A scientifically literate society is one that can make educated, informed decisions based on the best available evidence. While much of the public harbors a basic interest in science and education, there is still a need to increase and improve efforts to educate and engage with the public about science. In one such effort to strengthen the public’s connection to science, researchers with the Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum) in Berlin encouraged museum visitors to participate in the naming of a new species of wasp found in Thailand. This call was met with keen interest, and the researchers shared their experience with us in a recently published PLOS ONE paper.
This previously undescribed red and black wasp belongs to a group of ant-mimicking cockroach hunters with extraordinary predation techniques. When one of these wasps finds a cockroach that looks tasty, the wasp stings it, stopping the cockroach’s normal escape response without paralyzing its legs, and leaving it in a surprisingly cooperative, docile state. The wasp then leads the complacent cockroach by one antenna back to a location of its choosing, often where it has lain eggs. The cockroach willingly marches to its doom, saving the wasp a lot of heavy lifting. At their final destination, the cockroach becomes a hearty meal that the wasp enjoys from the comfort of home.
With all of this information about the wasp in hand, as well as access to information about taxonomy rules and principles, visitors were given ballots with four potential wasp names from which to choose (no write-ins, as species names need to follow certain conventions):
Over 90% of the 300 ballots given out were returned, and the winning name was Ampulex dementor. Apart from formally describing a new species, the authors of the paper note that the naming activity was well-received and seemed to be an appropriate way to educate the public about taxonomic work and the process of classification of species. At least initially, crowd-sourcing may seem more appealing and democratic to the public than some of the other ways to go about naming species:
Citation: Ohl M, Lohrmann V, Breitkreuz L, Kirschey L, Krause S (2014) The Soul-Sucking Wasp by Popular Acclaim – Museum Visitor Participation in Biodiversity Discovery and Taxonomy. PLoS ONE 9(4): e95068. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095068
Images: Images are from Figures 1 and 2 of the published paper
The post Poll the Audience: Crowd-sourcing the Name of a New Species of Wasp appeared first on EveryONE.
Rock lizards, pigment producing fungus, eagle rays, ant garden parasites, and Antarctic sea anemones: new species are discovered all the time and there are likely still millions that we simply haven’t yet discovered or assessed. Species are identified by researchers using a range of criteria including DNA, appearance, and habitat. PLOS ONE typically publishes several new species articles every month, and below we are pleased to help introduce five that were discovered in 2013.
Thought previously to consist of only three species, this group of lizards are now seven distinct species. They appear very similar to one another, making it difficult to tell which characteristics define different species, and which are just variations present in the same species. They also have a variety of habitats, from trees to rocky outcrops, and the genus is widespread. Iranian, German, and Portuguese scientists used genetic variation and habitat to help describe four new species of Iranian rock lizards, Darevskia caspica, D. Kamii, D. kopetdaghica, and D. schaekeli. These techniques, in addition to analysis of the the lizards’ physical features, as in the photo of the four new species’ heads at the top of this page, helped to identify them definitively.
Found in soil, indoor environments, and fruit, Talaromyces atroroseus produces a red pigment that might be good for manufacturing purposes, especially in food. Some other species of this type of fungus produce red pigments, but they are not always as useful because they can also produce toxins. T. atroroseus produces a stable red pigment with no known toxins, making it safer for human use, according to the Dutch and Danish researchers who identified it.
Fish, like rays and sharks, are at high risk for extinction as a group, but as rare as they are, they can be plentiful enough in some locations to make them undesirable to locals. The discovery of the Naru eagle ray, Aetobatus narutobiei, splits a previously defined species, A. flagellum, that, due to its shellfish-eating habits, is considered a pest and culled in southern Japan. The discovery by Australian and Japanese scientists that this species is actually two species prompted the authors to encourage a reassessment of the conservation status of the rays.
In the Brazilian rainforest of Minas Gerais, leafcutter ants cultivate fungus, their primary source of food, on harvested leaf clippings. But scientists from Brazil, United Kingdom, and The Netherlands have discovered that their food source is threatened by four newly identified mycoparasites, Escovopsis lentecrescens, E. microspora, E. moellieri, and Escovopsioides nivea. The parasites grow like weeds in the ants’ gardens, crowding out more desirable fungus used for food. Unfortunately for the ants, researchers expect there are many similar unidentified species yet to be discovered.
