Weekly PLoS ONE News and Blog Round-Up

In the latest PLoS ONE media digest: how climate change is changing California’s bird communities, the sizable puzzle of humans’ height homogeneity, and explaining the spread of agriculture to Europe.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film, The Birds, a northern Californian town comes under siege when birds of all species suddenly and mysteriously begin to attack the residents. In Diana Stralberg’s recent PLoS ONE paper, Re-Shuffling of Species with Climate Disruption: A No-Analog Future for California Birds?, she and her colleagues at PRBO Conservation Science, University of California Santa Cruz, the Klamath Bird Observatory and Stanford University also predict dramatic changes to California’s bird communities; however, this time, the cause is no mystery: rapid climate disruption. Using a combination of climate modelling and the modern analog method, used by palaeoecologists, the researchers report that by 2070, the changing climate will have caused the composition of California’s bird communities to change so much that up to 57% of the state could be occupied by new combinations of bird species.

The study was covered by the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury and Journal Watch as well as the Observations of a Nerd blog. See here and here for other PLoS ONE papers predicting the effects of climate change on California’s flora and fauna.

Although it may not feel like it when I (at five feet three and a bit) stand next to some of the taller members of the PLoS office, humans are remarkably consistent in terms of their height and mass when compared to other animals. At least, this is the finding reported by Ann McKellar (of Queen’s University) and Andrew Hendry (of McGill) in their study, published earlier this week in PLoS ONE. The researchers studied the body length (height) and mass within and among 99 human populations and 848 animal populations across 210 species. They found low levels of within-population height variation in humans compared to other animals, but did not find any significant levels of within-population body mass variation, or of either height or mass variation among different populations.

The authors suggest that different selection pressures in different locations have led to the evolution of different “optimum” heights among different populations. “[C]omparing humans specifically to closely related animal species (i.e., other primates) might give some clue as to whether these forces are specific to humans within the primate order,” they write in the paper. There has been coverage of the study in Wired News, Gene Expression and Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog.

In their recent article, Ron Pinhasi and Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel use craniometric data to test a controversial question—whether agriculture spread to Europe due to the migration of Near Eastern and Anatolian farmers (the demic diffusion model) or whether it spread through the cultural diffusion of farming ideas and technologies. The results support the demic diffusion model with the migration to Europe of Neolithic people (and their genes) from south-west Asian making a significant contribution to the expansion of agriculture. Some of the blog coverage of the study includes: Gene Expression, Greg Laden’s Blog and Anthropology.net.

And finally, here’s a quick summary of some of the other recent media coverage of PLoS ONE articles:

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