New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 11 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, 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:
Home Range Utilisation and Territorial Behaviour of Lions (Panthera leo) on Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa:

Interventionist conservation management of territorial large carnivores has increased in recent years, especially in South Africa. Understanding of spatial ecology is an important component of predator conservation and management. Spatial patterns are influenced by many, often interacting, factors making elucidation of key drivers difficult. We had the opportunity to study a simplified system, a single pride of lions (Panthera leo) after reintroduction onto the 85 km2 Karongwe Game Reserve, from 1999-2005, using radio-telemetry. In 2002 one male was removed from the paired coalition which had been present for the first three years. A second pride and male were in a fenced reserve adjacent of them to the east. This made it possible to separate social and resource factors in both a coalition and single male scenario, and the driving factors these seem to have on spatial ecology. Male ranging behaviour was not affected by coalition size, being driven more by resource rather than social factors. The females responded to the lions on the adjacent reserve by avoiding the area closest to them, therefore females may be more driven by social factors. Home range size and the resource response to water are important factors to consider when reintroducing lions to a small reserve, and it is hoped that these findings lead to other similar studies which will contribute to sound decisions regarding the management of lions on small reserves.

A Method for the Simultaneous Estimation of Selection Intensities in Overlapping Genes:

Inferring the intensity of positive selection in protein-coding genes is important since it is used to shed light on the process of adaptation. Recently, it has been reported that overlapping genes, which are ubiquitous in all domains of life, seem to exhibit inordinate degrees of positive selection. Here, we present a new method for the simultaneous estimation of selection intensities in overlapping genes. We show that the appearance of positive selection is caused by assuming that selection operates independently on each gene in an overlapping pair, thereby ignoring the unique evolutionary constraints on overlapping coding regions. Our method uses an exact evolutionary model, thereby voiding the need for approximation or intensive computation. We test the method by simulating the evolution of overlapping genes of different types as well as under diverse evolutionary scenarios. Our results indicate that the independent estimation approach leads to the false appearance of positive selection even though the gene is in reality subject to negative selection. Finally, we use our method to estimate selection in two influenza A genes for which positive selection was previously inferred. We find no evidence for positive selection in both cases.

Epidemiological Characteristics of Classical Scrapie Outbreaks in 30 Sheep Flocks in the United Kingdom:

Most previous analyses of scrapie outbreaks have focused on flocks run by research institutes, which may not reflect the field situation. Within this study, we attempt to rectify this deficit by describing the epidemiological characteristics of 30 sheep flocks naturally-infected with classical scrapie, and by exploring possible underlying causes of variation in the characteristics between flocks, including flock-level prion protein (PrP) genotype profile. In total, the study involved PrP genotype data for nearly 8600 animals and over 400 scrapie cases. We found that most scrapie cases were restricted to just two PrP genotypes (ARQ/VRQ and VRQ/VRQ), though two flocks had markedly different affected genotypes, despite having similar underlying genotype profiles to other flocks of the same breed; we identified differences amongst flocks in the age of cases of certain PrP genotypes; we found that the age-at-onset of clinical signs depended on peak incidence and flock type; we found evidence that purchasing infected animals is an important means of introducing scrapie to a flock; we found some evidence that flock-level PrP genotype profile and flock size account for variation in outbreak characteristics; identified seasonality in cases associated with lambing time in certain flocks; and we identified one case that was homozygous for phenylalanine at codon 141, a polymorphism associated with a very high risk of atypical scrapie, and 28 cases that were heterozygous at this codon. This paper presents the largest study to date on commercially-run sheep flocks naturally-infected with classical scrapie, involving 30 study flocks, more than 400 scrapie cases and over 8500 PrP genotypes. We show that some of the observed variation in epidemiological characteristics between farms is related to differences in their PrP genotype profile; although much remains unexplained and may instead be attributed to the stochastic nature of scrapie dynamics.

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