There are 12 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:
Studies of the ecology and evolution of avian nesting behavior have been limited by the difficulty and expense of sampling nest attendance behavior across entire days or throughout a substantial portion of the nestling period. Direct observation of nesting birds using human observers and most automated devices requires sub-sampling of the nestling period, which does not allow for the quantification of the duration of chick-feeding by parents within a day, and may also inadequately capture temporal variation in the rate at which chicks are fed. Here I describe an inexpensive device, the Automated Perch Recorder (APR) system, which collects accurate, long-term data on hourly rates of nest visitation, the duration of a pair's workday, and the total number of visits the pair makes to their nest across the entire period for which it is deployed. I also describe methods for verifying the accuracy of the system in the field, and several examples of how these data can be used to explore the causes of variation in and tradeoffs between the rate at which birds feed their chicks and the total length of time birds spend feeding chicks in a day.
The high morphological resemblance between branching corals and trees, can lead to comparative studies on pattern formation traits, best exemplified in plants and in some cnidarians. Here, 81 branches of similar size of the hermatypic coral Stylophora pistillata were lopped of three different genets, their skeletons marked with alizarin red-S, and divided haphazardly into three morphometric treatment groups: (I) upright position; (II) horizontal position, intact tip; and (III) horizontal position, cut tip. After 1 y of in-situ growth, the 45 surviving ramets were brought to the laboratory, their tissues removed and their architectures analyzed by 22 morphological parameters (MPs). We found that within 1 y, isolated branches developed into small coral colonies by growing new branches from all branch termini, in all directions. No architectural dissimilarity was assigned among the three studied genets of treatment I colonies. However, a major architectural disparity between treatment I colonies and colonies of treatments II and III was documented as the development of mirror structures from both sides of treatments II and III settings as compared to tip-borne architectures in treatment I colonies. We did not observe apical dominance since fragments grew equally from all branch sides without documented dominant polarity along branch axis. In treatment II colonies, no MP for new branches originating either from tips or from branch bases differed significantly. In treatment III colonies, growth from the cut tip areas was significantly lower compared to the base, again, suggesting lack of apical dominance in this species. Changes in branch polarity revealed genet associated plasticity, which in one of the studied genets, led to enhanced growth. Different genets exhibited canalization flexibility of growth patterns towards either lateral growth, or branch axis extension (skeletal weight and not porosity was measured). This study revealed that colony astogeny in S. pistillata is a regulated process expressed through programmed events and not directly related to simple energy trade-off principles or to environmental conditions, and that branch polarity and apical dominance do not dictate colony astogeny. Therefore, plasticity and astogenic disparities encompass a diversity of genetic (fixed and flexible) induced responses.
Outcomes of lifespan studies in model organisms are particularly susceptible to variations in technical procedures. This is especially true of dietary restriction, which is implemented in many different ways among laboratories. In this study, we have examined the effect of laboratory stock maintenance, genotype differences and microbial infection on the ability of dietary restriction (DR) to extend life in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. None of these factors block the DR effect. These data lend support to the idea that nutrient restriction genuinely extends lifespan in flies, and that any mechanistic discoveries made with this model are of potential relevance to the determinants of lifespan in other organisms.