New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 18 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.
Also, check out the interview with our Section Editor for Aquatic and Marine Sciences, Craig McClain.
Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Rare Species Are Valued Big Time:

It has recently been postulated that the value humans place on rarity could cause the extinction of rare species. This is because people are willing to pay the high costs of exploiting the last individuals. Many hobbies, such as ecotourism or the keeping of exotic pets may cause this effect – known as the anthropogenic Allee effect. However, the entire theory relies on the insofar undemonstrated assumption that people do value rarity. In order to quantify how much people valued rare species relative to common ones, we created online slideshows of photographs of either rare or common species on an Internet web site. The slideshow with photographs of rare species attracted more visitors, and visitors spent, in general, more time waiting to view it. We provide evidence that people value rare more than common species. As we did not target consumers of a specific market, this finding suggests that the anthropogenic Allee effect is likely be driven by a large part of the population. Given the substantial participation in our online experiment, we highlight the potential of the world wide web resource as a tool for conservation action. However, the evidence presented here that the general public value rare species, combined with the assumption that anthropogenic Allee effect is operating, implies that conservationists should be prudent when using rarity to promote conservation.

Consequences of the Timing of Menarche on Female Adolescent Sleep Phase Preference:

Most parents experience their children’s puberty as a dramatic change in family life. This is not surprising considering the dynamics of physical and psychosocial maturation which occur during adolescence. A reasonable question, particularly from the parents’ perspective, is: when does this vibrant episode end and adulthood finally start? The aim of the present study was to assess the relationship between puberty and the changes in sleep phase preferences during female maturation and adulthood by a cross-sectional survey. The results from 1’187 females aged 5 to 51 years based on self-report measures of sleep preferences on weekdays and on free days as well as the occurrence of menarche, show that in contrast to prepubertal children, adolescent females exhibit a striking progression in delaying their sleep phase preference until 5 years after menarche. Thereafter, the sleep phase preference switches to advancing. The current study provides evidence that a clear shift in sleep-wake cycles temporally linked to menarche heralds the beginning of “adult-like” sleep-wake behaviour in women and can be used as a (chrono)biological marker for the onset of adulthood.

Perturbing Dynamin Reveals Potent Effects on the Drosophila Circadian Clock:

Transcriptional feedback loops are central to circadian clock function. However, the role of neural activity and membrane events in molecular rhythms in the fruit fly Drosophila is unclear. To address this question, we expressed a temperature-sensitive, dominant negative allele of the fly homolog of dynamin called shibirets1 (shits1), an active component in membrane vesicle scission. Broad expression in clock cells resulted in unexpectedly long, robust periods (>28 hours) comparable to perturbation of core clock components, suggesting an unappreciated role of membrane dynamics in setting period. Expression in the pacemaker lateral ventral neurons (LNv) was necessary and sufficient for this effect. Manipulation of other endocytic components exacerbated shits1’s behavioral effects, suggesting its mechanism is specific to endocytic regulation. PKA overexpression rescued period effects suggesting shits1 may downregulate PKA pathways. Levels of the clock component PERIOD were reduced in the shits1-expressing pacemaker small LNv of flies held at a fully restrictive temperature (29°C). Less restrictive conditions (25°C) delayed cycling proportional to observed behavioral changes. Levels of the neuropeptide PIGMENT-DISPERSING FACTOR (PDF), the only known LNv neurotransmitter, were also reduced, but PERIOD cycling was still delayed in flies lacking PDF, implicating a PDF-independent process. Further, shits1 expression in the eye also results in reduced PER protein and per and vri transcript levels, suggesting that shibire-dependent signaling extends to peripheral clocks. The level of nuclear CLK, transcriptional activator of many core clock genes, is also reduced in shits1 flies, and Clk overexpression suppresses the period-altering effects of shits1. We propose that membrane protein turnover through endocytic regulation of PKA pathways modulates the core clock by altering CLK levels and/or activity. These results suggest an important role for membrane scission in setting circadian period.

