It’s for the birds: Citizen science reveals shift in winter bird homes

western grebe 2

Just in time for summer solstice (the longest day of the year!), we bring you the heartwarming tale of a study that analyzed data collected about our feathery friends in the middle of winter. The Audobon Christmas Bird Count, a yearly bird census originating back in 1900, is conducted by bird-loving volunteers all over the Western Hemisphere who spot birds and record their sightings. It is also an example of what some call “citizen” or “crowd-sourced” science, and a newly published PLOS ONE article demonstrates how this scientific data, collected by the general public, can help researchers assess the conservation needs of an at-risk migratory bird, the western grebe.

Canadian researchers wanted to take a closer look at the bird population patterns of the grebe, a marine water bird that had recently been showing a worrying trend of drastic population declines in its winter home, ranging from the Pacific coast to California. In “Citizen Science Reveals an Extensive Shift in the Winter Distribution of Migratory Western Grebes,” researchers modeled a whoppin’ 36 years of collected bird count data from 163 “circles,” or designated diameters of land, mounting to a total of 2.5 million grebe observations.

So, what did they—and we, in this case—find? Thanks to decades of data collected by birdwatchers (1975-2010), researchers were able to show that western grebe populations along the northern Pacific coastal region decreased by about 95% over 36 years, but increased by over 300% in coastal California. Similar trends were observed for related bird species, suggesting that the winter habitat of the grebe has shifted south by ~ 900 km, to California, between 1980 and 2010.

western grebe 3

This is much better news than finding a concerning population decline that might prompt time-consuming and expensive conservation efforts. The researchers state that they aren’t yet sure of the reasons for this shift, but they suspect that the types of fish prey the grebes feed on may have also shifted in abundance between the two locations. All in all, this study demonstrates that wildlife data gathered by the general public (in any season, really) can result in meaningful, published scientific research that is useful to ecologists and conservationists alike.

Citation: Wilson S, Anderson EM, Wilson ASG, Bertram DF, Arcese P (2013) Citizen Science Reveals an Extensive Shift in the Winter Distribution of Migratory Western Grebes. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65408. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065408

Image Credits: Grebe photo by Mike Baird; map photo from article

 

Sleep May Solve Grammar Gremlins

Beinecke Library

Do you know when to use who versus whom? Affect versus effect? If you’re stumped, first crack open your textbook, but then make sure to get a good night’s sleep – it could help! According to newly published research, sleep plays an important part in learning grammar, and perhaps other complex rules as well.

In their study the researchers used an invented grammar to develop sets of letter sequences. They also assessed each sequence for its “associative chunk strength,” or memorable letter clusters. Sequences with lots of these “chunks” could be easy to memorize, which the authors differentiate from learning, or rule acquisition. Participants were then shown these sequences and asked to recreate them from memory. They were not told that the letter sequences were constructed according to a set of grammatical rules.

The participants then waited 15 minutes, 12 hours, or 24 hours before being tested to see whether they had retained or learned the rules. Participants in the 12 hour group that started in the evening and those in the 24 hour group slept between experimental phases. When the testing began, participants were told that grammatical rules were in use and asked to judge whether letter sequences were grammatical.

Participants that slept between stages, i.e. those in the 12 hour and 24 hour groups, performed significantly better than those who did not sleep prior to the test. Specifically, those who slept between tests were better able to discern grammatical from not-grammatical letter sequences. The same was true for letter sequences with fewer chunks of memorable letter clusters. Their results also indicate that the length of the waiting period, whether it was 15 minutes or hours, did not significantly affect the participants’ performance.

Students, the next time you think you can forgo a good night’s sleep, think again! Sleep may just help you learn those tricky grammatical rules.

Citation: Nieuwenhuis ILC, Folia V, Forkstam C, Jensen O, Petersson KM (2013) Sleep Promotes the Extraction of Grammatical Rules. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65046. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065046

Image: Childrens talk, English & Latin by Beinecke Library.

Making the News in May

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Laughter, fungi, pipettes and ants – last month, PLOS ONE papers made headlines with an array of research. Here are some of our May media highlights:

Not all laughter is the same and your brain knows it. In recently published research, scientists studied the effects of three types of laughter (joyous, taunting, and “tickling”) on the human brain. Participants listened to recordings of these laugh and were asked to discern the type and count how many bouts had occurred. The researchers found that the participants could discern joyous and taunting laughter at comparable rates and that it was slightly more difficult to discern laughter in response to tickling. Participants were  able to count the number of taunting laughs more accurately than joyous and tickling laughs. Read more about this study in the Huffington Post UK, TIME, and Los Angeles Times.

