New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 23 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:

Chimpanzees Help Each Other upon Request:

The evolution of altruism has been explained mainly from ultimate perspectives. However, it remains to be investigated from a proximate point of view how and in which situations such social propensity is achieved. We investigated chimpanzees' targeted helping in a tool transfer paradigm, and discuss the similarities and differences in altruism between humans and chimpanzees. Previously it has been suggested that chimpanzees help human experimenters by retrieving an object which the experimenter is trying to reach. In the present study, we investigated the importance of communicative interactions between chimpanzees themselves and the influence of conspecific partner's request on chimpanzees' targeted helping. We presented two tool-use situations (a stick-use situation and a straw-use situation) in two adjacent booths, and supplied non-corresponding tools to paired chimpanzees in the two booths. For example, a chimpanzee in the stick-use situation was supplied with a straw, and the partner in the straw-use situation possessed a stick. Spontaneous tool transfer was observed between paired chimpanzees. The tool transfer events occurred predominantly following recipients' request. Even without any hope of reciprocation from the partner, the chimpanzees continued to help the partner as long as the partner required help. These results provide further evidence for altruistic helping in chimpanzees in the absence of direct personal gain or even immediate reciprocation. Our findings additionally highlight the importance of request as a proximate mechanism motivating prosocial behavior in chimpanzees whether between kin or non-kin individuals and the possible confounding effect of dominance on the symmetry of such interactions. Finally, in contrast to humans, our study suggests that chimpanzees rarely perform acts of voluntary altruism. Voluntary altruism in chimpanzees is not necessarily prompted by simple observation of another's struggle to attain a goal and therefore an accurate understanding of others' desires in the absence of communicative signals.

Understanding Ancient Hominin Dispersals Using Artefactual Data: A Phylogeographic Analysis of Acheulean Handaxes:

Reconstructing the dispersal patterns of extinct hominins remains a challenging but essential goal. One means of supplementing fossil evidence is to utilize archaeological evidence in the form of stone tools. Based on broad dating patterns, it has long been thought that the appearance of Acheulean handaxe technologies outside of Africa was the result of hominin dispersals, yet independent tests of this hypothesis remain rare. Cultural transmission theory leads to a prediction of a strong African versus non-African phylogeographic pattern in handaxe datasets, if the African Acheulean hypothesis is to be supported. Here, this prediction is tested using an intercontinental dataset of Acheulean handaxes and a biological phylogenetic method (maximum parsimony). The analyses produce a tree consistent with the phylogeographic prediction. Moreover, a bootstrap analysis provides evidence that this pattern is robust, and the maximum parsimony tree is also shown to be statistically different from a tree constrained by stone raw materials. These results demonstrate that nested analyses of behavioural data, utilizing methods drawn from biology, have the potential to shed light on ancient hominin dispersals. This is an encouraging prospect for human palaeobiology since sample sizes for lithic artefacts are many orders of magnitude higher than those of fossil data. These analyses also suggest that the sustained occurrence of Acheulean handaxe technologies in regions such as Europe and the Indian subcontinent resulted from dispersals by African hominin populations.

Understanding Others' Regret: A fMRI Study:

Previous studies showed that the understanding of others' basic emotional experiences is based on a "resonant" mechanism, i.e., on the reactivation, in the observer's brain, of the cerebral areas associated with those experiences. The present study aimed to investigate whether the same neural mechanism is activated both when experiencing and attending complex, cognitively-generated, emotions. A gambling task and functional-Magnetic-Resonance-Imaging (fMRI) were used to test this hypothesis using regret, the negative cognitively-based emotion resulting from an unfavorable counterfactual comparison between the outcomes of chosen and discarded options. Do the same brain structures that mediate the experience of regret become active in the observation of situations eliciting regret in another individual? Here we show that observing the regretful outcomes of someone else's choices activates the same regions that are activated during a first-person experience of regret, i.e. the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus. These results extend the possible role of a mirror-like mechanism beyond basic emotions.

