Fossilized Footprints Lead Scientists Down a Prehistoric Path

journal.pone.0103255.g008_rotaWhether tromping alone or running in a pack, all prehistoric creatures got around somehow. Paleontologists can use fossilized bones to learn more about what dinosaurs ate, what they looked like, and even how they might have moved, but bones are only part of the “rocky” story. We can study fossils of all shapes, sizes, and sources to piece together missing information about how these creatures moved, interacted, and lived. Trace fossils, which include fossilized impressions like footprints and belly drag marks left in the ground, can tell us a surprising amount about how animals of the past lived and moved. They are more common than you might think, but typically aren’t studied as often as fossilized bones. PLOS ONE recently published two separate studies where authors used trace fossils to provide insight on tyrannosaurs social life and the slow and slithering movements of an ancient temnospondyl, bringing two prehistoric creatures to ‘life.’

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Many tyrannosaur bones have been collected and documented, but few scientists have studied their footprints. In a new PLOS ONE study, researchers found three 75 million-year-old three-toed tyrannosaurid footprint with claw marks tracks heading southeast within an 8.5 meter-wide corridor in British Columbia, Canada (shown in the image above). Scientists took molds and measurements of the prints (shown in the image below) to understand the track-makers’ behavior. Scientists aren’t sure exactly which species of tyrannosaur made the prints, but similarities in depth and preservation of the tracks indicate that these three trackways were made by dinosaurs walking alongside journal.pone.0103613.g007each other in the same direction at a normal pace, around 8.50 kilometers per hour.

These trackways add to previous research about tyrannasaurid social behavior and locomotion, but the authors acknowledge that there is the possibility, although unlikely, that three dinosaurs could have passed through the same spot separately within a short period of time. Either way, the tracks make up the first record of the walking gait of tyrannosaurids and provide insight about how they moved across Western Canada.

Mysterious Slithering

A 200 million-year-old mysterious trackway, called Episcopopus ventrosus, in southern Africa may have been made by a dinosaur, or maybe by an early ancestor of the crocodile. Researchers that mapped, cast, and laser-scanned the best-preserved part of the journal.pone.0103255.g003Episcopopus ventrosus trackway found that the track belongs to a primitive amphibian-like animal from one of the earliest groups of limbed vertebrates, temnospondyls. The author’s estimate the track-maker was 3.5 meters long and dragged the hind portion of its body along a wet sand bar on the bank of a river bend, using only the claw-less tips of its digits (pictured above).

The movements were likely made by a large-headed, slithering, and slow-moving amphibian-like animal. Researchers usually use hind-limb-driven salamanders as a model for temnospondyl locomotion, but this discovery is causing researchers to re-examine their use of salamander models for this front-limb-driven temnospondyl.

Socializing and Slithering

From signs of dinosaurs moving in packs to amphibian-like animals slithering across river banks, trace fossils can support what we already know about prehistoric creatures, but they can also shake up the assumptions we’ve made, and in the case of the tetrapod, potentially change the way we study them. Fossilized bones may still be the better known field of study, but footprints and other trace fossils may help shape our understanding of patterns, reconstructing of past lives, and bringing of prehistoric animals back to “life.”

Citation: McCrea RT, Buckley LG, Farlow JO, Lockley MG, Currie PJ, et al. (2014) A ‘Terror of Tyrannosaurs’: The First Trackways of Tyrannosaurids and Evidence of Gregariousness and Pathology in Tyrannosauridae. PLoS ONE 9(7): e103613. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103613

Marsicano CA, Wilson JA, Smith RMH (2014) A Temnospondyl Trackway from the Early Mesozoic of Western Gondwana and Its Implications for Basal Tetrapod Locomotion. PLoS ONE 9(8): e103255. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103255

Images: All images are from the published manuscripts Figure 8, Figure 2, Figure 7, and Figure 3.

