Impending flood? Hold Onto Your Family!

antsWith the extreme weather we’ve witnessed all over the US this winter, some people may be planning new ways to stay safe in the event of a natural disaster. If we can’t learn to predict these extreme events (as some animals may be able to) we may take a moment to learn from some often overlooked creatures, in this case, Formica selysi ants.

A group of researchers in Switzerland studied this species of ants’ technique for surviving a flooding event. They found that these ants, which regularly inhabit flood plains in the Alps and the Pyrenees, are well-prepared and ready to act in the event of impending submersion. The ants quickly form a “collective structure” by physically grasping on to one another to create a floating platform and raft to safety when a flood comes. This technique keeps nest-mates together, protects the queen, and ensures the survival of the majority of the colony.

Predictably, the researchers observed  that the ants place their queen towards the center of the rafts, in the most protected position. However, instead of likewise protecting their young, the worker ants use the buoyant properties of the brood by placing them at the bottom of the raft where they act as floatation devices. The young suffer little or no mortality from this placement and serve as vital support for the rest of the colony when incorporated into the raft in this fashion. Check out the ants in action in the video below (and on our Youtube channel).

Although we may not be able to literally grab onto each other and float above the water when threatened with a flood, the principle is what might be important. Lesson learned: be prepared and gather your family and friends close to tackle whatever challenge is approaching together.


Citation: Purcell J, Avril A, Jaffuel G, Bates S, Chapuisat M (2014) Ant Brood Function as Life Preservers during Floods. PLoS ONE 9(2): e89211. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089211

Image: Figure 1 from doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089211


The post Impending flood? Hold Onto Your Family! appeared first on EveryONE.

Winter Service Update


As we head into winter and as the holiday festivities begin, we wanted to let our authors know in advance that they may experience a slight delay in the peer review process of their manuscript if they submit anytime between now and the end of the year. This is because many of our academic editors and external referees will be out of the office at some point during the holiday season.

Despite many people being on vacation, the work of the journal continues and so we will endeavor to ensure that all manuscripts submitted to PLOS ONE are evaluated as quickly as possible, but please accept our advance apologies for any delays you experience.

In the meantime, we encourage you to visit the following links for information and answers to some of our common questions. For anything not covered here, please contact us at and we will respond as quickly as possible.

Image: Emily’s Snowman Cookies by Ralph Daily

Sticky Times: How to Hang On Under a Waterfall



Adhesion, or stickiness, is a powerful and valuable property that results from both physical and chemical interactions. Think of all the sticky things we use day to day: tape, post-its, glue, stickers, and so on. Life might be annoyingly inconvenient without the ability to tape a sign to a wall, or a cover a wound with a Band-Aid; but for a little frog living in the constant stream of a waterfall, stickiness is vital to survival.

The torrent frog, picture above on the right and native to Trinidad, has evolved an ability to cling to rough, wet surfaces so well that it seems to defy gravity. In an attempt to better understand how they maintain adhesion despite external forces and angles that would dislodge most any other creature, a group of scientists from a recent PLOS ONE article “challenged” both tree and torrent frogs to cling to a variety of smooth and coarse surfaces on a rotating platform under both dry and wet conditions. They found that although both species could cling to dry, smooth surfaces, the torrent frogs outperformed the tree frogs on adhering to rough, wet surfaces, both at low- and high-flow water volumes.

Tree frogs, they observed, spread their limbs out sideways and hang on by their pads alone­­—check out the video below of these frogs’ toes lighting up an inverted glass surface:

Torrent frogs, on the other hand, used their entire bellies and thighs to stick to the surface while water rushed over them, even having better adhesion when the water flow increased. The video below shows how the experiment was set up:

Using a scanning electron microscope on the pads of the frogs revealed that the structure of the cells on the toe pads of torrent frogs are elongated and have straighter channels between them (B and C in the image below) than the pads of the tree frogs (A in the image below). This design potentially allows better drainage of excess fluid beneath the pad, and may help explain the torrent frogs excellent sticking ability.


