Warming in Our Winter Wonderland: The Role of Ice in Penguin, Polar Bear, and Ivory Gull Survival

As winter grips the Northern Hemisphere tightly, many of us are happy to retreat to the comfort of our warm homes. But for some animals, this season plays a vital role in the formation of something necessary for their survival, … Continue reading »

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Penguins Punctuate 2012 for PLOS ONE

Today is the last day of 2012. As you put on your formal wear and get ready to ring in the new year, why not reflect on the animal that’s always in style: the penguin! This year, PLOS ONE published an exciting array of penguin research. Here is a snippet of those penguin papers that attracted media attention and some that flew (or swam) under the radar.

Affectionately dubbed the “penguins from space” paper (after the Scientific American article of the same name), “An Emperor Penguin Population Estimate: The First Global, Synoptic Survey of a Species from Space” made the headlines in 2012. In the study, researchers used satellite imagery to count the number of emperor penguin colonies on the coasts of Antarctica. They developed techniques for differentiating between shadows in the snow, penguin guano, and the penguins themselves. In total, about 238,000 breeding pairs were identified. According to lead author Peter Fretwell, about 595,000 individual emperor penguins were counted in this first-ever satellite survey. Read more about this study at the BBC and National Geographic.

Have you ever wondered just what penguins do with their time? Our next study, entitled “Activity Time Budget during Foraging Trips of Emperor Penguins”, may help to shed some light on a day in the life of a penguin. As the title suggests, researchers tracked and observed penguins on foraging trips in the water and on sea ice. They noted that penguins spent about 70% of their time in the water, diving to depths of over 5 meters. When outside of the water, penguins spent a majority of the time resting. The researchers suggest that resting on sea ice may provide shelter from predators such as leopard seals. For more on this study, check out this video from the supporting information, or visit NBC and The Telegraph.

We now travel from Antarctica to Argentina in search of Magellanic penguins. In “How Much is Too Much? Assessment of Prey Consumption by Magellanic Penguins in Patagonian Colonies”, researchers calculated rates of prey consumption by analyzing the number of wiggles penguins made while diving. Why count wiggles? According to researchers, Magellanic penguins wiggle – that is, undulate up and down – in pursuit of prey. When penguins wiggle during their dive, it is very likely that they have caught their prey.

This evening as you gather with your loved ones to watch the fireworks, you may wonder how to keep warm in the December chill. Do what penguins do and huddle! In the aptly named “Modeling Huddling Penguins”, researchers developed a mathematical model to study the shape and movement of huddling penguins in extreme cold. The researchers simulated a group of huddling penguins and determined wind flow (refer to the image on the left, which is Fig. 1 from the study). They then identified which penguin would be the coldest and moved that penguin downwind; the scenario was repeated under different wind patterns. The researchers found that even if individual penguins work to conserve individual body heat the group as a whole can distribute an even heat loss.

Have a happy new year! We will see you all in 2013.

Citations:

Fretwell PT, LaRue MA, Morin P, Kooyman GL, Wienecke B, et al. (2012) An Emperor Penguin Population Estimate: The First Global, Synoptic Survey of a Species from Space. PLoS ONE 7(4): e33751. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033751

Watanabe S, Sato K, Ponganis PJ (2012) Activity Time Budget during Foraging Trips of Emperor Penguins. PLoS ONE 7(11): e50357. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050357

Sala JE, Wilson RP, Quintana F (2012) How Much Is Too Much? Assessment of Prey Consumption by Magellanic Penguins in Patagonian Colonies. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51487. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051487

Waters A, Blanchette F, Kim AD (2012) Modeling Huddling Penguins. PLoS ONE 7(11): e50277. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050277

Image: Emperor penguins by lin_padgham

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