There are fungi afoot! New research confirms that the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatis), which has decimated amphibian populations around the world, can be found in frogs in California. Scientists swabbed 201 South African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) in the California Academy of Sciences’ collection, 23 of which were caught in California. Eight specimens tested positive for chytrid, including one frog caught in San Francisco County in 2003. This frog species was once imported to aid in pregnancy testing. To read more, visit the National Geographic, Science News, ABC and the Smithsonian blog, Smart News.

Pipettes are a staple lab equipment, but not without their drawbacks. According to a new PLOS ONE paper, certain methods of dispensing and diluting liquids can introduce errors in experimental data. The researchers of this study compared pipetting, or tip-based transfer, with an acoustic dispensing technique and found that laboratory results depended greatly on the dispensing technique. Learn more about this study by reading the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry World, Nature’s Methagora blog, and In the Pipeline.

There are plenty of odd couples in nature. For one example, just look at the unlikely partnership of the ant and the pitcher plant. A recent study finds that a particular ant species, Camponotus schmitzi, has formed a mutually beneficial relationship with the carnivorous Nepenthes bicalcarata, a pitcher plant. Scientists observed that the ants provide pitcher plants with nitrogen and preys on other insects, such as mosquitoes, that may otherwise steal nutrients from the plant. In return, the pitcher plant provides a home and a steady source of sustenance. You may find more about this study at Discovery News, The Scientist, and the New York Times.

To find out what other PLOS ONE papers were in the news in May, check out our Media Tracking Project.

Image: Figure 1 from “A Novel Type of Nutritional Ant–Plant Interaction: Ant Partners of Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Prevent Nutrient Export by Dipteran Pitcher Infauna”

Citations:

Wildgruber D, Szameitat DP, Ethofer T, Brück C, Alter K, et al. (2013) Different Types of Laughter Modulate Connectivity within Distinct Parts of the Laughter Perception Network. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63441. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063441

Vredenburg VT, Felt SA, Morgan EC, McNally SVG, Wilson S, et al. (2013) Prevalence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Xenopus Collected in Africa (1871–2000) and in California (2001–2010). PLoS ONE 8(5): e63791. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063791

Ekins S, Olechno J, Williams AJ (2013) Dispensing Processes Impact Apparent Biological Activity as Determined by Computational and Statistical Analyses. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62325. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062325

Scharmann M, Thornham DG, Grafe TU, Federle W (2013) A Novel Type of Nutritional Ant–Plant Interaction: Ant Partners of Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Prevent Nutrient Export by Dipteran Pitcher Infauna. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63556. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063556

Sharing was Caring for Ancient Humans and Their Prehistoric Pups

huskies_1While the tale of how man’s best friend came to be (i.e., domestication) is still slowly unfolding, a recently published study in PLOS ONE may provide a little context—or justification?—for dog lovers everywhere. It turns out that even thousands of years ago, humans loved to share food with, play with, and dress up their furry friends.

In the study titled “Burying Dogs in Ancient Cis-Baikal, Siberia: Temporal Trends and Relationships with Human Diet and Subsistence Practices,” biologists, anthropologists, and archaeologists joined forces to investigate the nature of the ancient human-dog relationship by analyzing previously excavated canid remains worldwide, with a large portion of specimens in modern-day Eastern Siberia, Russia. The authors performed genetic analysis and skull comparisons to establish that the canid specimens were most likely dogs, not wolves, which was an unsurprising but important distinction when investigating the human-canine bond. The canid skulls from the Cis-Baikal region most closely resembled large Siberian huskies, or sled dogs. Radiocarbon dating from previous studies also provided information regarding the dates of death and other contextual information at the burial sites.

The researchers found that the dogs buried in Siberia, many during the Early Neolithic period 7,000-8,000 years ago, were only found at burial sites shared with foraging humans. Dogs were found buried in resting positions, or immediately next to humans at these sites, and their graves often included various items or tools seemingly meant for the dogs. One dog in particular was adorned with a red deer tooth necklace around its neck and deer remnants by its side, and another was buried with what appears to be a pebble or toy in its mouth.

prehistoric dog_3

By analyzing the carbon and nitrogen in human and dog specimens in this region, the researchers were able to determine similarities in human and dog diets, both of which were rich in fish. This finding may be somewhat surprising because one might assume that dogs helped humans hunt terrestrial game, and would consequently be less likely found among humans that ate primarily fish.