The incredible adhesive abilities these frogs have allows them to thrive in an environment that would otherwise be very difficult to inhabit. Understanding how they stick so well could contribute to better development of sticky things that are useful in our own lives.


Citation: Endlein T, Barnes WJP, Samuel DS, Crawford NA, Biaw AB, et al. (2013) Sticking under Wet Conditions: The Remarkable Attachment Abilities of the Torrent Frog, Staurois guttatus. PLoS ONE 8(9): e73810. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073810

Image: Frogs – Figure 1 from the manuscript, Toe pads – Figure 6 from the manuscript

Walruses Choose Alaskan Beaches as Sea Ice Recedes


With sea ice receding in the Arctic, animals that rely on this ice to rest are being forced to find alternate places to haul out. Pacific walruses, like those pictured above, are retreating from their typical resting spots on ice in the Chukchi Sea and instead heading to land on Alaskan beaches to rest in the summer. With animals closer to shore, it is easier for researchers to study these populations and obtain data that was previously difficult to capture.

Flying over the herds in a helicopter, researchers took videos of walruses as they lay on beaches (see the clip below) and evaluated their demographics. Researchers looked for distinguishing features to identify males and females and used Fay’s method which considers head morphology and the ratio of an individual’s tusk length to snout width or depth to estimated age. They found that a majority of the herd was comprised of females and young less than two years old.

The walruses seemed to gather in much larger groups on land than they did at sea, perhaps simply because the space allowed but this may also be a strategy to protect from predators that is not possible on ice.  Gathering in these large groups of up to 19,000 individuals, however, increases the risk of trampling calves. The researchers suggest this may be why young were found in greater numbers along the outer edges of the groups rather than within the herd. Being on the outside could possibly also allow a quick escape into the water should the herd be disturbed.

As sea ice continues to recede, populations of Pacific walrus, as well as other animals, will continue to adjust their behavior to survive. Monitoring their population dynamics could provide insight to how their habits may be influenced by climate change.

For more research on pinnipeds in PLOS ONE, check out this post on the cooling abilities of baby seals, or this video of a seal lion feeling its way through water on our Youtube Channel!

Citation: Monson DH, Udevitz MS, Jay CV (2013) Estimating Age Ratios and Size of Pacific Walrus Herds on Coastal Haulouts using Video Imaging. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69806. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069806

Image: Walrus 2 from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

NEW – Customized PLOS ONE Email Alerts by Subject Area

PLOS ONE publishes hundreds of articles each week, and keeping up with it all is a challenge. Now you can tailor Journal Alerts to suit your specific research interests, saving valuable time. These new custom weekly emails will deliver the research you are interested in straight to your inbox. Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Login to your PLOS account (or create one)
  2. Click Preferences
  3. Navigate to Journal Alerts
  4. From there, expand the PLOS ONE menu:




Here, you can choose to receive a custom email alert with up to 12 subject areas.   Search for a specific subject, or navigate through the drop-down taxonomy categories to find subject areas you are interested in. You will also see an option to receive all new articles via e-mail.

We hope this helps customize alerts about new PLOS ONE research to your interests, and discover research in new fields as well.  We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on anything we can do to improve this experience further.

How Newbie Sailors Earn Their Sea Legs


With America’s Cup sailors training for the upcoming races right across from the PLOS San Francisco office, we can’t resist watching the boats zip by once in a while and thinking about what it’s like to be out on the bay. Those of us who’ve spent time on boats are likely familiar with the transition our bodies experience as we go from land to sea, commonly referred to as “getting your sea legs.”  For some, this transition can happen quickly, but for others, it can take days to feel stable relative to the moving surface of the water.

In a recent scientific study on getting your sea legs, researchers investigated this process by measuring novice sailors’ leg positioning, body sway, and posture, both before embarking on a ship and for several days into the voyage. They also evaluated similar studies with experienced mariners to compare how newbies and professionals adapted to life at sea. Sailing novices, who received no guidance on techniques for gaining stability at sea, naturally adopted a widened stance, maintained the angle of their feet and started to use the horizon line to stabilize themselves on the ship soon after boarding. These are the same techniques employed by experienced sailors in similar studies. The research also suggested that body sway tendencies on land and at sea have the potential to predict individual seasickness and mal de debarquement (land sickness experienced after disembarkment) syndrome susceptibility.