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Hot and Bothered: What Warmer Temperatures Could Mean for ‘Living Fossils’

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For most animals, the sex of their offspring is determined by genetics. However, for tuatara, a lizard-like reptile that inhabits select New Zealand islands, the number of males versus females is related to the temperature during a specific period of the egg’s development.

The name for the scientific concept of temperature influencing the sex of your offspring is environmental sex determination (ESD) and is a trait found in many reptiles. For tuatara, the warmer it is, the more likely an egg is to develop into a male, and an incubation temperature of 69.8˚F gives about an equal chance of either gender developing.

What’s so special about these creatures? Tuatara are native to New Zealand, the only place in the world that they can be found. They are special for another reason, too: they are the only living members of the order Rhynchocephalia, which has earned them the nickname “living fossils.”

Tuatara stand out reproductively as well. It can take them up to 20 years to reach the age of reproduction, and once they do, the females only lay eggs every 2 to 5 years.  They can also live to be more than 100 years old.

In a recent PLOS ONE study, the authors looked at a population of Tuatara living on North Brother Island in New Zealand to investigate the current male-to-female ratios and predict what these numbers may look like if temperatures increase based on current climate models.

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For this study, the authors first looked at surveys conducted between 1988 and 2001 and found that approximately 60% of the population was male. They then looked at more recent surveys conducted between 2005 and 2011 to compare temperatures and sex ratios, the results of which revealed a 70% male population.

The authors then used a model to predict the ratio of males to females that might be born in future years, based on the soil temperature in various nesting sites. From this, they estimated that an increase of less than 1 degree Celsius would over time shift the population to 57% male, and an increase by 3-4 degrees Celsius could eventually shift the entire population to be male. Unfortunately, a large sex bias, especially toward males, has the potential to put tuatara at risk for extinction.

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Though this population of tuatara has not yet been classified as endangered, the authors suggest that the potentially large effect a small temperature change could have on the population means that further population monitoring will be important. Increases in the temperature of their environment, combined with their slow reproductive cycle, means that it could be difficult for them to “bounce back” from population shifts toward fewer females. The authors note that in such a case, human interventions, such as artificially incubating eggs or modifying habitat, may be necessary to save the species.

The loss of tuatara would not only result in an extinct species, but the entire order Rhynchocephalia would be lost. However, since this species has not yet reached an endangered status, we are provided with an opportunity to take action. Future studies and monitoring of tuatara may allow us to prevent the grim fate that all other species of this order have reached.

Images: Images are from Figure 1 and Figure 6 of the published article, Tuatara – Sid Mosdell.

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Playing With Canines: Ancient Dog Teeth Reveal Early Human-Dog Interactions


Even though our favorite pet dogs are now well-domesticated, we can still catch glimpses of their primal past when we watch them devour a bone or hunt those pesky squirrels. Sadly, new research shows that the status of dogs in the human family may have had a rocky start, often leaving them to dodge physical harm and rely on scavenging.

Unfortunately, there is little research available on archaeological dog remains, making it difficult to compare patterns of skeletal damage. Researchers also lack sufficient records of human life and culture in the presence of canines; it seems that early tribes weren’t regularly recording details of dog domestication.

Researchers at the University of Alberta have begun to shed light on these practices by analyzing ancient dog teeth. In their recent PLOS ONE study, they describe canine dental specimens with extensive damage to teeth and bone, including tooth loss, trauma, and defects. The authors analyzed and compared these remains with wild canids, such as foxes, jackals, and wolves, to better understand early dog behavior and help interpret signs of trauma.

Figure 1

These weren’t just any dogs, though. The authors studied four main types of dental and skeletal damage from museum collections in Northern Canada and Russia (see the map above). Using remains from these northern locations allowed the researchers to investigate the unique challenges dogs face when living in cold climates, where hunting and sled driving were common. The authors focused on tooth loss and fractures, as well as traumatic lesions on the cranium or jaw bone.

