New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 22 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, Mendeley, 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:
Playing Charades in the fMRI: Are Mirror and/or Mentalizing Areas Involved in Gestural Communication?:

Communication is an important aspect of human life, allowing us to powerfully coordinate our behaviour with that of others. Boiled down to its mere essentials, communication entails transferring a mental content from one brain to another. Spoken language obviously plays an important role in communication between human individuals. Manual gestures however often aid the semantic interpretation of the spoken message, and gestures may have played a central role in the earlier evolution of communication. Here we used the social game of charades to investigate the neural basis of gestural communication by having participants produce and interpret meaningful gestures while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging. While participants decoded observed gestures, the putative mirror neuron system (pMNS: premotor, parietal and posterior mid-temporal cortex), associated with motor simulation, and the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), associated with mentalizing and agency attribution, were significantly recruited. Of these areas only the pMNS was recruited during the production of gestures. This suggests that gestural communication relies on a combination of simulation and, during decoding, mentalizing/agency attribution brain areas. Comparing the decoding of gestures with a condition in which participants viewed the same gestures with an instruction not to interpret the gestures showed that although parts of the pMNS responded more strongly during active decoding, most of the pMNS and the TPJ did not show such significant task effects. This suggests that the mere observation of gestures recruits most of the system involved in voluntary interpretation.

Integrating Economic Costs and Biological Traits into Global Conservation Priorities for Carnivores:

Prioritization schemes usually highlight species-rich areas, where many species are at imminent risk of extinction. To be ecologically relevant these schemes should also include species biological traits into area-setting methods. Furthermore, in a world of limited funds for conservation, conservation action is constrained by land acquisition costs. Hence, including economic costs into conservation priorities can substantially improve their conservation cost-effectiveness. We examined four global conservation scenarios for carnivores based on the joint mapping of economic costs and species biological traits. These scenarios identify the most cost-effective priority sets of ecoregions, indicating best investment opportunities for safeguarding every carnivore species, and also establish priority sets that can maximize species representation in areas harboring highly vulnerable species. We compared these results with a scenario that minimizes the total number of ecoregions required for conserving all species, irrespective of other factors. We found that cost-effective conservation investments should focus on 41 ecoregions highlighted in the scenario that consider simultaneously both ecoregion vulnerability and economic costs of land acquisition. Ecoregions included in priority sets under these criteria should yield best returns of investments since they harbor species with high extinction risk and have lower mean land cost. Our study highlights ecoregions of particular importance for the conservation of the world’s carnivores defining global conservation priorities in analyses that encompass socioeconomic and life-history factors. We consider the identification of a comprehensive priority-set of areas as a first step towards an in-situ biodiversity maintenance strategy.

Social Transmission of Avoidance Behavior under Situational Change in Learned and Unlearned Rats:

Rats receive information from other conspecifics by observation or other types of social interaction. Such social interaction may contribute to the effective adaptation to changes of environment such as situational switching. Learning to avoid dangerous places or objects rapidly occurs with even a single conditioning session, and the conditioned memory tends to be sustained over long periods. The avoidance is important for adaptation, but the details of the conditions under which the social transmission of avoidance is formed are unknown. We demonstrate that the previous experience of avoidance learning is important for the formation of behaviors for social transmission of avoidance and that the experienced rats adapt to a change of situation determined by the presence or absence of aversive stimuli. We systematically investigated social influence on avoidance behavior using a passive avoidance test in a light/dark two-compartment apparatus. Rats were divided into two groups, one receiving foot shocks and another with no aversive experience in a dark compartment. Experienced and inexperienced rats were further divided into subjects and partners. In Experiment 1, each subject experienced (1) interaction with an experienced partner, (2) interaction with an inexperienced partner, or (3) no interaction. In Experiment 2, each subject experienced interaction with a partner that received a shock. The entering latency to a light compartment was measured. The avoidance behavior of experienced rats was inhibited by interaction with inexperienced or experienced partners in a safely-changed situation. The avoidance of experienced rats was reinstated in a dangerously-changed situation by interaction with shocked rats. In contrast, the inexperienced rats were not affected by any social circumstances. These results suggest that transmitted information among rats can be updated under a situational change and that the previous experience is crucial for social enhancement and inhibition of avoidance behavior in rats.

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