The authors speculate that dogs were considered spiritually similar to humans, and were therefore buried at the same time in the same graves. The nature of the burials and the similarities in diet also point toward an intimate and personal relationship, both emotional and social, between humans and their dogs—one that involved sharing food and giving dogs the same burial rites as the humans they lived among. Ancient dogs weren’t just work animals or hunters, the authors suggest, but important companion animals and friends as well.

Citation: Losey RJ, Garvie-Lok S, Leonard JA, Katzenberg MA, Germonpré M, et al. (2013) Burying Dogs in Ancient Cis-Baikal, Siberia: Temporal Trends and Relationships with Human Diet and Subsistence Practices. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63740. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063740

Image Credits: Losey RJ, Garvie-Lok S, Leonard JA, Katzenberg MA, Germonpré M, et al. (2013) Burying Dogs in Ancient Cis-Baikal, Siberia: Temporal Trends and Relationships with Human Diet and Subsistence Practices. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63740. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063740

Siberian husky photo by Pixel Spit

Color and Iridescence in the Stinkbug

fabricant figure 1 pone.0064082

“Beautiful” may not be the first word to describe the stinkbug, but Tectocoris diopthalamus sure are pretty. Pictured above are six specimens, three females (first row) and three males (second row). Do you notice a difference? Hint: it’s all in the colors.

Like mallards, narwhals, and peacocks, T. diopthalamus are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the females and males of the species look physically different. In a new study published last week in PLOS ONE, researchers state that male stinkbugs of this species are more likely than their female counterparts to have large, iridescent patches and to be a deeper shade of red. These eye-catching characteristics may help males attract females and even scare off predators. The colors are variable, however, and subject to a number of environmental factors.

In the study, the researchers used electron microscopy and pigment analysis to study how this stinkbug produces the colors you see above. They identified a type of melanin, which partly make up the blue-green iridescent patches. They also identified a nitrogen-heavy pigment called erythopterin, which produces the orange-red color.  High temperatures and a shortage of nitrogen-rich foods have the potential to affect these respective pigments and lead to a wide range of colorful variations. Neat!

 

Citation: Fabricant SA, Kemp DJ, Krají?ek J, Bosáková Z, Herberstein ME (2013) Mechanisms of Color Production in a Highly Variable Shield-Back Stinkbug, Tectocoris diopthalmus (Heteroptera: Scutelleridae), and Why It Matters. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64082. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064082

Image: Image comes from Figure 1 of the research paper.

Some Like it Hot: Sick House Flies Purposely Induce a Fever

house fly

Fevers are thoroughly unpleasant and usually accompanied by other troublesome physical symptoms. Even so, they are often a good sign that our immune system is kicking in to help us “fight off” a nasty infection. Outside the world of endotherms (those of us that regulate our own body temperatures), some ectotherms—those that must seek heat to keep warm—also make use of fevers by finding a heat source to purposely induce them, a phenomenon known as a behavioral fever.

You might wonder why any creature, great or small, would choose to have a fever. One possible reason may be remarkably similar to the reason for fevers in humans: they help fight infections. If you weren’t aware of the massive insect-fungi war taking place right under our noses, the Cornell University Mushroom Blog says it all. In short, fungi have a terrible habit of infecting and killing all kinds of insects, and the insects’ best weapon of defense is to run to the warmest place possible. Make no mistake: the fever is not fun for the flies, and there are health risks and costs (like elevated metabolism and possible organ failure) the longer the fever is maintained. Nevertheless, it’s their best option.

In a recently published PLOS ONE paper, aptly titled “Discriminating Fever Behavior in House Flies, researchers at Penn State investigated this phenomenon further by testing whether house flies self-induced a behavioral fever in a dose-responsive manner to fungal infection. Fungus-infected flies were placed in boxes with temperature gradients (ranging from 77 to a balmy 102 degrees Fahrenheit), and their behavior was monitored throughout the course of the day.

