Unlikely Critters Found in Avocado Orchards

journal.pone.0068025.g002Wildlife isn’t always restricted to wild spaces.

Avocado orchards and other agricultural landscapes also buzz with species that forage and reproduce in these spaces. Birds and herbivores are able to find food and shelter in these cultivated areas, but what about carnivores?  In a study published this week in PLOS ONE, researchers at the University of Washington have discovered that mammalian carnivores also occupy avocado orchards in southern California.

The authors used motion-activated cameras to observe animals in orchards and in adjacent wild lands in Santa Barbara and Ventura.  Avocado orchards were of particular interest due to their location near native vegetation.

Through their investigation, the researchers detected more carnivores in the avocado orchards than in neighboring wild land sites. At least 7 out of the 11 native carnivores in the area were spotted roaming the orchards, including coyotes, gray foxes and bobcats.3561367265_093313316f

Having delicious avocados handy may explain why some omnivores such as bears and raccoons are present in the area, however, little is known about why animals like bobcats and mountain lions might leave their wild habitat for cultivated land. One possibility is that the orchards provide water and fruits for herbivores, and an increased herbivore population could translate to more prey for the carnivores. The orchards may also serve as shelter, offering forest cover similar to oak woodlands in the area.

These native species cannot always persist in protected reserves, so it is important to learn how cultivated lands can serve their lifestyle and behaviors. The carnivores may not be searching for the perfect guacamole ingredient; however there is no doubt that the avocado orchards are serving as a habitat for a wide range of species.

Citation: Nogeire TM, Davis FW, Duggan JM, Crooks KR, Boydston EE (2013) Carnivore Use of Avocado Orchards across an Agricultural-Wildland Gradient. PLoS ONE 8(7): e68025. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068025

Image 1: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068025

Image 2: Image on Flickr by Graeme Churchard

Science for Marathon Monday

Update: On Monday afternoon at 2:56pm, two explosions occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In light of these events, PLOS ONE would like to express our deepest sympathies for the victims and families affected by this tragedy.

 

Still procrastinating on those tax returns? If you have finally filed and are looking to blow off some steam, maybe a 26.2 mile run will do the trick! Today on April 15th, over 27 thousand people will lace up their sneakers, warm up their muscles and prepare for one of the world’s oldest races, the Boston Marathon.

Vasque Mindbenders after a muddy trail run in the hills of Griffith Park.  (c) 2011 Geoff CordnerThe very first Boston Marathon was held in 1897 and was then known as the B.A.A. Road Race. Originally 24.5 miles in length, the race was extended to 26.2 miles in 1924 to conform to the Olympic standard. Since that first race day which featured 15 runners, the marathon has grown immensely, with 26 thousand people participating last year.

In honor of the 117th marathon or whatever race you may be running today, here are some recently published articles featuring the sport:

In a paper published this February, researchers have determined the cause of runners fatigue during a marathon in warm weather. These authors recruited 40 amateur runners to test their fatigue and measure their pace during the race. Through their analysis, the authors found that participants who felt the greatest fatigue had elevated levels of blood markers of muscle breakdown. There is still further research to be done to find if this muscle damage is due to mechanistic or metabolic factors.

But what effect does warm weather have on a marathon? In another recent article, authors investigated whether climate change has affected the winning times of the Boston Marathon.  The authors found the temperatures between 1933 and 2004 did not consistently slow winning times on race day. However, the analysis also indicated that if temperatures warmed by 0.058°C a year, we would have a 95% chance of detecting a slowing of winning marathon times by 2100. And if average race day temperatures had warmed by 0.028°C a year (a mid-range estimate) we would have a 64% chance of detecting a decline in winning timings by 2100.

This analysis gives us some insight on how running may change in the future, but have you ever wondered what the sport was like 30,000 years ago? Unlike current shoe wearing athletes, our ancestors were barefoot runners and so are other modern human populations, including the Daasanach. In an article published this year, researchers have investigated the foot strike patterns among barefoot runners in northern Kenya. Data was collected from 38 adults, who ran at their own speed and distance. The authors found that not all the barefoot runners landed on their fore- or mid foot, but the majority landed on their heels first. This observation dismisses the original hypothesis that the barefoot runners would land on the fore-or mid foot, and suggests that there may be a number of other factors which influence foot strike patterns.