Life at sea is probably second nature to the sailors racing by here in San Francisco, but this study’s results suggest that the rest of us may also find stability on moving surfaces by widening our stances and focusing on the horizon. Keep these techniques in mind the next time you find yourself out on the open ocean!


Citation: Stoffregen TA, Chen F-C, Varlet M, Alcantara C, Bardy BG (2013) Getting Your Sea Legs. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66949. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066949

Image: Sailing From Sardinia to Sicily by Patrick Nouhailler

Summer Service Update


It’s mid-June and here in the US and in many other parts of the world, academics are taking advantage of the sunshine and long days to spend time in the field, attend conferences or on a well-deserved holiday. As a result we find that many of our editorial board members and reviewers are away from their desks.  Therefore, authors may notice a slight delay in the review progress of papers submitted to PLOS ONE in the coming months.

We continue to aim for a swift evaluation of all submissions and will monitor the review progress as usual but we very much appreciate your patience during this time. Please see the links below for additional information on some common issues and feel free to contact us at if you need any further assistance.

From all of us at PLOS, have a great summer!


Image: Summer Smile… by Criss!

National Bike Month comes to a close

2105252468_9e829a638b National Bike Month which takes place every May, ends this week. To celebrate a month of cycling focused activities, EveryONE is highlighting some recent cycling research published in PLOS ONE.

As biking becomes ever more popular and bike-sharing programs expand, such as in New York City last weekend, cycling injuries and fatalities may increase as well. Although most people acknowledge the utility of wearing a helmet, encouraging cyclists to actually use them can be difficult.  A study examining the efficacy of several helmet-promotion measures showed that attitudes about helmets making people “look ridiculous” or “old-fashioned” can be hard to counter. Even providing cyclists with free helmet was only mildly successfully in convincing non-helmet users to wear one. The most effective measures included pressure from family or friends to wear it, as well as shifting the safety dialogue from helmets as head and brain protection to promoting helmets as “face-protecting” devices. So folks, as you get on your bikes this weekend, protect your face and wear a helmet.

Aesthetics aside, competitive cyclists are frequently seeking ways to improve their performance and speed recovery. Compression sportswear, from sleeves to knee-high socks to shorts, is one current performance-enhancing trend. These products tout improved arterial blood flow from the compression as a way to increase speed, reduce chances of injury and shorten recovery time. A pair of compression cycling shorts can be quite expensive though, so before you go purchasing your way to shorter race times, evidence in recent research indicates that claims of their efficacy may be overreaching. In fact, a study on athletes wearing compression shorts showed blood flow to the muscle actually decreased, contradicting many of the claims from these sportswear companies. Getting faster may just require more time in the saddle.

Theft of bikes is a persistent issue facing casual and competitive cyclists alike, but there’s some good news on this front: recent research showed a relatively simple deterrent to be surprisingly effective. The study found a 62% decrease in bicycle theft in locations where an ominous sign showing a person’s eyes and the words “Cycle Thieves We Are Watching You” (below) was posted above the bike racks. Theft in locations without these posters rose.


For more research on bikes and cycling performance, visit PLOS ONE.

Citation:  Constant A, Messiah A, Felonneau M-L, Lagarde E (2012) Investigating Helmet Promotion for Cyclists: Results from a Randomised Study with Observation of Behaviour, Using a Semi-Automatic Video System. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31651. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031651

Sperlich B, Born D-P, Kaskinoro K, Kalliokoski KK, Laaksonen MS (2013) Squeezing the Muscle: Compression Clothing and Muscle Metabolism during Recovery from High Intensity Exercise. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60923. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060923

Nettle D, Nott K, Bateson M (2012) ‘Cycle Thieves, We Are Watching You’: Impact of a Simple Signage Intervention against Bicycle Theft. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51738. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051738