Mapping Oil and Gas Development Potential in the US Intermountain West and Estimating Impacts to Species:

Many studies have quantified the indirect effect of hydrocarbon-based economies on climate change and biodiversity, concluding that a significant proportion of species will be threatened with extinction. However, few studies have measured the direct effect of new energy production infrastructure on species persistence. We propose a systematic way to forecast patterns of future energy development and calculate impacts to species using spatially-explicit predictive modeling techniques to estimate oil and gas potential and create development build-out scenarios by seeding the landscape with oil and gas wells based on underlying potential. We illustrate our approach for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in the western US and translate the build-out scenarios into estimated impacts on sage-grouse. We project that future oil and gas development will cause a 7-19 percent decline from 2007 sage-grouse lek population counts and impact 3.7 million ha of sagebrush shrublands and 1.1 million ha of grasslands in the study area. Maps of where oil and gas development is anticipated in the US Intermountain West can be used by decision-makers intent on minimizing impacts to sage-grouse. This analysis also provides a general framework for using predictive models and build-out scenarios to anticipate impacts to species. These predictive models and build-out scenarios allow tradeoffs to be considered between species conservation and energy development prior to implementation.

Species-Specific Traits Rather Than Resource Partitioning Mediate Diversity Effects on Resource Use:

The link between biodiversity and ecosystem processes has firmly been established, but the mechanisms underpinning this relationship are poorly documented. Most studies have focused on terrestrial plant systems where resource use can be difficult to quantify as species rely on a limited number of common resources. Investigating resource use at the bulk level may not always be of sufficient resolution to detect subtle differences in resource use, as species-specific nutritional niches at the biochemical level may also moderate diversity effects on resource use. Here we use three co-occurring marine benthic echinoderms (Brissopsis lyrifera, Mesothuria intestinalis, Parastichopus tremulus) that feed on the same phytodetrital food source, to determine whether resource partitioning is the principal mechanism underpinning diversity effects on resource use. Specifically we investigate the use of phytodetrital pigments (chlorophylls and carotenoids) because many of these are essential for biological functions, including reproduction. Pigments were identified and quantified using reverse-phase high performance liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and data were analysed using a combination of extended linear regression with generalised least squares (GLS) estimation and standard multivariate techniques. Our analyses reveal no species-specific selectivity for particular algal pigments, confirming that these three species do not partition food resources at the biochemical level. Nevertheless, we demonstrate increased total resource use in diverse treatments as a result of selection effects and the dominance of one species (B. lyrifera). Overall, we found no evidence for resource partitioning at the biochemical level, as pigment composition was similar between individuals, which is likely due to plentiful food availability. Reduced intra-specific competition in the species mixture combined with greater adsorption efficiency and differences in feeding behaviour likely explain the dominant use of resources by B. lyrifera.

Ecological Equivalence: A Realistic Assumption for Niche Theory as a Testable Alternative to Neutral Theory:

Hubbell's 2001 neutral theory unifies biodiversity and biogeography by modelling steady-state distributions of species richness and abundances across spatio-temporal scales. Accurate predictions have issued from its core premise that all species have identical vital rates. Yet no ecologist believes that species are identical in reality. Here I explain this paradox in terms of the ecological equivalence that species must achieve at their coexistence equilibrium, defined by zero net fitness for all regardless of intrinsic differences between them. I show that the distinction of realised from intrinsic vital rates is crucial to evaluating community resilience. An analysis of competitive interactions reveals how zero-sum patterns of abundance emerge for species with contrasting life-history traits as for identical species. I develop a stochastic model to simulate community assembly from a random drift of invasions sustaining the dynamics of recruitment following deaths and extinctions. Species are allocated identical intrinsic vital rates for neutral dynamics, or random intrinsic vital rates and competitive abilities for niche dynamics either on a continuous scale or between dominant-fugitive extremes. Resulting communities have steady-state distributions of the same type for more or less extremely differentiated species as for identical species. All produce negatively skewed log-normal distributions of species abundance, zero-sum relationships of total abundance to area, and Arrhenius relationships of species to area. Intrinsically identical species nevertheless support fewer total individuals, because their densities impact as strongly on each other as on themselves. Truly neutral communities have measurably lower abundance/area and higher species/abundance ratios. Neutral scenarios can be parameterized as null hypotheses for testing competitive release, which is a sure signal of niche dynamics. Ignoring the true strength of interactions between and within species risks a substantial misrepresentation of community resilience to habitat loss.


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