Early in the morning, when the fungus had been actively growing all night, the flies hung out longer in the warmest parts of the box. As the flies’ increased body temperatures began to inhibit fungal growth, the flies would move to cooler areas; however, at night, the fungus would again begin to grow unabated, and the cycle would repeat. Interestingly, it was found that the higher the fungal dose, the higher the temperature of the induced fever. The researchers acknowledge that more work needs to be done, and other factors may contribute to the flies’ preference for heat. Nonetheless, this study underlines the importance and effectiveness of temperature regulation for suppressing infection in a surprising variety of species.

Citation: Anderson RD, Blanford S, Jenkins NE, Thomas MB (2013) Discriminating Fever Behavior in House Flies. PLoS ONE 8(4): e62269. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062269

Image Credit: Public domain

Tracing Our Footsteps: Archaeology in the Digital Age

pone.0060755 Geocon Bennett et al Figure 6

Human ancestors that walked the earth left few traces of their passage. Some of their footprints have lithified, or turned to stone, but some survive to this day, unlithified, in soft sediment such as silt. These fragile records of ancient footprints pose a sizable challenge to archaeologists today: how do you preserve the ephemeral? According to new research published in PLOS ONE, the answer may be to “record and digitally rescue” these footprint sites.

The authors explored two methods in this study: digital photogrammetry, where researchers strategically photograph an object in order to derive measurements; and optical laser scanning, where light is used to measure the object’s physical properties. To begin, the authors filled trays with mixtures of sand, cement, and plaster and instructed a participant to walk through these samples. Four wooden 1 cm cubes were then placed beside a select number of footprints and photographs were taken. A laser scanner was then used to measure the same footprints. This simple procedure was also replicated outside of the lab, at a beach in North West England.

In their results, they found that both methods offered similar levels of precision (though, the laser scanner was “slightly more accurate”) and that differences between the two were not statistically significant. These two methods are not, however, without their respective strengths and challenges. Photogrammetry can be an advantage in situations where records need to be taken quickly and inexpensively, as field work can be completing using a camera, tripod, and measuring equipment. This practice is, however, especially subject to human error. Additionally, the accuracy of the images – and consequently the measurements derived from the images – may be compromised by extreme lighting conditions and the depth of the footprint or impression. Alternately, laser scanning is more appropriate in conditions where a high degree of precision is required and footprints are more fragile (and thus unlikely to remain in an “optimal” condition). Laser scanners are, however, more expensive and require a large energy source. The authors advocate that both methods can, and should, be used in tandem to supplement each other.

These digital tools provide an innovative solution to preserving footprint records, especially in cases where traditional on-site, or off-site, preservation is impractical and costly. To learn more about this research and the merits and challenges of digital rescue archaeology, read the full text of the study here.

 

Image is Figure 6 of the manuscript.

Citation: Bennett MR, Falkingham P, Morse SA, Bates K, Crompton RH (2013) Preserving the Impossible: Conservation of Soft-Sediment Hominin Footprint Sites and Strategies for Three-Dimensional Digital Data Capture. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60755. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060755

March Madness: PLOS ONE News and Blog Round-Up

1660014877_10c78dd1a9For the month of March, a variety of papers caught the media’s attention, from distracting cell phone conversations, to the devastating decline in forest elephants.  Here are some of the media highlights for this month:

Have you ever wondered where your hound originated from? In a paper featured this March, researchers have identified the fossil remains of the oldest domestic canine ancestor. In this study, researchers analyzed the DNA of a 33,000 year old tooth belonging to a Pleistocene dog from central Asia. In their evaluation of the fossil, they assessed its relationship to modern dogs and wolves’, concluding the tooth was more closely related to the domestic canine.

In another study, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have found that football players might sustain long-term brain injuries without ever having a concussion. 67 players who had never suffered a concussion underwent testing over the course of a season.  The testing, which included blood sampling, brain scans, cognitive and functional assessments, screened for potential brain damage among the participants. The researchers searched for S100B in the blood, an antibody linked to brain damage. This antibody was found in many of the participants, with the highest levels belonging to the players with the most hits.

Have you ever found yourself distracted when a co-worker is on a phone call? In an eye-catching paper published this month, PLOS ONE authors examined the effects on attention and memory when listening to cell phone conversations, versus two-sided conversations. The participants were assigned a task while two conversations were in progress, one on a cell phone, and another between two individuals.  After the task was completed, the participants were assigned a recognition memory task and questionnaire measuring the distracting nature of the conversation. The participants who overhead the cell phone conversation measured it as much more distracting compared to the two-sided conversation.