Determining the cause of tooth damage can be tricky, but overall, they found that tooth loss occurred in a higher percentage of the dogs rather than wolves. More than that, the overall percentage of teeth lost (per dog) was also higher in the dog population. This indicates that human owners may have played a part in removing some teeth, perhaps to stop dogs from chewing their possessions or the ropes tethering them to their sleds.

Figure 3

Furthermore, dogs on the whole showed higher rates of tooth loss, fracture, and traumatic lesions compared to wolves from the same region (click to enlarge image above). Notably, tooth fracture was present in similar teeth within the mouths of different dogs. The higher prevalence of this trauma among the dogs could be explained by aspects of feeding, such as how their food was obtained, or the qualities (density, texture) of what they were chewing.

As an example, dogs likely received leftovers from human food and had to work their mouths harder to chew and extract nutrients from what was left. Given the geographic location, they may also have been fed whale blubber, or chunks of frozen meat with bones in them. These unlikely additions to their diet may have caused the higher frequency of tooth fracture or damage that was seen in the dog population compared to the wolves.

The rate of traumatic lesions on the jaw and skull of the dogs was also higher than those of free-roaming wolves. There is always the possibility that fighting between animals caused these lesions, especially on the skull and snout. However, the rates of scarring and the involvement of humans in the lives of these dogs suggests another explanation for this physical damage: a result of humans physically controlling the dogs.

If there’s one thing that’s evident from these results, it is that the life of a domesticated dog in our society was not always easy. Access to human-provided food gave the dogs some freedom from food stress but exposed them to other hazards posed by humans, such as weapons and controlling behavior. Although it was clearly a complicated and difficult transition for these animals to make, it is a glimpse into the history of the new human-dog bond we have today.

Dogs from these cold, hunting-driven climates were valued by us for their strength, hunting assistance, and ability to fend for themselves. We owe them for their commitment to us, and for sticking with us through better or potentially worse. Tonight, give Fido an extra soft treat and a hug.


Citation: Losey RJ, Jessup E, Nomokonova T, Sablin M (2014) Craniomandibular Trauma and Tooth Loss in Northern Dogs and Wolves: Implications for the Archaeological Study of Dog Husbandry and Domestication. PLoS ONE 9(6): e99746. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099746

Image 1: Wolf by Dennis Matheson

Image 2 & 3: Figure 1 and Figure 3 from the article

Image 4: Pug by Jon Clegg

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Honey for Your Boo Boo


An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but honey may fight some infections.

Bacterial cell walls are not only responsible for sustaining the cell’s shape but are also necessary for the bacteria’s growth, survival, and reproduction. A class of antibiotics called beta-lactams, which includes the familiar antibiotics penicillin and ampicillin, attack the cell wall’s proteins, causing the cell wall to fall apart and die. While this is effective for treating many common bacterial infections in people, microbes have long been developing resistance to antibiotic drugs, referred to as antibiotic resistance. In the race to protect ourselves from these bugs, scientists are looking for promising alternatives that may combat microbes with the same effectiveness as antibiotics.

Previous studies have investigated honey’s ability to kill and halt growth of certain strains of bacteria. Taking this into account, researchers compared the efficacy of Canadian honey on killing E. coli, strains of bacteria commonly associated with feces and contaminated food, as well as a vital part of all human bodies. The authors of the study, published in PLOS ONE, investigated honey’s antibacterial activity and its potential ability to inhibit growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli.

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The authors conducted a series of experiments by applying various concentrations of honey or antibiotics to bacterial cell cultures and then visualizing changes in the cell structure to determine the necessary concentrations of each to inhibit growth and kill cells. Using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), as seen in the image above, the authors observed the transformation in cell structure over time as they increased the amount of added honey or ampicillin. Flourishing E. coli are typically rod- shaped with filaments, but within 18 hours of application of honey or ampicillin, the shape appeared to transform into “spheroblasts,” as seen in the image below. Spheroblasts are what remains after the cell wall has been broken by an antibiotic drug, as well as the debris of the dead cell. According to the authors, the results may indicate that like ampicillin, honey can interfere with E. coli’s ability to survive and reproduce.