Whether you are ready to take your mark, or getting set to file those taxes, visit our site here for more papers on the topic.

 

Citations:

Citation: Del Coso J, Fernández D, Abián-Vicen J, Salinero JJ, González-Millán C, et al. (2013) Running Pace Decrease during a Marathon Is Positively Related to Blood Markers of Muscle Damage. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57602. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057602

Citation: Miller-Rushing AJ, Primack RB, Phillips N, Kaufmann RK (2012) Effects of Warming Temperatures on Winning Times in the Boston Marathon. PLoS ONE 7(9): e43579. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043579

Citation: Hatala KG, Dingwall HL, Wunderlich RE, Richmond BG (2013) Variation in Foot Strike Patterns during Running among Habitually Barefoot Populations. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52548. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052548

Image: on Flickr by geoff cordner

Tuberculosis: Raising Awareness Through Research

One of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases has been with us since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It has been found in thousand-year-old Egyptian mummies and is still present in millions of homes today. What is this ancient disease you may ask? Tuberculosis.

Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection in the lungs, which can spread to other organs. According to the CDC, TB is one of the most common infectious diseases in the world. And although significant progress has been made to eliminate this illness, 9 million new cases of tuberculosis were reported in 2011.

Tuberculosis is spread when an individual is exposed to a sneeze or cough of a person suffering from the disease. TB can also be contracted if someone has poor nutrition or living conditions.  In some cases, the infection can lie dormant in the body for years, and in others, it may become active and cause major complications. The primary stage of tuberculosis has no symptoms, but as the disease progresses, patients can suffer from bloody coughs, fatigue, fever and weight loss.

Ancient Roman physicians recommended treatments including bathing in human urine, eating wolf livers and drinking elephant blood. Today, though, modern medicine has found that Tuberculosis is preventable and treatable by more modern methods,  with early treatment being essential to stopping its progression.

In honor of World TB Day, observed yesterday on March 24th, here are some recently published papers from PLOS ONE on the subject:

Diabetes is a risk factor for TB, and it can also affect the severity of the infection and success of treatment. In a recent study, authors have researched the connection between diabetes, smoking and tuberculosis.  The cohort study featured patients suffering from their first episode of tuberculosis. Out of the 657 participants analyzed, diabetes was present in 25 percent, which increased the risk of death in the first 12 months after enrollment. Tobacco smoking also increased the risk of TB and caused further complications among diabetic patients.

In another recently published paper, researchers have investigated the outcome of aggressive treatments for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The patients analyzed were treated in a national outpatient program in Peru from 1999 to 2002. Participants received individualized regimens for laboratory-confirmed tuberculosis.  In this cohort examination, authors found that TB was cured in 66 percent of the patients, showing that aggressive regimens for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis can be extremely successful.

Lastly, the link between poverty and TB has been well established, but the mechanisms behind this link have not.  In a third PLOS ONE paper, authors investigated why the poor are at a greater risk for tuberculosis in India.  With data from the 2006 Demographic Health Survey, researchers analyzed incidences of TB and household economic status. They found low body mass index and air pollution may be partly responsible for the link between poverty and tuberculosis.

Further initiatives are needed to assist in the global eradication of tuberculosis. To expand your own awareness of this infectious disease, please explore additional PLOS ONE research here.

 

Citations:

Reed GW, Choi H, Lee SY, Lee M, Kim Y, et al. (2013) Impact of Diabetes and Smoking on Mortality in Tuberculosis. PLoS ONE 8(2): e58044. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058044

Mitnick CD, Franke MF, Rich ML, Alcantara Viru FA, Appleton SC, et al. (2013) Aggressive Regimens for Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis Decrease All-Cause Mortality. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58664. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058664

Oxlade O, Murray M (2012) Tuberculosis and Poverty: Why Are the Poor at Greater Risk in India? PLoS ONE 7(11): e47533. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047533

Image: By isafmedia on Flickr

Meet Vectidraco, a European pterosaur the size of a crow

Fossil records show that pterosaurs of all sizes and shapes flew through the skies of China and Central Asia about 145 to 66 million years ago. A new species of small pterosaurs described in a PLOS ONE paper reveals that western Europe may have had a similar diversity of these ancient animals. Author Darren Naish discusses the importance of the new species, named Vectidraco.