Image Credits: cyclist by jesse.millan, poster from pone.0051738

Happy Mother’s Day from EveryONE!

motherandchildsculptureHaving children changes your life, your priorities and, for mothers, possibly even your brain. In pregnant women, fetal cells – which are genetically distinct from the mother’s cells – can actually establish themselves in the mother, creating a phenomenon called fetal microchimerism. Research recently published in PLOS ONE showed that fetal cells may even be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The study found evidence of male DNA in several regions of women’s brains and cerebrospinal fluid, and a likely explanation is that this microchimerism originated when the women were pregnant with a son, although other sources are plausible. The health implications of microchimerism in the brain are not well known but for better or worse, moms seem to literally carry their children with them long after giving birth.

While not as literal as sharing cells, the mother – child bond has significant psychological implications as well.  A study of children with anxiety disorders showed that the mere proximity of a caregiver (many times a mother) decreased neural stress markers when the children were faced with a threat. The findings show that even minimal social contact with a familiar person may help regulate neural mechanisms of emotional reactivity and alleviate the stress that children with anxiety disorders feel.

Human moms aren’t the only moms out there, though. Beluga whale mothers also seem to keep their babies on their minds and vice versa, research shows. Observers monitored mother belugas with their calves and observed that calves spent the majority of time swimming and resting on the right side of their mothers (watch the videos here). This positioning allows the calves to keep their left eye on their mother and thereby analyze information on a socially significant object (mom) with the right hemisphere of their brain. The right hemisphere is the side responsible for analyzing social information, recognizing novel objects and responding to unpredictable changes in the environment, while the left side is responsible for routine behavior such as feeding. This observation highlights how important recognition of social contact is in whales, where a mother calf bond is strong and persistent.

Let’s keep moms on our minds for Mother’s Day this Sunday. Have a good one Moms!

Citations: Chan WFN, Gurnot C, Montine TJ, Sonnen JA, Guthrie KA, et al. (2012) Male Microchimerism in the Human Female Brain. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45592. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045592

Conner OL, Siegle GJ, McFarland AM, Silk JS, Ladouceur CD, et al. (2012) Mom—It Helps When You’re Right Here! Attenuation of Neural Stress Markers in Anxious Youths Whose Caregivers Are Present during fMRI. PLoS ONE 7(12): e50680. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050680

Karenina K, Giljov A, Baranov V, Osipova L, Krasnova V, et al. (2010) Visual Laterality of Calf–Mother Interactions in Wild Whales. PLoS ONE 5(11): e13787. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013787

Image: Mother and Child by kewl

World Malaria Day 2013: Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria


Since World Malaria Day was first instituted in 2007 by World Health Organization Member States, great progress has been made in malaria prevention, detection and treatment. Even so, over half a million people die each year from this disease, many of them children under five years old, with direct costs of the disease estimated to be in excess of $12 billion annually. Today, many countries worst affected by malaria transmission are on track to meet the 2015 World Health Assembly target of reducing incidence rates by more than 75% but continued research and support are vital to keeping this momentum.

Papers published recently in PLOS ONE highlight some of the work being done around the world to reach this goal and sustain the progress that has been made. A case study of Sri Lanka’s malaria program showed how better vector control and surveillance measures can substantially reduce malaria cases, and offers insight for the development of successful disease prevention campaigns in other countries.

In addition to control and detection measures, efforts to develop inexpensive treatments and efficient ways to produce vaccines continue to be important in the fight against malaria. Medicines derived from the extract of the Artemisia plant are widely used in malaria treatment, but in a paper published in PLOS ONE last year, researchers found using the whole Artemisia plant to be effective in malaria treatment in a mouse model. They propose that whole plant treatment may even offer a more efficient delivery mechanism, potentially having broad therapeutic power against many infectious agents and the ability to dramatically reduce treatment costs.

