Weekly PLoS ONE News and Blog Round-Up

In this week’s PLoS ONE media digest: a new species of giant, orb-weaving spider; the grassland habitats of early humans—and of present-day sage-grouse; and much more.

Reporting in PLoS ONE on Wednesday, Matjaž Kuntner and Jonathan Coddington, formally describe a new species of spider, Nephila komaci, discovered in South Africa. The females, whose bodies measure just under 4 cm and whose leg span is 10 to 12 cm, are the largest-known orb-weaving spider. There is more information on this study in this blog post and related images are available via the Smithsonian press release. The paper received extensive news coverage including: Scientific American, National Geographic, the BBC News, Wired Science and LiveScience. Meanwhile, in a great example of creative reuse of Open Access content, this YouTube video mashes up images and text from the press release.

From South Africa to East Africa—more specifically to the Oldowan archeological sites of Kanjera South in Kenya, where Thomas Plummer, Richard Potts and colleagues discovered new archaeological evidence that suggests early humans were inhabiting grassland environments as early as two million years ago. In their paper, published on Wednesday, the researchers report chemical analyses of ancient soils and mammalian teeth, as well as other faunal data from the sites. The findings suggest these recently excavated sites, which preserve Oldowan tools (the oldest known type of stone technology), were located in a grassland setting dominated by grass-eating animals. The study was featured in New Scientist and on Palaeoblog.

An article published in PLoS ONE on October 14 reveals new findings about the grassland habitat of the sage-grouse rather than of early humans. In the article, Holly Copeland and colleagues report that sage-grouse populations could decline by an additional 7-19% if oil and gas development strategies don’t adopt more forward-thinking strategies in the Intermountain West, USA. Sage-grouse populations are used to indicate the health of a population; the greater sage-grouse could soon be listed as an endangered species, which would have important implications for a number of industries in the area. The New York Times ran a piece on the study.

In their recent paper, Shinya Yamamoto and colleagues at Kyoto University investigated whether chimpanzees behave altruistically. In the experiments, two chimpanzees were situated in two adjacent booths, either in a situation where the chimpanzee would need access to a straw to be able to drink the juice box available to it, or in a situation where the chimpanzee would need access to a stick to drag a juice reward back into the booth. The chimpanzees did transfer tools to help their partner, even when there was no hope of the favour being returned and even when the two animals were unrelated—but help usually only came when the partner had actively solicited help (by poking its arm through a hole in the booth, for example, or by clapping). Some of the online coverage of this study includes New Scientist, the Japan Times, io9 and the Prancing Papio blog.

And finally, here is a brief round-up of some of the other PLoS ONE studies that made the news this week:

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