How did you begin studying dinosaurs (or pterosaurs in particular)?

Most of my research is and has been based on the Lower Cretaceous fossils that come from the Isle of Wight and elsewhere  in southern England. The rocks here are famous for their dinosaurs, but fossil crocodilians, marine reptiles like plesiosaurs and rare pterosaurs are found here too. I’ve always been interested in pterosaurs and for several years have had a special research interest in a highly peculiar pterosaur group called the azhdarchoids – I’ve been working continuously on this group since 2007 or so and have been especially interested in their ecology, functional anatomy and evolutionary relationships. The finding of a new azhdarchoid in the Lower Cretaceous rocks of the Isle of Wight thus combined several of my special interests.

Where and how did you find the new fossil described in your study?

Most Cretaceous Isle of Wight fossils come from a rock unit termed the Wealden Supergroup. The new specimen – we’ve called it Vectidraco – is from a different, younger unit called the Atherfield Clay Formation, and as such it’s (so far as we know) only the second pterosaur reported from this unit.

I should say that the discovery of Vectidraco itself is interesting in that the find was made by a young girl, Daisy Morris (aged just 5 at the time!), while she was on holiday with her family. Daisy’s family wanted this fossil to be studied and cared for properly, so they did what I and many of my colleagues would say is “the right thing” and donated it to The Natural History Museum in London. So, we only know of Vectidraco thanks to Daisy: for this reason we named it in her honour. It’s full name is Vectidraco daisymorrisae.

What was previously known about this group of flying reptiles, the azhdarchoid pterosaurs?

So far as we know right now, azhdarchoids are unique to the Cretaceous period (that is, they were alive between about 145 and 66 million years ago) and all were toothless. They’re actually a pretty diverse group of pterosaurs, with some – like the tapejarids – being relatively small, withwingspans of about 3 feet or slightly less and others – namely the azhdarchids – being gigantic, withwingspans of more than 32 feet.

Tapejarids have short, deep snouts while azhdarchids have incredibly long, pointed jaws, and other kinds of azhdarchoid were intermediate between these two groups. Particularly good azhdarchoid fossils are known from South and North America and China, but their remains have been found right across Europe, Asia and Africa too.

Working out what azhdarchoids did when they were alive has been one of the great questions about the group, but it seems that they were mostly omnivores or carnivores that lived in terrestrial environments.

The paper describes the new fossil as “small-bodied”. How much larger are other known pterosaurs of this kind usually?

Azhdarchoids span a diversity of species that range from ‘small-bodied’ all the way up to gigantic. The biggest kinds –  like the famous Quetzalcoatlus from Texas – were something like 10 feettall at the shoulder and over 450 pounds heavy while small ones, and Vectidraco is one of them, had wingspans of just 30 inches or so and would have been similar in size to crows or gulls. I would say that Vectidraco belonged to an azhdarchoid group where small size was normal and widespread, with large and even giant size evolving in other azhdarchoid lineages.

How did you determine that the new fossil belonged to the same group as these other specimens?

Vectidraco is known only from its pelvis, but even with only a pelvis to go on, we could see several features of the new specimen that made it especially azhdarchoid-like, mostly to do with the weird anatomy of the big, T-shaped bony structure that projects upwards and backwards from the rear part of the pelvis. In an effort to better test the idea that Vectidraco is an azhdarchoid, we included it in a few different phylogenetic analyses and it came out as an azhdarchoid in these too. It also has several unique features, not seen in any other pterosaurs, and for these reasons we were able to name it as a new species.

How does this discovery change what we know about this group of pterosaurs?