And in a fourth study capturing the attention of many, researchers have examined the decline of forest elephants in Central Africa. The study concludes that forest elephants are being poached at increasing rates. Poaching, in addition to the human population rise and the absence of anti-poaching law enforcement, is contributing to the elephant’s population decline. The analysis revealed that 62 percent of the African forest elephants have been eliminated in the last decade due to poaching.

These four papers are just a taste of the variety of papers published this month. For more research headlines, visit our site here.

 

Citations:

Druzhkova AS, Thalmann O, Trifonov VA, Leonard JA, Vorobieva NV, et al. (2013) Ancient DNA Analysis Affirms the Canid from Altai as a Primitive Dog. PLoS ONE 8(3): e57754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057754

Marchi N, Bazarian JJ, Puvenna V, Janigro M, Ghosh C, et al. (2013) Consequences of Repeated Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption in Football Players. PLoS ONE 8(3): e56805. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056805

Galván VV, Vessal RS, Golley MT (2013) The Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on the Attention and Memory of Bystanders. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58579. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058579

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

Image: by digitalART2 on Flickr

What are you in the mood for?: Emotional trends in 20th century books

Literary trends come and go; one year’s vampire is another year’s zombie. According to new research published today in PLOS ONE, certain moods also experience trends in literature. Which moods, or emotions, do you think were popular in the literature of the 20th century?

To find out, researchers created six categories of words to express anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. These terms were pared down to word stems and then entered into Google’s Ngram Viewer, an immense and interactive database of over 5 million books. The researchers looked at all English language books in Google’s database that were published between 1900 and 2000. Three additional datasets were created to analyze the use of mood words in English fiction (i.e., all books written in British and American English, excluding all works of non-fiction), British English books, and American English books.

Their data indicates that the use of mood words generally decreased in books published in the 20th century. Curiously, the use of words relating to disgust declined the most. The use of fear-related words similarly decreased until the 1970s, when the trend took a sharp turn upwards (and continued to climb for the next three decades). When they plotted the frequency of words relating to joy and sadness, the trend of happy and sad words correlated to major historical events such as World War II and the Great Depression.

In their comparison of books written in British and American English, researchers noted that the frequency of mood words in American English books increased relative to British English books beginning in the 1960s. This trend continued throughout the latter portion of the century, even as the use of mood words generally decreased.

For students of cultural and linguistic evolution, these massive, text-based datasets may present a new way of analyzing trends over a great period of time. For others, they can simply provide a fresh perspective on the previous century!

To learn more and share your thoughts about the study, click here to read the full article. If you are interested in similar studies, click here to read the authors’ research on word usage in climate change science and and here for the accompanying New York Times op-ed.

 

Citation:

Acerbi A, Lampos V, Garnett P, Bentley RA (2013) The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59030. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059030

Images:

books is power, by the second fiddle

The graph comes from Figure 2 of the manuscript.

Wrapped up in a Book: The Role of Emotional Engagement in Reading

Have you ever gotten lost in the pages of a good book? If so, you may have been more empathetic afterward. According to new research published in PLOS ONE, reading fiction may affect the reader’s empathetic skills over a period of time. The key to this effect is the reader’s level of emotional engagement with the text.

The researchers conducted two studies to explore the relationship between fiction and empathy. In the first, they recruited university students and randomly assigned them to read either a piece of fiction or non-fiction. Participants in the fiction group read an excerpt from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’. Participants in the non-fiction group read selections from a newspaper. To make the passages as similar as possible, the researchers chose news articles that focused on an individual, mirroring the potential for fiction readers to engage with the main character in story.

Participants’ empathy was assessed immediately before and after the experiment. Their levels of emotional engagement were also measured immediately after the reading, and a follow-up empathy level assessment was conducted a week afterward.

In the second study the researchers conducted the same assessments – with an added dimension. The fiction group read an excerpt from José Sarmago’s Blindness and the non-fiction control group read a selection of news articles of a similar length. In addition to measuring the participants’ levels of empathy and emotional engagement, the researchers asked participants to rate their positive and negative emotions after the reading.

In both studies, they found that the fiction readers who were more emotionally engaged in the narrative became more empathetic over the course of the week. Fiction readers who were not emotionally engaged were less empathetic the following week, and non-fiction readers did not display these effects to a significant degree. With the additional data on the participants’ emotions, the researchers ascertained that the effects of empathy and emotional engagement were similarly significant regardless of positive or negative emotions.

