New and Exciting in PLoS this week

There are 14 new articles in PLoS ONE today, as well as new papers in PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine.
As always, for PLoS ONE articles, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click.
Here are my own picks for the week- awesome papers! – you go and look for your own favourites:
The Worldwide Variation in Avian Clutch Size across Species and Space:

Why do some bird species lay only one egg in their nest, and others ten? The clutch size of birds is one of the best-studied life-history traits of animals. Nevertheless, research has so far focused either on a comparative approach, relating clutch size to other biological traits of the species, such as body weight; or on a macroecological approach, testing how environmental factors, such as seasonality, influence clutch size. We used the most comprehensive dataset on clutch size ever compiled, including 5,290 species, and combined it with data on the biology and the environment of these species. This approach enabled us to merge comparative and macroecological methods and to test biological and environmental factors together in one analysis. With this approach, we are able to explain a major proportion of the global variation in clutch size and also to predict with high confidence the average clutch size of a bird assemblage on earth. For example, cavity nesters, such as woodpeckers, have larger clutches than open-nesting species; and species in seasonal environments, especially at northern latitudes, have larger clutches than tropical birds. The findings offer a bridge between macroecology and comparative biology, and provide a global and integrative understanding of a core life-history trait.

Elephant (Loxodonta africana) Home Ranges in Sabi Sand Reserve and Kruger National Park: A Five-Year Satellite Tracking Study:

During a five-year GPS satellite tracking study in Sabi Sand Reserve (SSR) and Kruger National Park (KNP) we monitored the daily movements of an elephant cow (Loxodonta africana) from September 2003 to August 2008. The study animal was confirmed to be part of a group of seven elephants therefore her position is representative of the matriarchal group. We found that the study animal did not use habitat randomly and confirmed strong seasonal fidelity to its summer and winter five-year home ranges. The cow’s summer home range was in KNP in an area more than four times that of her SSR winter home range. She exhibited clear park habitation with up to three visits per year travelling via a well-defined northern or southern corridor. There was a positive correlation between the daily distance the elephant walked and minimum daily temperature and the elephant was significantly closer to rivers and artificial waterholes than would be expected if it were moving randomly in KNP and SSR. Transect lines established through the home ranges were surveyed to further understand the fine scale of the landscape and vegetation representative of the home ranges.

Patterns of Reproductive Isolation in Toads:

Understanding the general features of speciation is an important goal in evolutionary biology, and despite significant progress, several unresolved questions remain. We analyzed an extensive comparative dataset consisting of more than 1900 crosses between 92 species of toads to infer patterns of reproductive isolation. This unique dataset provides an opportunity to examine the strength of reproductive isolation, the development and sex ratios of hybrid offspring, patterns of fertility and infertility, and polyploidization in hybrids all in the context of genetic divergence between parental species. We found that the strength of intrinsic postzygotic isolation increases with genetic divergence, but relatively high levels of divergence are necessary before reproductive isolation is complete in toads. Fertilization rates were not correlated to genetic divergence, but hatching success, the number of larvae produced, and the percentage of tadpoles reaching metamorphosis were all inversely related with genetic divergence. Hybrids between species with lower levels of divergence developed to metamorphosis, while hybrids with higher levels of divergence stopped developing in gastrula and larval stages. Sex ratios of hybrid offspring were biased towards males in 70% of crosses and biased towards females in 30% of crosses. Hybrid females from crosses between closely related species were completely fertile, while approximately half (53%) of hybrid males were sterile, with sterility predicted by genetic divergence. The degree of abnormal ploidy in hybrids was positively related to genetic divergence between parental species, but surprisingly, polyploidization had no effect on patterns of asymmetrical inviability. We discuss explanations for these patterns, including the role of Haldane’s rule in toads and anurans in general, and suggest mechanisms generating patterns of reproductive isolation in anurans.

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