Many strains of E. coli are resistant to beta-lactams like ampicillin, and to test honey’s effect on these strains, the researchers repeated their experiments with honey on ampicillin-resistant strains of E. coli and again visualized cell shape changes and inhibition of bacterial growth. The honey appeared to halt the growth of the ampicillin-resistant bacteria with the same efficiency as it halted non-resistant strains.


The image above illustrates the destruction of the cell wall and the death of the ampicillin-resistant cell after exposure to honey (panel A before treatment, and panel B after honey application). Recent studies have suggested that honey’s antibacterial mechanisms may be attributed to the concentration difference between honey and water molecules, referred to as high osmolarity, and honey’s ability to inhibit bacterial communication. Honey is a natural mixture of many compounds, and while scientists have yet to confirm the exact compounds responsible, the results of the above study support the idea that honey and ampicillin may have similar antibacterial efficacies, with possibly different mechanisms of attack.

As microbes become increasingly resistant to our standard treatments, it’s important to investigate alternative mechanisms of antibacterial defense. Although more work remains to be done here, the authors’ evidence of honey-induced cell death with apparently similar efficacy to ampicillin may pioneer future studies in the field. In other words, honey could be just what the doctor ordered.

Citation: Brudzynski K, Sjaarda C (2014) Antibacterial Compounds of Canadian Honeys Target Bacterial Cell Wall Inducing Phenotype Changes, Growth Inhibition and Cell Lysis That Resemble Action of β-Lactam Antibiotics. PLoS ONE 9(9): e106967. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106967

Image 1: Viscosity Manifest by Beny Shlevich

Images 2-4: Figures 3, 5, and 9 from the article

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At Year’s End: Staff Editors’ Favorite PLOS ONE Articles of 2014


2014 has been an exciting year for PLOS ONE. We saw the journal reach a milestone, publishing its 100,000th article. PLOS ONE also published thousands of new research articles this year, including some ground-breaking discoveries, as well as some unexpected and controversial findings.

All year long, the staff editors at PLOS ONE carefully scan newly submitted manuscripts before they’re sent to our Editorial Board for assessment and scientific peer review. Among the thousands of titles that each PLOS ONE staff editor has seen over the past year, there were bound to be some year-end favorites! We polled the PLOS ONE staff editors and asked them to send along their picks, presented in no particular order.

1. Media Multi-Tasking on the Brain


journal.pone.0106698.g002Image from article

As we increasingly rely on multimedia devices in our personal and professional lives, we may wonder what impact our habits have on our brains. Studies have indicated that media multi-tasking—that is, the concurrent use of multiple media devices—may have a negative impact on a number of cognitive functions, but the neural changes responsible for these declines remain largely unexplored.

Using MRI to explore structural associations with our use of media, the authors of “Higher Media Multi-Tasking Activity Is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex” show that users who frequently engage in media multi-tasking may have a lower density of gray-matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region in the brain crucial for a number of higher cognitive processes. While the authors cannot yet state that media multi-tasking causes decreased gray matter, it does make us wonder whether our devices are, quite literally, becoming a substitute for our brains.


2. Improving Zebrafish Care and Welfare in the Lab


zebrafishImage from article

The use of zebrafish in developmental and biomedical research has increased substantially in recent years. The popularity of this relatively new model species has sparked an interest in assessing—and potentially improving—their welfare in the lab environment. Evaluating the “humaneness” of euthanasia is a critical research aim, since nearly all zebrafish are sacrificed at the end of an experiment.