We’ve known for a while that small-bodied azhdarchoids lived in western Europe during the Early Cretaceous: a new species called Europejara olcadesorum was described in PLOS ONE last year. Now we’ve found that Vectidraco lived in the same region during the same period, so we’re seeing a pattern: small-bodied azhdarchoids were living alongside longer-snouted, small-bodied pterosaurs and also alongside large, toothy kinds called ornithocheiroids.

This is essentially the same kind of pterosaur community that we  see in Chinese rocks of the same age – the great difference is that the Chinese fossils are relatively numerous, and frequently preserved as complete or near-complete skeletons. In fact, one of the things that we comment on in our paper is the fact that western Europe’s pterosaur assemblage looks far less rich than that of China due to differences in the way these fossils were preserved. Chinese pterosaur and small dinosaur fossils were buried rapidly by volcanic ash and hence preserved whole, while those of western Europe were usually broken apart on floodplains, extensively scavenged, and eventually preserved in fragmentary form.

The western European and Chinese assemblages might actually have contained similar sorts of species, but the conditions local to both places meant that their fossil records ended up being very different.

Read more about this exciting new fossil at Darren Naish’s own blog, Tetrapod Zoology.

Citation: Naish D, Simpson M, Dyke G (2013) A New Small-Bodied Azhdarchoid Pterosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of England and Its Implications for
Pterosaur Anatomy, Diversity and Phylogeny. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58451. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058451

Vullo R, Marugán-Lobón J, Kellner AWA, Buscalioni AD, Gomez B, et al. (2012) A New Crested Pterosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Spain: The First European Tapejarid (Pterodactyloidea: Azhdarchoidea). PLoS ONE 7(7): e38900. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038900

Images: Specimen and speculative reconstruction of Vectidraco from 10.1371/journal.pone.0058451, Life restoration of the head of Europejara from 10.1371/journal.pone.0038900

A geologist finds his way in a fossil forest (and makes a map for the rest of us)

 

The rich colors and textures of Petrified Forest National Park represent millions of years of geological time, climate change, and peculiar plants and animals. Now you can find your way through these historic layers with the first digitized map of the region, created largely based on research published in a 2010 PLOS ONE study by William Parker and Jeffrey Martz.

In the winter of 2001, Parker had just found the remains of a large dinosaur in the park under a ledge of sandstone; the trouble was establishing when it had lived since existing geological maps were unclear on what period of time the rocks around him represented. Maps available at that time divided the park into two parts separated by a layer of sandstone called the Sonsela Member, but researchers had differing opinions about which bits of sandstone were part of this formation. Though several previous studies had tried to improve these maps, the changes they made on paper didn’t always match up to the real distances and measurements that field researchers encountered.

Parker and his colleague Jeffrey Martz began to map the Sonsela Member as accurately as possible, walking over large sections of the park to take their measurements. As Parker told the National Parks Traveler, his colleague Jeff Martz “literally wore his boots down to ‘sandals’” before they finished the project. The results of their study were published in 2010, one of the first strictly geology studies to appear in PLOS ONE.

PLOS ONE academic editor Andy Farke noted on his blog that their paper helped resolve several questions about the geological events that shaped the Sonsela Member. The research also provided additional explanation for a layer in the geological record that marks a sudden extinction of plants and animals, and has implications for further research studying this major event.

Perhaps most importantly, however, anyone interested can check whether their results are correct.

“One of the things we have tried to do with the PLOS ONE paper is to make our study completely reproducible”, Parker explained in his blog post. “To this end we have provided (and advocate that all future studies also do this) GPS coordinates as well as photos of all measured outcrops. (..) Furthermore, any proposed mistakes in our work can be easily verified or refuted by future workers by using the map. Very important!”

Their study from 2010 formed the foundation for a now-completed geological map that covers 93,000 acres of the park, and is freely available on the Arizona Geological Survey website. According to the National Parks Traveler, the new map is a “rock star” in geological circles, with over 1100 recorded site visitors in a week. Follow the trail back to where it began by reading the PLOS ONE study here. But if you still find yourself getting lost, it might not hurt to carry a carp on your next hike.

