New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 19 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:

Ancient Nursery Area for the Extinct Giant Shark Megalodon from the Miocene of Panama:

As we know from modern species, nursery areas are essential shark habitats for vulnerable young. Nurseries are typically highly productive, shallow-water habitats that are characterized by the presence of juveniles and neonates. It has been suggested that in these areas, sharks can find ample food resources and protection from predators. Based on the fossil record, we know that the extinct Carcharocles megalodon was the biggest shark that ever lived. Previous proposed paleo-nursery areas for this species were based on the anecdotal presence of juvenile fossil teeth accompanied by fossil marine mammals. We now present the first definitive evidence of ancient nurseries for C. megalodon from the late Miocene of Panama, about 10 million years ago. We collected and measured fossil shark teeth of C. megalodon, within the highly productive, shallow marine Gatun Formation from the Miocene of Panama. Surprisingly, and in contrast to other fossil accumulations, the majority of the teeth from Gatun are very small. Here we compare the tooth sizes from the Gatun with specimens from different, but analogous localities. In addition we calculate the total length of the individuals found in Gatun. These comparisons and estimates suggest that the small size of Gatun's C. megalodon is neither related to a small population of this species nor the tooth position within the jaw. Thus, the individuals from Gatun were mostly juveniles and neonates, with estimated body lengths between 2 and 10.5 meters. We propose that the Miocene Gatun Formation represents the first documented paleo-nursery area for C. megalodon from the Neotropics, and one of the few recorded in the fossil record for an extinct selachian. We therefore show that sharks have used nursery areas at least for 10 millions of years as an adaptive strategy during their life histories.

Neural Competition for Conscious Representation across Time: An fMRI Study:

The information processing capacity of the human mind is limited, as is evidenced by the attentional blink (AB) - a deficit in identifying the second of two temporally-close targets (T1 and T2) embedded in a rapid stream of distracters. Theories of the AB generally agree that it results from competition between stimuli for conscious representation. However, they disagree in the specific mechanisms, in particular about how attentional processing of T1 determines the AB to T2. The present study used the high spatial resolution of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural mechanisms underlying the AB. Our research approach was to design T1 and T2 stimuli that activate distinguishable brain areas involved in visual categorization and representation. ROI and functional connectivity analyses were then used to examine how attentional processing of T1, as indexed by activity in the T1 representation area, affected T2 processing. Our main finding was that attentional processing of T1 at the level of the visual cortex predicted T2 detection rates Those individuals who activated the T1 encoding area more strongly in blink versus no-blink trials generally detected T2 on a lower percentage of trials. The coupling of activity between T1 and T2 representation areas did not vary as a function of conscious T2 perception. These data are consistent with the notion that the AB is related to attentional demands of T1 for selection, and indicate that these demands are reflected at the level of visual cortex. They also highlight the importance of individual differences in attentional settings in explaining AB task performance.

Insights into the Influence of Priors in Posterior Mapping of Discrete Morphological Characters: A Case Study in Annonaceae:

Posterior mapping is an increasingly popular hierarchical Bayesian based method used to infer character histories and reconstruct ancestral states at nodes of molecular phylogenies, notably of morphological characters. As for all Bayesian analyses specification of prior values is an integrative and important part of the analysis. He we provide an example of how alternative prior choices can seriously influence results and mislead interpretations. For two contrasting discrete morphological characters, namely a slow and a fast evolving character found in the plant family Annonaceae, we specified a total of eight different prior distributions per character. We investigated how these prior settings affected important summary statistics. Our analyses showed that the different prior distributions had marked effects on the results in terms of average number of character state changes. These differences arise because priors play a crucial role in determining which areas of parameter space the values of the simulation will be drawn from, independent of the data at hand. However, priors seemed to fit the data better if they would result in a more even sampling of parameter space (normal posterior distribution), in which case alternative standard deviation values had little effect on the results. The most probable character history for each character was affected differently by the prior. For the slower evolving character, the same character history always had the highest posterior probability independent of the priors used. In contrast, the faster evolving character showed different most probable character histories depending on the prior. These differences could be related to the level of homoplasy exhibited by each character. Although our analyses were restricted to two morphological characters within a single family, our results underline the importance of carefully choosing prior values for posterior mapping. Prior specification will be of crucial importance when interpreting the results in a meaningful way. It is hard to suggest a statistically sound method for prior specification without more detailed studies. Meanwhile, we propose that the data could be used to estimate the prior value of the gamma distribution placed on the transformation rate in posterior mapping.

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