Readers of fiction rejoice! If you would like to learn more about the role of emotional engagement in reading fiction, read the full text of the study here.

Citation: Bal PM, Veltkamp M (2013) How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55341. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055341

Image credit: On the platform, reading by moriza.

Animal Heartbreakers? Animals, Behavior, and “Love”

Animal emotion remains a fairly contentious area of scientific research, but there is a growing body of evidence to support the idea that nonhuman animals can have feelings. The scientific community may not be ready to use the “L” word for animals, but we are beginning to understand that they do form relationships that are both more complex and insightful than they initially appeared.

While the birds and the bees don’t pre-order roses online or bust out heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for Valentine’s Day, many animal species—yes, even insects and spiders—exhibit courtship behavior to woo their mates (singing mice, anyone?). On the opposite end of the spectrum, animals can also be sneaky and engage in promiscuous behavior that rivals the latest plotline from your favorite soap opera. The physical, chemical, mental, and emotional drivers behind these behaviors are still under active investigation by the scientific community, and we have a few handy examples published in PLOS ONE.

In “Heaven It’s My Wife! Male Canaries Conceal Extra-Pair Courtships but Increase Aggressions When Their Mate Watches,” male domestic canaries, known to be socially monogamous, altered their courtship behavior toward females depending on the audience. Males were generally more aggressive with females around than with males or no one present. Males also courted other females more if their mates weren’t around, which the authors suggested may imply that there are costs (“divorce”) associated with courting other females while a mate watches. Tsk, tsk.

While canaries may be coy, some of our closest relatives display some of the fiercest aggressive and competitive behavior. In the recently published “Till Death (Or an Intruder) Do Us Part: Intrasexual-Competition in a Monogamous Primate,” owl monkey pairs were broken up by intruding “floater” monkeys, which in some cases, resulted in serious consequences for the ousted monkey: disappearance or death. These breakups also had a negative effect on the reproductive success of both the male and female monkey in the pair. Lasting monogamous owl monkey couples produced 25% more offspring than monkeys with two or more partners.

Are animals always heartbreakers? In what researchers consider an act of monogamy, pair-bonded California mice in this study refrained from scent marking when given the opportunity. This may not seem like a proud display of love and loyalty, but in the animal kingdom, scent marking can be a form of advertising for new females. The researchers also found that virgin male mice still participated in scent-marking behavior, providing further evidence that the other animals’ restraint was related specifically to pair bonding.

Just as we see behavioral differences in the animal kingdom, there’s certainly a lot of variety in human love and relationships. Regardless, we’d like to wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day!

Citations:

Hanson JL, Hurley LM (2012) Female Presence and Estrous State Influence Mouse Ultrasonic Courtship Vocalizations. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40782. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040782

Panksepp J (2011) Cross-Species Affective Neuroscience Decoding of the Primal Affective Experiences of Humans and Related Animals. PLoS ONE 6(9): e21236. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021236

Ung D, Amy M, Leboucher G (2011) Heaven It’s My Wife! Male Canaries Conceal Extra-Pair Courtships but Increase Aggressions When Their Mate Watches. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22686. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022686

Fernandez-Duque E, Huck M (2013) Till Death (Or an Intruder) Do Us Part: Intrasexual-Competition in a Monogamous Primate. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53724. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053724

Image credit:

Monkey image, M. Corley/Owl Monkey Project

Graph, PLOS ONE paper, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053724

PLOS ONE News and Blog Roundup

This January, PLOS ONE papers caught the media’s eye for research on shark embryos, trustworthy brown eyes, acts of kindness, and more! Here are some of the month’s highlights from our Media Tracking Project:

Researchers studying the brown-banded bamboo shark, or Chiloscyllium punctatum, have discovered that the baby sharks of this species can detect potential predators from inside their egg cases. Once detected, these sharks go very still and stop moving their gills to escape the predator’s notice. According to the researchers, similar ability to detect bioelectric stimuli is used by adult sharks to sense prey. If you would like to know more about this study check out the BBC, Discovery News, and the New York Times.

What makes a face look trustworthy? According to new research, eye color and face shape play important roles in the perceived trustworthiness of one’s face. Among their results, the researchers found that study participants perceived faces with brown eyes as more trustworthy than faces with blue eyes. Additionally, faces with a broad chin and mouth, large eyes, and closer-set eyebrows were perceived as more trustworthy than narrower faces with smaller eyes and more widely spaced eyebrows. For more about the study, visit the Huffington Post, Wired, and Scientific American.

