New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 22 new articles in PLoS ONE today. I think these are the most interesting (to me) and perhaps most bloggable:


High Natality Rates of Endangered Steller Sea Lions in Kenai Fjords, Alaska and Perceptions of Population Status in the Gulf of Alaska:

Steller sea lions experienced a dramatic population collapse of more than 80% in the late 1970s through the 1990s across their western range in Alaska. One of several competing hypotheses about the cause holds that reduced female reproductive rates (natality) substantively contributed to the decline and continue to limit recovery in the Gulf of Alaska despite the fact that there have been very few attempts to directly measure natality in this species. We conducted a longitudinal study of natality among individual Steller sea lions (n = 151) at a rookery and nearby haulouts in Kenai Fjords, Gulf of Alaska during 2003-2009. Multi-state models were built and tested in Program MARK to estimate survival, resighting, and state transition probabilities dependent on whether or not a female gave birth in the previous year. The models that most closely fit the data suggested that females which gave birth had a higher probability of surviving and giving birth in the following year compared to females that did not give birth, indicating some females are more fit than others. Natality, estimated at 69%, was similar to natality for Steller sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska prior to their decline (67%) and much greater than the published estimate for the 2000s (43%) which was hypothesized from an inferential population dynamic model. Reasons for the disparity are discussed, and could be resolved by additional longitudinal estimates of natality at this and other rookeries over changing ocean climate regimes. Such estimates would provide an appropriate assessment of a key parameter of population dynamics in this endangered species which has heretofore been lacking. Without support for depressed natality as the explanation for a lack of recovery of Steller sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska, alternative hypotheses must be more seriously considered.

Editorial Peer Reviewers’ Recommendations at a General Medical Journal: Are They Reliable and Do Editors Care?:

Editorial peer review is universally used but little studied. We examined the relationship between external reviewers’ recommendations and the editorial outcome of manuscripts undergoing external peer-review at the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM). We examined reviewer recommendations and editors’ decisions at JGIM between 2004 and 2008. For manuscripts undergoing peer review, we calculated chance-corrected agreement among reviewers on recommendations to reject versus accept or revise. Using mixed effects logistic regression models, we estimated intra-class correlation coefficients (ICC) at the reviewer and manuscript level. Finally, we examined the probability of rejection in relation to reviewer agreement and disagreement. The 2264 manuscripts sent for external review during the study period received 5881 reviews provided by 2916 reviewers; 28% of reviews recommended rejection. Chance corrected agreement (kappa statistic) on rejection among reviewers was 0.11 (p<.01). In mixed effects models adjusting for study year and manuscript type, the reviewer-level ICC was 0.23 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.19-0.29) and the manuscript-level ICC was 0.17 (95% CI, 0.12-0.22). The editors' overall rejection rate was 48%: 88% when all reviewers for a manuscript agreed on rejection (7% of manuscripts) and 20% when all reviewers agreed that the manuscript should not be rejected (48% of manuscripts) (p<0.01). Reviewers at JGIM agreed on recommendations to reject vs. accept/revise at levels barely beyond chance, yet editors placed considerable weight on reviewers' recommendations. Efforts are needed to improve the reliability of the peer-review process while helping editors understand the limitations of reviewers' recommendations.

Efficient and Exact Sampling of Simple Graphs with Given Arbitrary Degree Sequence:

Uniform sampling from graphical realizations of a given degree sequence is a fundamental component in simulation-based measurements of network observables, with applications ranging from epidemics, through social networks to Internet modeling. Existing graph sampling methods are either link-swap based (Markov-Chain Monte Carlo algorithms) or stub-matching based (the Configuration Model). Both types are ill-controlled, with typically unknown mixing times for link-swap methods and uncontrolled rejections for the Configuration Model. Here we propose an efficient, polynomial time algorithm that generates statistically independent graph samples with a given, arbitrary, degree sequence. The algorithm provides a weight associated with each sample, allowing the observable to be measured either uniformly over the graph ensemble, or, alternatively, with a desired distribution. Unlike other algorithms, this method always produces a sample, without back-tracking or rejections. Using a central limit theorem-based reasoning, we argue, that for large , and for degree sequences admitting many realizations, the sample weights are expected to have a lognormal distribution. As examples, we apply our algorithm to generate networks with degree sequences drawn from power-law distributions and from binomial distributions.

Reciprocal Subsidies and Food Web Pathways Leading to Chum Salmon Fry in a Temperate Marine-Terrestrial Ecotone:

Stable isotope analysis was used to determine the relative proportions of terrestrial and marine subsidies of carbon to invertebrates along a tidal gradient (low-intertidal, mid-intertidal, high-intertidal, supralittoral) and to determine the relative importance of terrestrial carbon in food web pathways leading to chum salmon fry Oncorhynchus keta (Walbaum) in Howe Sound, British Columbia. We found a clear gradient in the proportion of terrestrially derived carbon along the tidal gradient ranging from 68% across all invertebrate taxa in the supralittoral to 25% in the high-intertidal, 20% in the mid-intertidal, and 12% in the low-intertidal. Stable isotope values of chum salmon fry indicated carbon contributions from both terrestrial and marine sources, with terrestrially derived carbon ranging from 12.8 to 61.5% in the muscle tissue of chum salmon fry (mean 30%). Our results provide evidence for reciprocal subsidies of marine and terrestrially derived carbon on beaches in the estuary and suggest that the vegetated supralittoral is an important trophic link in supplying terrestrial carbon to nearshore food webs.

The Loss of Species: Mangrove Extinction Risk and Geographic Areas of Global Concern:

Mangrove species are uniquely adapted to tropical and subtropical coasts, and although relatively low in number of species, mangrove forests provide at least US $1.6 billion each year in ecosystem services and support coastal livelihoods worldwide. Globally, mangrove areas are declining rapidly as they are cleared for coastal development and aquaculture and logged for timber and fuel production. Little is known about the effects of mangrove area loss on individual mangrove species and local or regional populations. To address this gap, species-specific information on global distribution, population status, life history traits, and major threats were compiled for each of the 70 known species of mangroves. Each species’ probability of extinction was assessed under the Categories and Criteria of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Eleven of the 70 mangrove species (16%) are at elevated threat of extinction. Particular areas of geographical concern include the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Central America, where as many as 40% of mangroves species present are threatened with extinction. Across the globe, mangrove species found primarily in the high intertidal and upstream estuarine zones, which often have specific freshwater requirements and patchy distributions, are the most threatened because they are often the first cleared for development of aquaculture and agriculture. The loss of mangrove species will have devastating economic and environmental consequences for coastal communities, especially in those areas with low mangrove diversity and high mangrove area or species loss. Several species at high risk of extinction may disappear well before the next decade if existing protective measures are not enforced.

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