In “Conditioned Place Avoidance of Zebrafish (Danio rerio) to Three Chemicals Used for Euthanasia and Anaesthesia,” the authors report the results of a behavioral test designed to evaluate and compare the animals’ aversion to three commonly used euthanasia agents: tricaine methanesulfonate (referred to as TMS or “MS-222”), clove oil, and metomidate hydrochloride. The researchers found that zebrafish exposed to TMS spent less time in the side of the experimental tank that they had previously preferred, indicating aversion. Exposure to the other two chemicals did not elicit such a response, leading the authors to conclude that clove oil and metomidate hydrochloride are less aversive to zebrafish and could be pursued as “humane alternatives” to TMS for euthanasia. This finding may play an important role in the updating of guidelines for the care and use of zebrafish in the research setting.


3. Supercentenarian Genomes


christmas dna Image from Flickr

This paper was picked by two PLOS ONE Editors! Do our genes determine whether we could live to be 110? To answer this question, the authors of “Whole-Genome Sequencing of the World’s Oldest People” sequenced the genomes of 17 supercentenarians and compared their DNA to that of the general population. Despite trying several ways of searching, the researchers did not find any specific genetic variations associated with supercentenarians, but they did generate a unique, publicly available dataset and a useful resource that may help us someday uncover the genetic code for a long life (or else determine that one may not exist)!


4. Paper Microscopes, < $1 each

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 This was another paper that got more than one vote from the PLOS ONE Editors. The Stanford University authors of “Foldscope: Origami-Based Paper Microscope” bring microscopy to the masses with their invention. Fabricated from paper and assembled in 10 minutes using origami folding techniques, the Foldscope comes in at a per unit cost of less than $1 and represents an exciting opportunity to inexpensively fabricate microscopes in bulk. It uses an LED light that provides up to 50 hours of light on a single button battery, making it usable for field applications. The Foldscope may find its way into the hands of students, educators, and scientists worldwide for a wide-range of purposes, including future disease-specific designs for rapid diagnoses in the field.


5. Yeast with Mitochondria, Please!


fruit flyImage source

Anyone who has worked in or near a Drosophila lab will appreciate how much flies love yeast, but not everyone may have guessed the contribution of yeast mitochondria to the flies’ attraction to yeast. Through a genetic screen designed to identify attractive yeast strains, the authors of “Saccharomyces cerevisiae mitochondria are required for optimal attractiveness to Drosophila melanogaster” may have unveiled the importance of yeast mitochondria metabolism for fly attraction and more generally, yeast ecology.


6. Plant Xylem = Water Filter?


plant xylemImage from article

This study from MIT, published way back in January, held strong as one of our favorites throughout this year. With the problem of waterborne diseases causing up to ~1.8 million deaths annually, “Water Filtration Using Plant Xylem” describes the use of plain old sapwood from coniferous trees as a way to remove bacteria and pressure-filter up to several liters of clean drinking water per person per day. Like the Foldscope mentioned above, this method may be useful for the public, readily available, inexpensive, and to top it off, completely biodegradable and disposable. If implemented, this method may be able to help address the need for clean water in developing countries and areas where resources are otherwise limited.


7. Glial Cells Involved in Schizophrenia


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Schizophrenia and biopolar disorder are highly heritable, but the genetic contributions to these disorders are not well understood. In “Pathway Analyses Implicate Glial Cells in Schizophrenia,” the authors used publicly available data from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and sought associations between these illnesses and biological pathways (groups of genes), rather than studying single gene associations. Results showed that a gliaoligodendrocyte pathway was associated with both disorders, supporting a model in which genetic factors contribute to white matter abnormalities observed in brains of patients with schizophrenia. This methodological advance may be instrumental in increasing our understanding of multi-genic diseases and disorders that have eluded geneticists for decades.


8. SAFE 2013: Exploring Sexual Harassment in Science


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In “Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault,” authors detail a self-selected survey of 666 field researchers, where nearly two in three surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment, and over one in five reported suffering sexual assault. According to the study, women were more likely than men to be subject to harassment or assaults, and unlike men, the women reported receiving abuse more from superiors than from peers. Unfortunately, victims felt they had limited awareness of policies and reporting mechanisms. Published in July, this study has helped open up a conversation about sexual harassment and assault in anthropology and scientific research more broadly, including extensive discussion in media and blogs lasting much long than the usual media cycle for a publication. The study was also quoted by a member of the US Congress. It was one of our most-viewed PLOS ONE articles in 2014, and in the top ten by social shares—the most tweeted PLOS ONE article this year—and has 79 media links so far.