Brrr! January can be quite chilly, but spring is on its way – and it might be coming earlier than anticipated. In a recent study, researchers used the historical records of Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold, a noted conservationist, to trace the history of spring flowering times in the eastern United States. Beginning with records from 1852 and ending in 2012, researchers found that plants are flowering earlier now than in the past as spring temperatures continue to rise. According to their findings, there is a linear relationship between rising spring temperatures and flowering times. The researchers posit that as the climate continues to change, this relationship may be tested. To learn more about this study, read National Geographic, MSNBC, and NPR.

Being a kid can be rough sometimes, but according to this research, acts of kindness may increase happiness and lead to greater social acceptance from peers. In the study, participants aged nine to twelve were asked to perform three acts of kindness each week for four weeks. Participants who performed acts of kindness, or what the authors called “pro-social activities”, were happier and were selected by their peers as someone with whom they would like to work with at school. Read more about this study at the Washington Post, Wired, and the BBC.

Citations:

RM, Hart NS, Collin SP (2013) Survival of the Stillest: Predator Avoidance in Shark Embryos. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52551. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052551

Kleisner K, Priplatova L, Frost P, Flegr J (2013) Trustworthy-Looking Face Meets Brown Eyes. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53285. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053285

Ellwood ER, Temple SA, Primack RB, Bradley NL, Davis CC (2013) Record-Breaking Early Flowering in the Eastern United States. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53788. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053788

Layous K, Nelson SK, Oberle E, Schonert-Reichl KA, Lyubomirsky S (2012) Kindness Counts: Prompting Prosocial Behavior in Preadolescents Boosts Peer Acceptance and Well-Being. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51380. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051380

Greetings from Lake Socompa! A Diversity of Life in Extreme Conditions



The photo above comes to us from a remote part of the Andes, at the base of the active volcano Socompa. Lake Socompa is situated here and its whitish stomatolites (a type of layered sediment deposit created by microorganisms) are home to an unexpected diversity of bacterial life.

In research published this week in PLOS ONE, scientists from Argentina and Germany travelled to this remote location, 3570 meters above sea level, to study the lake’s stomatolites and the harsh environment in which they are formed. Stomatolites were found only on the southern shore, where a hydrothermal spring feeds acidic water into the lake. This region of the Andes mountain range receives very little annual rainfall and, due to its high elevation, experiences high levels of ultraviolet radiation. Yet, rather than being inhospitable to life, scientists found that the region’s extreme environmental conditions actually helped to foster “rich, diverse and active ecosystems” within the lake’s stomatolites.  According to the research, the Lake Socompa site is the highest altitude, thus far, where stomatolites are found to form.

Citation: Farías ME, Rascovan N, Toneatti DM, Albarracín VH, Flores MR, et al. (2013) The Discovery of Stromatolites Developing at 3570 m above Sea Level in a High-Altitude Volcanic Lake Socompa, Argentinean Andes. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53497. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053497

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stromatolite

PLOS ONE News and Blog Round-Up: 2012 in Review

In this round-up, we would like to share with you some of the PLOS ONE articles covered by the media in 2012. Over one thousand papers published in PLOS ONE were covered in the news! Exciting as it is to see the wide coverage all these papers received, this made it difficult to narrow down the list below to just a few. Some of the papers the media found newsworthy are listed below (in no particular order).

The study “The Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Arabica Coffee (Coffea arabica): Predicting Future Trends and Identifying Priorities” suggests that climate change threatens the growing conditions for wild coffee varieties, and could potentially damage the global production of coffee within the next century. Read coverage of this research in the French Tribune, Scientific American or BBC News as you sip your next precious cup.