Genetic Structures of Copy Number Variants Revealed by Genotyping Single Sperm:

Copy number variants (CNVs) occupy a significant portion of the human genome and may have important roles in meiotic recombination, human genome evolution and gene expression. Many genetic diseases may be underlain by CNVs. However, because of the presence of their multiple copies, variability in copy numbers and the diploidy of the human genome, detailed genetic structure of CNVs cannot be readily studied by available techniques. Single sperm samples were used as the primary subjects for the study so that CNV haplotypes in the sperm donors could be studied individually. Forty-eight CNVs characterized in a previous study were analyzed using a microarray-based high-throughput genotyping method after multiplex amplification. Seventeen single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were also included as controls. Two single-base variants, either allelic or paralogous, could be discriminated for all markers. Microarray data were used to resolve SNP alleles and CNV haplotypes, to quantitatively assess the numbers and compositions of the paralogous segments in each CNV haplotype. This is the first study of the genetic structure of CNVs on a large scale. Resulting information may help understand evolution of the human genome, gain insight into many genetic processes, and discriminate between CNVs and SNPs. The highly sensitive high-throughput experimental system with haploid sperm samples as subjects may be used to facilitate detailed large-scale CNV analysis.

Doom and Boom on a Resilient Reef: Climate Change, Algal Overgrowth and Coral Recovery:

Coral reefs around the world are experiencing large-scale degradation, largely due to global climate change, overfishing, diseases and eutrophication. Climate change models suggest increasing frequency and severity of warming-induced coral bleaching events, with consequent increases in coral mortality and algal overgrowth. Critically, the recovery of damaged reefs will depend on the reversibility of seaweed blooms, generally considered to depend on grazing of the seaweed, and replenishment of corals by larvae that successfully recruit to damaged reefs. These processes usually take years to decades to bring a reef back to coral dominance. In 2006, mass bleaching of corals on inshore reefs of the Great Barrier Reef caused high coral mortality. Here we show that this coral mortality was followed by an unprecedented bloom of a single species of unpalatable seaweed (Lobophora variegata), colonizing dead coral skeletons, but that corals on these reefs recovered dramatically, in less than a year. Unexpectedly, this rapid reversal did not involve reestablishment of corals by recruitment of coral larvae, as often assumed, but depended on several ecological mechanisms previously underestimated. These mechanisms of ecological recovery included rapid regeneration rates of remnant coral tissue, very high competitive ability of the corals allowing them to out-compete the seaweed, a natural seasonal decline in the particular species of dominant seaweed, and an effective marine protected area system. Our study provides a key example of the doom and boom of a highly resilient reef, and new insights into the variability and mechanisms of reef resilience under rapid climate change.

The Ordered Extension of Pseudopodia by Amoeboid Cells in the Absence of External Cues:

Eukaryotic cells extend pseudopodia for movement. In the absence of external cues, cells move in random directions, but with a strong element of persistence that keeps them moving in the same direction Persistence allows cells to disperse over larger areas and is instrumental to enter new environments where spatial cues can lead the cell. Here we explore cell movement by analyzing the direction, size and timing of ~2000 pseudopodia that are extended by Dictyostelium cells. The results show that pseudpopod are extended perpendicular to the surface curvature at the place where they emerge. The location of new pseudopods is not random but highly ordered. Two types of pseudopodia may be formed: frequent splitting of an existing pseudopod, or the occasional extension of a de novo pseudopod at regions devoid of recent pseudopod activity. Split-pseudopodia are extended at ~60 degrees relative to the previous pseudopod, mostly as alternating Right/Left/Right steps leading to relatively straight zigzag runs. De novo pseudopodia are extended in nearly random directions thereby interrupting the zigzag runs. Persistence of cell movement is based on the ratio of split versus de novo pseudopodia. We identify PLA2 and cGMP signaling pathways that modulate this ratio of splitting and de novo pseudopodia, and thereby regulate the dispersal of cells. The observed ordered extension of pseudopodia in the absence of external cues provides a fundamental insight into the coordinated movement of cells, and might form the basis for movement that is directed by internal or external cues.