9. Disease-Fighting Drugs in Sloth Hair


Bradypus_variegatusImage source

As legend has it, penicillin was discovered when an unwelcome fungus floated through an open window, landed in a petri dish, and blocked the growth of bacteria. If this serendipitous event could transform modern medicine, what is the potential of the over 5 million fungal species that have yet to be characterized? In “Sloth Hair as a Novel Source of Fungi with Potent Anti-Parasitic, Anti-Cancer and Anti-Bacterial Bioactivity,” the authors visited the microbe-rich tropics of Central America and offered nine wily three-fingered sloths a free haircut. The hair samples yielded dozens of novel fungal strains, many of which displayed activity against bacteria, parasites, and cancer cells. These findings may provide leads for drug development and underscore the untapped potential hiding in microbial biological diversity.


10. New Caledonians Continue to Amaze Us


Video from article

The videos for this paper are amazing, and we weren’t the only ones that thought so! The video above was by far our most popular on our Youtube channel this year. In “Using the Aesop’s Fable Paradigm to Investigate Causal Understanding of Water Displacement by New Caledonian Crows,” the authors employ the established Aesop’s Fable paradigm to show that New Caledonian crows are able to causally understand water displacement, similar to the understanding in a 5-7 year-old child. A few months later, the authors published a second study with us on the same topic.


11. Chickens Walking Like Dinosaurs


Video from article

Although birds are direct descendants of theropod dinosaurs, they cannot be used confidently to gain insights into certain aspects of dinosaur biology because their bodies have changed so much over the course of evolution.  In an effort to explore chickens as a model for dinosaur locomotion, the authors of “Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion” attached an artificial tail to two-day-old chicks to substitute for the bony tail of dinosaurs that was lost to evolution.  As adults, the chickens exhibited a displaced center of mass, and changes in limb posture and range of motion, creating a potential model for investigating dinosaur locomotion mechanics and energetics.


12. Working Together, Not Against: The Tale of H4K16ac and ISWI


800px-Nucleosome_1KX5_colour_codedImage source

Histone proteins, assembled into a nucleosome structure, are essential for compacting DNA into tiny nuclei inside eukaryotic (membrane-bound) cells. However, access to specific regions of DNA is necessary during a cell’s lifetime, and chromatin remodelers such as ISWI, alongside chemical modifications to the histones, such as acetylation of Lysine 16 on Histone (H4K16ac), can help unravel the DNA. Somewhat paradoxically, evidence seems to suggest that H4K16ac actually works against ISWI and inhibits it. As all evidence indicating that H4K16ac inhibits ISWI was performed using peptides or arrays containing just one nucleosome, the authors of “ISWI Remodelling of Physiological Chromatin Fibres Acetylated at Lysine 16 of Histone H4” decided to approach the puzzling question using nucleosomes arrays made of 25 nucleosomes to more closely mimic the chromosome. Using this system, researchers showed that H4K16ac did not in fact stop ISWI in its remodeling capabilities as previously thought, putting the conundrum to rest.


13. How Available are the Results of Clinical Trials?


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Clinical trial reporting and transparency is an important editorial issue that we at PLOS support. In “How Frequently Do the Results from Completed US Clinical Trials Enter the Public Domain? – A Statistical Analysis of the Clinicaltrials.Gov Database,” the authors analyzed data from 400 randomly selected clinical trials registered in the (CTG) database and found that almost one third had failed to achieve public disclosure of results within 4 years of completion, either by publishing the primary outcomes in a peer-reviewed journal, or posting the results to the CTG database.