In another study, researchers from University of California, San Diego looked for a way to make safe and effective subunit vaccines less expensive to produce. They tested whether Plasmodium falciparum surface proteins 25 and 28, both powerful malaria transmission blocking vaccine candidates, could be produced on algal chloroplasts. Their work found algae a viable, cost-effective platform for producing malaria subunit vaccines, which could be a promising contribution in making these vaccines available to low-income countries.

These papers and many others support this year’s World Malaria Day theme to “Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria.” As researchers continue to make strides towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goal to “have halted and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria,” you can read more PLOS ONE research on malaria here.



Abeyasinghe RR, Galappaththy GNL, Smith Gueye C, Kahn JG, Feachem RGA (2012) Malaria Control and Elimination in Sri Lanka: Documenting Progress and Success Factors in a Conflict Setting. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43162. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043162

Elfawal MA, Towler MJ, Reich NG, Golenbock D, Weathers PJ, et al. (2012) Dried Whole Plant Artemisia annua as an Antimalarial Therapy. PLoS ONE 7(12): e52746. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052746

Gregory JA, Li F, Tomosada LM, Cox CJ, Topol AB, et al. (2012) Algae-Produced Pfs25 Elicits Antibodies That Inhibit Malaria Transmission. PLoS ONE 7(5): e37179. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037179

Image: Anopheles by James Gathany for CDC

Forest elephants and whitetip sharks: PLOS ONE papers at CITES

Human activities and consumption pose constant threats to the environment and to wildlife but the scale of these threats can be hard to quantify. Accurate research to assess the status of threatened species is an essential first step to changing policies and human behavior that can ensure the survival of these species and habitats. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was organized to limit exploitation of international trade of wild animals and plants. Their latest meeting is currently underway in Bangkok, Thailand and two PLOS ONE papers provided evidence to support the enhanced protection of two threatened species – African forest elephants and oceanic whitetip sharks. These species were highlighted as facing intensified pressures that threaten their existence, calling for heightened regulations and  better enforcement of these regulations to prevent their extinction.

One of these recently published papers provided data on declining populations of African forest elephants. By surveying the forests of five East African countries primarily by foot, researchers were able to estimate that African forest elephant populations have declined by a devastating 62% between 2002 and 2011. The drivers of this decline are complex but hinge on a renewed international demand for ivory, especially sought after among China’s growing middle class. The study was covered by NPR, the New York Times and TIME magazine.

Another study tracked the movements of the severely threatened oceanic whitetip shark. Protecting sharks from overfishing poses a complex challenge as demand for shark fin and other products rises. To shed some light on just how far this species travels, researchers tagged 11 oceanic whitetip sharks and tracked their movements over 1,563 days. The tagged sharks spent the majority of their time in the protected waters of the Bahamas Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), where longlining and commercial trade of sharks is illegal. But the sharks ventured up to 1200 miles outside of this protected zone the rest of the time(see Figure 2 on the right). The tendency of these sharks to roam far and wide into these unprotected waters demonstrates the need for international cooperation if the species are to be protected. The study was covered by the BBC, NBC and Scientific American.

Continued research to quantify the threat facing these species and others is necessary to bolster support for regulations to be enacted and enforced internationally by bodies like CITES. Be sure to check out PLOS ONE for more research on conservation efforts for sharks and the plight of elephants.


Citations: Maisels F, Strindberg S, Blake S, Wittemyer G, Hart J, et al. (2013) Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59469. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059469

Howey-Jordan LA, Brooks EJ, Abercrombie DL, Jordan LKB, Brooks A, et al. (2013) Complex Movements, Philopatry and Expanded Depth Range of a Severely Threatened Pelagic Shark, the Oceanic Whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus) in the Western North Atlantic. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56588. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056588

Images: Shark photo credit: Lance Jordan, Microwave Telemetry, Inc.

Elephant photo copyright: Fiona Maisels of Wildlife Conservation Society.

Walk like a Camel (or a Giraffe)

It can be overwhelming to think of  the immense array of special shoes, insoles and orthotics available to relieve any manner of symptoms related to joint impact or stress. We have an entire industry designed to help the human species run and walk without injuries. Then consider the feet and joints of a more massive animal like the elephant or the giraffe, with no such industry to relieve their aches and pains.

