and with or without motion parallax (MP) depth cues. In all conditions, observers were asked to adjust the luminance of a comparison surface to match the lightness of test surfaces placed at seven different depths (8.5-17.5 m) in the scene. We estimated lightness versus depth profiles in all four depth cue conditions. Even when observers had only pictorial depth cues (no MP, no BD), they partially but significantly discounted the illumination gradient in judging lightness. Adding either MP or BD led to significantly greater discounting and both cues together produced the greatest discounting. The effects of MP and BD were approximately additive. BD had greater influence at near distances than far. These results suggest the surface lightness perception is modulated by three-dimensional perception/interpretation using pictorial, binocular-disparity, and motion-parallax cues additively. We propose a two-stage (2D and 3D) processing model for lightness perception.

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