Living on the previously undocumented ecosystem of the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, American researchers discovered the first species of sea anemone known to live in ice, Edwardsiella andrillae. Fields of anemone were discovered using a scientist-driven remote-controlled submersible. The anemone burrows and lives within the ice and dangles a tentacle into the water beneath, almost as if it is dipping a toe in the water to test the chilly temperature.
Look here to read more about new species.
Ahmadzadeh F, Flecks M, Carretero MA, Mozaffari O, Böhme W, et al. (2013) Cryptic Speciation Patterns in Iranian Rock Lizards Uncovered by Integrative Taxonomy. PLoS ONE 8(12): e80563. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080563
Frisvad JC, Yilmaz N, Thrane U, Rasmussen KB, Houbraken J, et al. (2013)Talaromyces atroroseus, a New Species Efficiently Producing Industrially Relevant Red Pigments. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84102. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084102
White WT, Furumitsu K, Yamaguchi A (2013) A New Species of Eagle RayAetobatus narutobiei from the Northwest Pacific: An Example of the Critical Role Taxonomy Plays in Fisheries and Ecological Sciences. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83785. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083785
Augustin JO, Groenewald JZ, Nascimento RJ, Mizubuti ESG, Barreto RW, et al. (2013) Yet More “Weeds” in the Garden: Fungal Novelties from Nests of Leaf-Cutting Ants. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82265. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082265
Daly M, Rack F, Zook R (2013) Edwardsiella andrillae, a New Species of Sea Anemone from Antarctic Ice. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83476. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083476
Figures are all from their respective articles.
Sea lions, otters, humpback whales and harbor seals are familiar sights to most native Californians today, but the waters off this coastline once harbored a much stranger fauna: giant bony-toothed birds, sharks the size of whales, flightless penguin-like auks, sea cows and giant predatory sperm whales.
Several species of walruses also lived among these animals, but only one survived to the present-day. Robert Boessenecker, author of a paper published in PLOS ONE today, explains what one rare fossil of an extinct walrus reveals about life on Sharkstooth Hill about 15 million years ago:
How did you become interested in studying extinct walruses?
I was always interested in paleontology as a kid, but where I grew up in California, there aren’t any dinosaurs – so I went out collecting shark teeth in high school. As an undergraduate, my adviser encouraged me to start a field-based research project, so I began studying fossil sharks, birds, and marine mammals from the San Francisco region. This turned me on to marine mammal paleontology in general, and I started looking at fossil walruses from other areas in California and Oregon.
What was previously known about the extinct walrus Pelagiarctos?
Pelagiarctos, and close relatives – probably looked a bit more like a sea lion than the modern walrus, as they lacked long tusks.
The first fossils of Pelagiarctos included just the “chin” end of the jaw, and a handful of large teeth, and were discovered in the 1980′s at the famous Sharktooth Hill fossil site near Bakersfield, California. The jaw fragment is very large and the two jawbones were fused at the chin – like humans, but not typical for pinnipeds. The large teeth are somewhat similar to those of terrestrial “bone-cracking” carnivores like hyenas, and so Pelagiarctos was interpreted as an apex predator that was adapted to feed upon warm blooded prey, perhaps including smaller pinnipeds and marine birds, in addition to the typical pinniped diet of fish. The large size and fusion of the lower jaws also suggested that Pelagiarctos could produce a large bite force – also pointing towards it being an apex predator, or “killer walrus” if you will.
Lastly, fossils of Pelagiarctos are extremely rare. Although there are hundreds of specimens of other pinnipeds from Sharktooth Hill – there are only seven known specimens of Pelagiarctos from that site.
In your paper, you describe the discovery of a new jaw bone with teeth. What did this reveal about this walrus’ feeding habits?
The discovery of a more complete specimen allowed us to test the hypothesis that Pelagiarctos was a “killer walrus”. When we examined the new specimen and the original fossils, we found that the teeth really weren’t that sharp at all – in fact, the teeth looked like scaled up versions of the teeth of a much smaller sea lion. This told us that the tooth shape is really just a consequence of Pelagiarctos retaining primitive teeth, rather than being a feeding adaptation.