Studies were less likely to publicly disclose the results if i) they were a phase 2 versus a phase 3/4 clinical trial, ii) if the sample size was small, or iii) if the study design involved randomization. These findings broadly support previous studies of clinical trial reporting, including a PLOS ONE study in 2013 by Huser et al.

There you have it! A diverse selection of papers that we hope gives you a taste of the scope and breadth of research published in PLOS ONE. Here’s to another huge round of exciting research in 2015!

Happy New Year!

The PLOS ONE Staff Editors

Damian Pattinson, Iratxe Puebla, Catriona MacCallum, Meghan Byrne, Michelle Dohm, Matt Hodgkinson, Eric Martens, Adrian Aldcroft, Gina Alvino, Sarah Bangs, Christna Chap, Eileen Clancy, Alejandra Clark, Renee Hoch, Jessica Rozek, Nicola Stead, and Edward Sucksmith

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Canada’s Species at Risk Rarely Recover: The Story Behind the PLOS ONE Article

Orca_Andy WrightPost By Caroline Fox & Brett Favaro

Most scientists are passionate about their work, but enthusiasm can sometimes be hard to maintain over a long project. What if we could inject the fun back into science—take away the emotional baggage of long, drawn-out research projects, and give scientists a chance to approach a question they’ve never considered before?

This was the idea behind the ‘Research Derby’—an intense event that gives researchers the chance to ask and answer a question relevant to conservation biology, ecology, or evolution. This event was modeled on ‘hackathons’ in the IT world—small teams lock themselves away and produce the best product they can given limited time. After the event, all participants focus on one of the teams’ research questions and develop it into a full publication over the next year.

Last winter, we ran a Derby at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. We brought together undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows from multiple departments. The two of us, both postdoctoral fellows at the time, landed on the same team. Over the two-day event, we brainstormed potential research topics and eventually decided on a topic that interested all of us—the effectiveness of species conservation in Canada. Specifically, we decided to examine aspects of Canada’s endangered species recoveries, combining Caroline’s expertise about Canada’s endangered species legislation with the Derby team’s collective aim to look at the overall picture of species conservation in Canada.

The process of species protection in Canada is far from straightforward. For a given species, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) first provides an assessment, which is then forwarded to the federal government to decide whether or not to list that species under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). Once listed under SARA, a series of legal obligations for protection set in; for example, for endangered species, critical habitat must be identified where possible in the Recovery Plan.

Up to 2013 we found: of 369 species examined more than once by COSEWIC, 86% had become more endangered or failed to improve.[1] We also examined whether being protected by SARA was associated with improved COSEWIC assessment outcomes relative to unlisted species—the answer was “no,” unfortunately. Further, we found that for more than half of eligible SARA-listed species, critical habitat had not been fully identified; without identification, this habitat cannot be fully protected.

This paper proved to be highly impactful. Discussed in Canada’s parliament (twice), passed around government departments, and widely covered in the media, our findings have been broadly disseminated to decision makers, other conservation scientists, and the general public. From a 24-hr research event to publication in less than a year, this was a rapid and influential scientific effort that resulted from a unique collaboration. While the event was only 24 hours, we spent several months after the Derby checking our data, refining our methods, and developing our quick-and-dirty findings into a mature product fit for a peer-reviewed, open-access, and widely read publication. All Derby research members participated on each stage of the research, but we each used our strengths and collaboratively developed our final product. And most importantly—it was a lot of fun from start to finish.

Dr. Brett Favaro is a Liber Ero postdoctoral fellow, and a Research Scientist at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland. His mission is simple: do science that informs the way we manage our natural resources, especially biodiversity. Primarily a marine biologist, Brett’s research examines ways to make commercial fishing more sustainable. However, since many conservation problems are inherently political, he studies environmental policy as well. Brett completed both his Bachelor’s of Science and Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

Dr. Caroline Fox is a postdoctoral fellow with Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Department of Geography at the University of Victoria. Her research interests revolve around marine-terrestrial interactions, marine predator ecology and efforts to measure and mitigate human impacts in coastal ecosystems. As a big-picture ecologist and conservation scientist, her research spans a diversity of coastal ecosystems and taxa, including kelp forests, seabirds and black bears. Caroline completed her B.Sc. and Ph.D. at the University of Victoria and M.Sc. at Case Western Reserve University.