In November, three papers reported on different aspects of children’s health. The study, “Fetal Alcohol Exposure and IQ at Age 8: Evidence from a Population-Based Birth-Cohort Study” , covered by New Scientist and Wired, reports that consuming even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can reduce a child’s IQ. Yawning in the womb at 24-36 weeks of age may be a sign of healthy fetal development, according to the study “Development of Fetal Yawn Compared with Non-Yawn Mouth Openings from 24–36 Weeks Gestation”, which received coverage from the Guardian, Fox News and io9. Researchers describe a test to estimate a newborn’s risk for childhood obesity in the paper “Estimation of Newborn Risk for Child or Adolescent Obesity: Lessons from Longitudinal Birth Cohorts”. The Boston Globe, TIME and Mother Nature Network reported on this study.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the study “High Phobic Anxiety Is Related to Lower Leukocyte Telomere Length in Women” reported on the effects of anxiety on the ageing process. The researchers report that women who suffer from a chronic psychological distress called phobic anxiety have shorter telomeres in their blood cells, a change in DNA structure that is linked to faster ageing. This study received coverage from the Scientific American blogs, Huffington Post and CBS News.

Several other papers that reveal how we (and our bodies) respond to stress grabbed media attention also. In the study, “Overtime Work as a Predictor of Major Depressive Episode: A 5-Year Follow-Up of the Whitehall II Study” , researchers found that people who work over 11 hours a day had double the risk of depression compared to employees who worked 7-8 hours per day. Read the coverage of this study from the Herald Sun and the New York Times blogs. Spending too much time online can lead to internet addiction disorder (IAD) in teenagers, and this was linked to changes in the structure of the brain in the paper “Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study”. The Wall Street Journal, Mashable and other media outlets covered this research.

Results of the study “When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math” suggest that the anticipation of math problems can be physically painful to those who suffer from math anxiety. The study was covered by several news outlets including National Geographic, ArsTechnica and The Atlantic. And all this stress may affect how we perceive the other sex. Stressed-out men are likely to find larger women more attractive physically, reports the paper “The Impact of Psychological Stress on Men’s Judgements of Female Body Size”. This research was covered by The Daily Show, Le Monde and Jezebel.

Is this blog post getting too stressful? Relax with these cute puppies! As it turns out, viewing cute images like this one can improve concentration as reported in the paper “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus” . This research had media outlets including Forbes, the LA Times and Cosmopolitan reaching to publish the cutest animal photos with their reports.

And if you’re still looking for cute animals, look no further. Three new animal species described in PLOS ONE papers this year have your adorable animal needs covered. The lesula, a new monkey species was described in the study “Lesula: A New Species of Cercopithecus Monkey Endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Implications for Conservation of Congo’s Central Basin”, four new species of chameleons small enough to fit on a fingernail were discovered in Madagascar, according to “Rivaling the World’s Smallest Reptiles: Discovery of Miniaturized and Microendemic New Species of Leaf Chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar” and a study published in January leads this menagerie of adorable animals, as it reports on the world’s tiniest frog. _ is small enough to fit on a nickel CK, and is described in the paper “Ecological Guild Evolution and the Discovery of the World’s Smallest Vertebrate”.  Hundreds of media outlets across the world featured stories about these new species, including the New York Times, Reuters, Science Now and even The Onion.

To round things off, researchers watching animals from space identified new colonies of emperor penguins in the Antarctic. Their results were published in the study “An Emperor Penguin Population Estimate: The First Global, Synoptic Survey of a Species from Space”, which was covered by The Scientist, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today.

These papers are only a small fraction of more than a thousand that were covered by the media. Visit our Media Tracking Project to see the full list of over 7000 news stories that reported on PLOS ONE research published in 2012.  Or follow us on YouTube, SoundCloud and Twitter to keep track of some of the great science multimedia we’ve published this year!

Images: Coffee by kaakati on Flickr, puppies by pellaea on Flickr, all others from PLOS ONE papers

 

 

 

Worth a Thousand Words

How many arrows are depicted in the photo above? How many can you find? One? Five?

The answer is 118.

In research published last week, researchers digitally compiled 118 different lithic points from the Patagonia region of South America. All samples date back to the Late Holocene period and — the researchers posit — were made using other arrows, spears, and points. The study examined the design of these points and aimed to determine whether they can be seen as working in a modular system comprised of the blade (e.g., the arrow) and the stem (e.g., the arrow shaft).

The image above is Figure 1 in the manuscript. And as you can see, the researchers labeled twenty-four parts, or “landmarks”, of the composite image. These points or landmarks helped in measuring the image’s shape, angles, and proportions.

To learn more about this image and read the full text of the study, click here.

Citation: González-José R, Charlin J (2012) Relative Importance of Modularity and Other Morphological Attributes on Different Types of Lithic Point Weapons: Assessing Functional Variations. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48009. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modular_design