What about body size? My coauthor, Morgan Churchill, developed a method to reconstruct body size of fossil pinnipeds based on the size of the lower jaw. As mentioned already, Pelagiarctos was indeed large, about the size of large male sea lions. However, when you try to correlate the weight of modern pinnipeds with what they eat , there isn’t really any distinct trend. This is because most modern pinnipeds are generalists, and tend to eat fish, squid, and even krill and mollusks. Even the modern walrus, a mollusk specialist and an exception to the generalist ‘rule’ occasionally kills and eats marine birds and even other pinnipeds. The only pinniped to regularly hunt warm blooded prey – the leopard seal – spends a good deal of the year feeding on krill.
These alternative interpretations and observations – combined with the lack of feeding adaptations, suggests Pelagiarctos was also a generalist fish eater rather than a “killer walrus” that only hunted marine birds and warm blooded prey.
Does this tell us anything about the walruses that exist today?
This new find and reinterpretation of Pelagiarctos as a fish-eater gives us a slightly more accurate picture of the evolutionary background of the modern walrus. Right now, there is only one modern walrus species but back then, walruses were a very diverse group. Many of these other extinct walruses had strange adaptations – such as the development of upper and lower tusks, gigantic body size, ultradense bones, unusually short forelimbs, and even the loss of all teeth aside from tusks. The myriad types of extinct walruses – Pelagiarctos included – beautifully demonstrate the often convoluted path that evolution can take.
What is the most important aspect of your results?
Pelagiarctos lived roughly 15-18 million years ago; this period is also referred to as the “middle Miocene Climatic Optimum”, and global temperatures increased for a little while. After the optimum, the earth began to cool again.
Any information we can get that improves our knowledge of extinct marine mammal food webs – especially during times of climatic change – is a step forward towards putting together a “deep time” context for understanding modern marine mammal ecology.
Read more about this fossil at the author’s blog.
Image: Artist’s restoration of Pelagiarctos, Robert Boessenecker
Citation: Boessenecker RW, Churchill M (2013) A Reevaluation of the Morphology, Paleoecology, and Phylogenetic Relationships of the Enigmatic Walrus Pelagiarctos. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54311. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054311
In this round-up, we would like to share with you some of the PLOS ONE articles covered by the media in 2012. Over one thousand papers published in PLOS ONE were covered in the news! Exciting as it is to see the wide coverage all these papers received, this made it difficult to narrow down the list below to just a few. Some of the papers the media found newsworthy are listed below (in no particular order).
The study “The Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Arabica Coffee (Coffea arabica): Predicting Future Trends and Identifying Priorities” suggests that climate change threatens the growing conditions for wild coffee varieties, and could potentially damage the global production of coffee within the next century. Read coverage of this research in the French Tribune, Scientific American or BBC News as you sip your next precious cup.
In November, three papers reported on different aspects of children’s health. The study, “Fetal Alcohol Exposure and IQ at Age 8: Evidence from a Population-Based Birth-Cohort Study” , covered by New Scientist and Wired, reports that consuming even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can reduce a child’s IQ. Yawning in the womb at 24-36 weeks of age may be a sign of healthy fetal development, according to the study “Development of Fetal Yawn Compared with Non-Yawn Mouth Openings from 24–36 Weeks Gestation”, which received coverage from the Guardian, Fox News and io9. Researchers describe a test to estimate a newborn’s risk for childhood obesity in the paper “Estimation of Newborn Risk for Child or Adolescent Obesity: Lessons from Longitudinal Birth Cohorts”. The Boston Globe, TIME and Mother Nature Network reported on this study.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the study “High Phobic Anxiety Is Related to Lower Leukocyte Telomere Length in Women” reported on the effects of anxiety on the ageing process. The researchers report that women who suffer from a chronic psychological distress called phobic anxiety have shorter telomeres in their blood cells, a change in DNA structure that is linked to faster ageing. This study received coverage from the Scientific American blogs, Huffington Post and CBS News.