Auditory-Visual Object Recognition Time Suggests Specific Processing for Animal Sounds:

Recognizing an object requires binding together several cues, which may be distributed across different sensory modalities, and ignoring competing information originating from other objects. In addition, knowledge of the semantic category of an object is fundamental to determine how we should react to it. Here we investigate the role of semantic categories in the processing of auditory-visual objects. We used an auditory-visual object-recognition task (go/no-go paradigm). We compared recognition times for two categories: a biologically relevant one (animals) and a non-biologically relevant one (means of transport). Participants were asked to react as fast as possible to target objects, presented in the visual and/or the auditory modality, and to withhold their response for distractor objects. A first main finding was that, when participants were presented with unimodal or bimodal congruent stimuli (an image and a sound from the same object), similar reaction times were observed for all object categories. Thus, there was no advantage in the speed of recognition for biologically relevant compared to non-biologically relevant objects. A second finding was that, in the presence of a biologically relevant auditory distractor, the processing of a target object was slowed down, whether or not it was itself biologically relevant. It seems impossible to effectively ignore an animal sound, even when it is irrelevant to the task. These results suggest a specific and mandatory processing of animal sounds, possibly due to phylogenetic memory and consistent with the idea that hearing is particularly efficient as an alerting sense. They also highlight the importance of taking into account the auditory modality when investigating the way object concepts of biologically relevant categories are stored and retrieved.

Assessing Biofuel Crop Invasiveness: A Case Study:

There is widespread interest in biofuel crops as a solution to the world’s energy needs, particularly in light of concerns over greenhouse-gas emissions. Despite reservations about their adverse environmental impacts, no attempt has been made to quantify actual, relative or potential invasiveness of terrestrial biofuel crops at an appropriate regional or international scale, and their planting continues to be largely unregulated. Using a widely accepted weed risk assessment system, we analyzed a comprehensive list of regionally suitable biofuel crops to show that seventy percent have a high risk of becoming invasive versus one-quarter of non-biofuel plant species and are two to four times more likely to establish wild populations locally or be invasive in Hawaii or in other locations with a similar climate. Because of climatic and ecological similarities, predictions of biofuel crop invasiveness in Hawaii are applicable to other vulnerable island and subtropical ecosystems worldwide. We demonstrate the utility of an accessible and scientifically proven risk assessment protocol that allows users to predict if introduced species will become invasive in their region of interest. Other evidence supports the contention that propagule pressure created by extensive plantings will exacerbate invasions, a scenario expected with large-scale biofuel crop cultivation. Proactive measures, such as risk assessments, should be employed to predict invasion risks, which could then be mitigated via implementation of appropriate planting policies and adoption of the “polluter-pays” principle.

Consumers Control Diversity and Functioning of a Natural Marine Ecosystem:

Our understanding of the functional consequences of changes in biodiversity has been hampered by several limitations of previous work, including limited attention to trophic interactions, a focus on species richness rather than evenness, and the use of artificially assembled communities. In this study, we manipulated the density of an herbivorous snail in natural tide pools and allowed seaweed communities to assemble in an ecologically relevant and non-random manner. Seaweed species evenness and biomass-specific primary productivity (mg O2 h−1 g−1) were higher in tide pools with snails because snails preferentially consumed an otherwise dominant seaweed species that can reduce biomass-specific productivity rates of algal assemblages. Although snails reduced overall seaweed biomass in tide pools, they did not affect gross primary productivity at the scale of tide pools (mg O2 h−1 pool−1 or mg O2 h−1 m−2) because of the enhanced biomass-specific productivity associated with grazer-mediated increases in algal evenness. Our results suggest that increased attention to trophic interactions, diversity measures other than richness, and particularly the effects of consumers on evenness and primary productivity, will improve our understanding of the relationship between diversity and ecosystem functioning and allow more effective links between experimental results and real-world changes in biodiversity.

One response to “New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

  1. shits1? *snicker* Yes, I’m 12.
    But it wasn’t me who named the damn thing…