Citation: Martz JW, Parker WG (2010) Revised Lithostratigraphy of the Sonsela Member (Chinle Formation, Upper Triassic) in the Southern Part of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9329. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009329

Image: Owl Rock Member, Chinle Formation, Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area. (NPS) by PetrifiedForestNPS on Flickr

Cervical Health Awareness Month

Health risks can be frightening, but ignorance to these risks can be even more terrifying. In the past, we have discussed a range of women’s health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular disease and ovarian cancer.  To continue our commitment to health awareness, we would like to honor January as Cervical Health Awareness month.

PLOS ONE has published research tackling many aspects of cervical health, including cervical cancer and human papillomavirus.

Human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, at least 50% of sexually active people will contract the virus at some point in their lives.  There are more than 40 types of HPV, some of which may lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular screening and vaccination to help prevent human papillomavirus.

To further expand our knowledge and understanding of cervical health, researchers from across the globe continue to explore HPV, the vaccine and its social effects.

For example, in a study published in PLOS ONE, authors in Tanzania explored the reasoning behind young girls receiving or not receiving the HPV vaccination. After interviewing both adults and students, researchers found that vaccine education and parental meetings were crucial for vaccine acceptance. Knowing women who had suffered from cervical cancer was also a factor in the decision-making.

The effectiveness of the vaccine is also a common concern. In another article, Canadian researchers developed a system to track the effectiveness of the HPV vaccination in preventing the virus.  The authors created a protocol for linking multiple data registries to allow for ongoing monitoring of the vaccines effectiveness, while also ensuring patient privacy was taken into account. This research aims to understand the long term effects of the vaccine and future vaccination tracking initiatives.

This study expands our knowledge on the vaccination results, but what about transmission of the virus? In a third PLOS ONE report, researchers explored the prevalence of HPV in the DNA of males with infected female sexual partners.  The authors found that HPV was prevalent in 86% of the male participants surveyed. These men had the same high risk viral type as the infected women, supporting the importance of awareness in men to protect themselves and their partners. This area of investigation is important in expanding our knowledge of transmission of the virus and the risk of cervical cancer development.

All these studies are aimed at improving our understanding of HPV risks and vaccination, and there are many more. As Cervical Health Awareness month draws to an end, explore more PLOS ONE research on the subject here.

 Citations:

Watson-Jones D, Tomlin K, Remes P, Baisley K, Ponsiano R, et al. (2012) Reasons for Receiving or Not Receiving HPV Vaccination in Primary Schoolgirls in Tanzania: A Case Control Study. PLoS ONE 7(10): e45231. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045231

El Emam K, Samet S, Hu J, Peyton L, Earle C, et al. (2012) A Protocol for the Secure Linking of Registries for HPV Surveillance. PLoS ONE 7(7): e39915. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039915

Rocha MGdL, Faria FL, Gonçalves L, Souza MdCM, Fernandes PÁ, et al. (2012) Prevalence of DNA-HPV in Male Sexual Partners of HPV-Infected Women and Concordance of Viral Types in Infected Couples. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040988

Image: Glass sculpture of human papillomavirus.  Photograph by Luke Jerram, “Papilloma 2011″


PLOS ONE Papers of 2012

As we start off the New Year, we wanted to take a quick moment and highlight a few noteworthy papers published in 2012. Of the 23,468 papers published last year, five are already in the top 12 most viewed PLOS papers to date. Although they may not have gotten the press coverage of those listed in our 2012 Media Round-Up, Article Level Metrics reveal they’ve certainly received a lot of attention.

Published just over three months ago, a study showing that withdrawal symptoms of marijuana can be similar to those of tobacco is the third most highly viewed article published by any PLOS journal. With 227,928 total article views since publication on September 26, 2012 it’s only a few thousand views short of the top two articles published in 2008 and 2009. Other highly viewed ONE articles from 2012 include a study of genetic alterations in a line of flies reared in the dark (197,150 views since publication in March), the ecosystem implications of an invasive species (174,742 total article views, published September), an experiment depicted in Figure 3 to the right in immersive virtual reality between rats and humans (139,683 total article views, published in October), and a comparison of Westerners energetics with those of a hunter-gatherer society (102,167 total article views, published in July).