Several other papers that reveal how we (and our bodies) respond to stress grabbed media attention also. In the study, “Overtime Work as a Predictor of Major Depressive Episode: A 5-Year Follow-Up of the Whitehall II Study” , researchers found that people who work over 11 hours a day had double the risk of depression compared to employees who worked 7-8 hours per day. Read the coverage of this study from the Herald Sun and the New York Times blogs. Spending too much time online can lead to internet addiction disorder (IAD) in teenagers, and this was linked to changes in the structure of the brain in the paper “Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study”. The Wall Street Journal, Mashable and other media outlets covered this research.
Results of the study “When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math” suggest that the anticipation of math problems can be physically painful to those who suffer from math anxiety. The study was covered by several news outlets including National Geographic, ArsTechnica and The Atlantic. And all this stress may affect how we perceive the other sex. Stressed-out men are likely to find larger women more attractive physically, reports the paper “The Impact of Psychological Stress on Men’s Judgements of Female Body Size”. This research was covered by The Daily Show, Le Monde and Jezebel.
Is this blog post getting too stressful? Relax with these cute puppies! As it turns out, viewing cute images like this one can improve concentration as reported in the paper “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus” . This research had media outlets including Forbes, the LA Times and Cosmopolitan reaching to publish the cutest animal photos with their reports.
And if you’re still looking for cute animals, look no further. Three new animal species described in PLOS ONE papers this year have your adorable animal needs covered. The lesula, a new monkey species was described in the study “Lesula: A New Species of Cercopithecus Monkey Endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Implications for Conservation of Congo’s Central Basin”, four new species of chameleons small enough to fit on a fingernail were discovered in Madagascar, according to “Rivaling the World’s Smallest Reptiles: Discovery of Miniaturized and Microendemic New Species of Leaf Chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar” and a study published in January leads this menagerie of adorable animals, as it reports on the world’s tiniest frog. _ is small enough to fit on a nickel CK, and is described in the paper “Ecological Guild Evolution and the Discovery of the World’s Smallest Vertebrate”. Hundreds of media outlets across the world featured stories about these new species, including the New York Times, Reuters, Science Now and even The Onion.
To round things off, researchers watching animals from space identified new colonies of emperor penguins in the Antarctic. Their results were published in the study “An Emperor Penguin Population Estimate: The First Global, Synoptic Survey of a Species from Space”, which was covered by The Scientist, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today.
These papers are only a small fraction of more than a thousand that were covered by the media. Visit our Media Tracking Project to see the full list of over 7000 news stories that reported on PLOS ONE research published in 2012. Or follow us on YouTube, SoundCloud and Twitter to keep track of some of the great science multimedia we’ve published this year!
The International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the body that regulates animal species names, took a big step earlier this week when it announced that electronic publication of a new species name is now sufficient to make that name official.
Prior to the announcement, the ICZN code stated that a new species name only became official once it was printed. The stipulation was intended to ensure that records of species names were securely archived and would remain accessible over the long term, but for an online-only publisher like PLOS, it meant that we had to print and store physical copies of each paper describing a new species in addition to our standard online publication. To put this in perspective, PLOS ONE published 25 papers presenting new animal species in 2011, and has already published 32 in 2012, including the tiny Brookesia chameleons pictured at the top of this post, so this additional printing and archiving is not trivial.
Now, though, the Commission has decided to adjust their standards in response to today’s increasingly electronic environment. According to the ICZN press release about the updated rules, the change “is intended to speed the process of publishing biodiversity information, to improve access to this information, and to help reduce the ‘taxonomic impediment’ that hinders our cataloguing of the living world.”
It won’t be a free-for-all: new species names must be published in journals or books with ISSNs or ISBNs, so purely web options like blogs or Wikipedia are not sufficient, and before publication authors must register their name with ZooBank, the official ICZN online registry for scientific names of animals. Overall, though, the hope is to reduce the barriers to proper nomenclature monitoring and archiving. The updated code is also in line with similar recent changes to the regulations for naming new botanical species.
The update is part of a broader discussion around how to ensure long-term reliability and durability for any type of electronic records, and while this problem may not yet be robustly solved, we at PLOS ONE applaud the ICZN’s efforts to address the changing needs of today’s scientists.
Image citation: Glaw F, Köhler J, Townsend TM, Vences M (2012) Rivaling the World’s Smallest Reptiles: Discovery of Miniaturized and Microendemic New Species of Leaf Chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31314. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031314