A team of researchers studied how the feet and limbs of these animals handle the force of their weight as it hits the ground when they walk or run by analyzing a menagerie of videos.

Their results were published in PLOS ONE last week.

When you watch the plates shudder from the impact of the giraffe walking over the force platforms in the video below,  it seems a wonder that such small hooves manage to support such a massive animal without frequent injury. In view of how important these beasts of burden are for global welfare, understanding the dynamics of their foot design, locomotor behavior and impact forces is critical to ensuring their well-being. The study included elephants, pigs and alpacas as well as several other animals and found that the impact on the animals’ feet was proportional to their body size. But other aspects of the force of impact were distributed differently across their limbs to improve biomechanics and reduce injury. In previous research published in PLOS ONE, Dr. Hutchinson has analyzed locomotion in relation to limb and body dimensions in dinosaurs and cats.

Image Credit: 1 camel, 2 shadows by Sylvain Bourdos on Flickr

Citation: Warner SE, Pickering P, Panagiotopoulou O, Pfau T, Ren L, et al. (2013) Size-Related Changes in Foot Impact Mechanics in Hoofed Mammals. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54784. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054784

Citation: Hutchinson JR, Bates KT, Molnar J, Allen V, Makovicky PJ (2011) A Computational Analysis of Limb and Body Dimensions in Tyrannosaurus rex with Implications for Locomotion, Ontogeny, and Growth. PLoS ONE 6(10): e26037. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026037

Citation: Zhang KY, Wiktorowicz-Conroy A, Hutchinson JR, Doube M, Klosowski M, et al. (2012) 3D Morphometric and Posture Study of Felid Scapulae Using Statistical Shape Modelling. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34619. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034619

Targeting Drug Resistant Tumors

The vibrant colors in the image above show the levels of oxygen saturation in a breast tumor; note the prevalence of shades of dark and light blue, indicating very low oxygen saturation. These tumors are typically very difficult to treat with existing chemotherapy but new research published last week uses sickle cells to target and destroy these types of tumors.

The abnormal type of hemoglobin that causes sickle cell anemia alters the shape of red blood cells from circles to crescents (or sickles) making them less efficient at delivering oxygen to the body’s tissues. When there are low levels of oxygen in the environment, such as at high altitudes, these sickle cells clump together and rupture, damaging the blood vessels and surrounding cells. Honing in on this, researchers from the Jenomic Research Institute and Duke University were able to use this genetic mutation as a way to target tumors and promote a potent tumor-killing response.  Dr. Terman and his team found that they were able to quickly block blood supply to solid tumors with an injection of sickled blood cells along with a molecule that can release large amounts of oxygen. This is demonstrated in the first half of the video below which shows how an infusion of sickled blood cells slows and blocks the blood flow in hypoxic tumors, while the second half shows no noticeable slowing or blockage of blood vessels after infusion of normal cells. The sickled cells then clump together within the tumor blood vessels and when they rupture, the oxygen-releasing molecule kills many of the tumor cells and blood vessels.

This work offers an exciting new avenue for targeting and treating drug-resistant tumors and the video provides a fascinating window into the sickle cells in action.

Citation: Terman DS, Viglianti BL, Zennadi R, Fels D, Boruta RJ, et al. (2013) Sickle Erythrocytes Target Cytotoxics to Hypoxic Tumor Microvessels and Potentiate a Tumoricidal Response. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52543. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052543

PLOS ONE Papers of 2012

As we start off the New Year, we wanted to take a quick moment and highlight a few noteworthy papers published in 2012. Of the 23,468 papers published last year, five are already in the top 12 most viewed PLOS papers to date. Although they may not have gotten the press coverage of those listed in our 2012 Media Round-Up, Article Level Metrics reveal they’ve certainly received a lot of attention.