2012 also brought several papers describing new species, one of which was recognized as the “Best new species that was hiding in plain sight” by Jason G. Goldman of Scientific American. Other papers of note questioned beliefs about the limitations of alternative agriculture and challenged trusted measurements such as the Body Mass Index, commonly used to determine obesity rates.

Several more papers could even help support or inspire your New Year’s Resolutions. Whether it is to spend more time outdoors, watch what you eat, lose weight or conquer your fears, ONE has published research to help motivate those resolutions.

2012 was a year of growth and innovation for PLOS ONE, here’s looking forward to another great year!

PLOS ONE News and Blog Round-Up: 2012 in Review

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!

Images: Coffee by kaakati on Flickr, puppies by pellaea on Flickr, all others from PLOS ONE papers

 

 

 

Prowling Catfish Catch Pigeons on Land

Cats hunt birds, and sea-birds hunt fish.  And in some odd ecological pockets, catfish hunt pigeons.

In a study published today by researchers at the University of Toulouse, France, scientists have investigated this unusual predator-prey relationship between European catfish and pigeons in the Southwest region of France.

European catfish have been reported to capture the pigeons on land and drag them back into the water.  This surprising behavior has not been known to occur in the native range of the species; however this article discovers that in France, where the fish are an invasive species, they have adapted their natural behavior in order to feed on novel prey in their new environment.

The researchers completed this study along the Tarn River in Southwestern France.  European catfish originate from Europe, east of the Rhine River, but were introduced to the Tarn River in 1983.

From a bridge above a gravel island on the river, the researchers watched the fish from June through October 2011. Over that time they saw 54 pigeon hunting incidents, and in 28% of these cases, the catfish successfully captured their prey on land and dragged them back into the water to eat them. These attacks were nearly always triggered by active pigeons, as catfish never attacked motionless pigeons. This evidence suggests that the catfish used water vibrations to hunt their prey rather than visual cues.

The cause of this unusual predation behavior is still unknown. However, these new findings may bring us closer to understanding the implications of such novel behavior in a new ecosystem.

To view the fascinating catfish behavior described in this article, please see the video below:

Citation: Cucherousset J, Boulêtreau S, Azémar F, Compin A, Guillaume M, et al. (2012) “Freshwater Killer Whales”: Beaching Behavior of an Alien Fish to Hunt Land Birds. PLoS ONE 7(12): e50840. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050840

Spiders, Birds, and Snakes, Oh my!

To continue our spooktacular posts this October, we bring you a study which may have some arachnophobes rethinking their next vacation destination.

The island of Guam is home to one of the densest spider communities in the Pacific.  In a recent study published with PLOS ONE, researchers investigated this region to discover how the demise of insectivorous birds inhabiting the island has affected one of the most widely feared creepy crawlers.

The downfall of Guam’s native insect-eating birds began in the 1940’s when the infamous brown tree snake was introduced.  To investigate the effects this loss had on the landscape, the authors of the recent paper analyzed the spider population on several Pacific islands.

The team compared the neighboring islands of Rota, Tinian and Saipan, to Guam. These islands do not have any known snake populations, and also have similar native bird species to that of Guam.  The researchers were then able to assess whether the bird presence correlated with spider web numbers, in addition to what impact bird presence had per season.

What the authors found might send chills right down your spine: The spider web densities in Guam were 40 times higher than those of the other islands during the wet season. Guam had an average of 18.37 spider webs per 10 meters, as compared to the other islands, which only had 0.45 webs per 10 meters. In addition, the bird loss had even increased the web size for a certain spider species.

Whether you suffer from arachnophobia, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) or ornithophobia (fear of birds), I think we can all agree this is a terrifying case showing the effects the removal of an essential predator can have to a landscape.

Citation: Rogers H, Hille Ris Lambers J, Miller R, Tewksbury JJ (2012) ‘Natural experiment’ Demonstrates Top-Down Control of Spiders by Birds on a Landscape Level. PLoS ONE 7(9): e43446. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043446

Image Credit: Anders B on Flickr CC-by license