Published just over three months ago, a study showing that withdrawal symptoms of marijuana can be similar to those of tobacco is the third most highly viewed article published by any PLOS journal. With 227,928 total article views since publication on September 26, 2012 it’s only a few thousand views short of the top two articles published in 2008 and 2009. Other highly viewed ONE articles from 2012 include a study of genetic alterations in a line of flies reared in the dark (197,150 views since publication in March), the ecosystem implications of an invasive species (174,742 total article views, published September), an experiment depicted in Figure 3 to the right in immersive virtual reality between rats and humans (139,683 total article views, published in October), and a comparison of Westerners energetics with those of a hunter-gatherer society (102,167 total article views, published in July).

2012 also brought several papers describing new species, one of which was recognized as the “Best new species that was hiding in plain sight” by Jason G. Goldman of Scientific American. Other papers of note questioned beliefs about the limitations of alternative agriculture and challenged trusted measurements such as the Body Mass Index, commonly used to determine obesity rates.

Several more papers could even help support or inspire your New Year’s Resolutions. Whether it is to spend more time outdoors, watch what you eat, lose weight or conquer your fears, ONE has published research to help motivate those resolutions.

2012 was a year of growth and innovation for PLOS ONE, here’s looking forward to another great year!

Worth a Thousand Words: On Elephants, Literally

Ever wonder what purpose the sparse, coarse hairs covering an elephant’s skin serve? Authors from Princeton University wondered the same and recently published their findings in the paper “What Is the Use of Elephant Hair?” Body hair is typically thought of as an evolutionary advantage functioning mainly for insulation. Given that elephants typically inhabit warm climates and have a great need for heat loss due to their high body-volume to skin-surface ratio, insulation seems an unlikely explanation. We’ve all observed elephants using a variety of behavioral mechanisms to cool themselves down, (flapping their ears, bathing in dust, or spraying water and mud on themselves) but these alone are not sufficient in extreme heat conditions. It turns out that these little rough hairs are actually very important for keeping elephants cool.

From the Abstract:

The idea that low surface densities of hairs could be a heat loss mechanism is understood in engineering and has been postulated in some thermal studies of animals. However, its biological implications, both for thermoregulation as well as for the evolution of epidermal structures, have not yet been noted. Since early epidermal structures are poorly preserved in the fossil record, we study modern elephants to infer not only the heat transfer effect of present-day sparse hair, but also its potential evolutionary origins. Here we use a combination of theoretical and empirical approaches, and a range of hair densities determined from photographs, to test whether sparse hairs increase convective heat loss from elephant skin, thus serving an intentional evolutionary purpose. Our conclusion is that elephants are covered with hair that significantly enhances their thermoregulation ability by over 5% under all scenarios considered, and by up to 23% at low wind speeds where their thermoregulation needs are greatest. The broader biological significance of this finding suggests that maintaining a low-density hair cover can be evolutionary purposeful and beneficial, which is consistent with the fact that elephants have the greatest need for heat loss of any modern terrestrial animal because of their high body-volume to skin-surface ratio. Elephant hair is the first documented example in nature where increasing heat transfer due to a low hair density covering may be a desirable effect, and therefore raises the possibility of such a covering for similarly sized animals in the past. This elephant example dispels the widely-held assumption that in modern endotherms body hair functions exclusively as an insulator and could therefore be a first step to resolving the prior paradox of why hair was able to evolve in a world much warmer than our own.

And while on the topic of elephants, be sure to check out the videos accompanying the paper “Visualizing Sound Emission of Elephant Vocalizations: Evidence for Two Rumble Production Types” which capture the oral and nasal rumbles of elephants with an acoustic camera. The oral rumble of an elephant at 25 frames per second is below but you can watch the rest on our YouTube Channel here.


Citation: Myhrvold CL, Stone HA, Bou-Zeid E (2012) What Is the Use of Elephant Hair? PLoS ONE 7(10): e47018. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047018

Citation: Stoeger AS, Heilmann G, Zeppelzauer M, Ganswindt A, Hensman S, et al. (2012) Visualizing Sound Emission of Elephant Vocalizations: Evidence for Two Rumble Production Types. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48907. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048907