[1] Favaro B, Claar DC, Fox CH, Freshwater C, Holden JJ, et al. (2014) Trends in Extinction Risk for Imperiled Species in Canada. PLOS ONE 9(11): e113118. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113118

Image: Orca by Andy Wright

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Let Me Count the Ways: Top 20 PLOS ONE Articles Based on Article-Level Metrics for 2014

plos_20At PLOS ONE, we’ve been compiling year-end lists to reflect on the most popular articles and research videos published in our journal. But this year, we also wanted to compile an alternative list, based on article-level metrics (ALMs*), a collection of indicators that help us assess the impact a published article has made on the community and the public, which can be monitored over time. This list captures the top 20 articles of 2014 based on a review of ALMs data over the past 12 months and complements an earlier list we featured at the end of the summer.

Without further ado, this year’s top papers are below:

1. Text me about it: A pain in the neck

journal.pone.0084312.g001A study from January, “Texting and Walking: Strategies for Postural Control and Implications for Safety,” suggests texting while walking impacts posture and balance. Over 27,000 views and 8600 PDF downloads–the most on our list–places this study at the top of our list. Maybe it’s time to look up from our phones—­if not for other pedestrians’ sakes, at least for our own neck’s.

Published 1/22/2014, Image from the article

2. Concerns over testosterone therapy

Testosterone therapy may raise the risk of heart attack according to “Increased Risk of Non-Fatal Myocardial Infarction Following Testosterone Therapy Prescription in Men.” An EveryONE blog post from earlier this year highlighted the unusual trajectory of this paper in the media and the public, demonstrating an impact that reaches far beyond just ALMs.

Published 1/29/2014

3. Lizard tales: What lizard tails may tell us about regenerating human tissue

journal.pone.0105004.g001Scientists studied lizard tail regeneration to look for clues for how we might regenerate human tissue, according to “Transcriptomic Analysis of Tail Regeneration in the Lizard Anolis carolinensis Reveals Activation of Conserved Vertebrate Developmental and Repair Mechanisms.”

Published 8/20/2014, Image from the article

4. Baby, it’s cold in liquid nitrogen

journal.pone.0086807.g001In a study published in January, “A Leech Capable of Surviving Exposure to Extremely Low Temperatures,” scientists observed leeches surviving in liquid nitrogen for 24 hours and in -130 degrees F for up to 9 months.

Published 1/22/2014, Image from the article

5. Origami-inspired microscopes for under $1

crop.journal.pone.0098781.g001Foldscope: Origami-Based Paper Microscope,” published in June, described a low-cost, paper-based microscope called a Foldscope. Light weight and durable, the authors suggest this microscope could be useful in the field and for science education.

Published 6/18/2014, Image from the article

6. Developing tests for early cancer diagnosis

In a paper from October, “Sentinel” Circulating Tumor Cells Allow Early Diagnosis of Lung Cancer in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease,” authors analyzed the results of a blood test that could detect cells associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which may help with early diagnosis of lung cancer.

Published 10/31/2014

7. I’m a (Black Death) survivor

journal.pone.0096513.g002Mortality Risk and Survival in the Aftermath of the Medieval Black Death,” published in May, suggests people who survived the Black Death, as well as their descendants, lived significantly longer and were healthier than people who lived before the epidemic.

Published 5/7/2014, Image from the article

8. Lucky to be 110

Scientists sequenced the world’s oldest people’s genomes, but unfortunately, they didn’t find a genetic pattern to their longevity in the study, “Whole-Genome Sequencing of the World’s Oldest People.” No secret to a long life just yet.

Published 11/12/2014

9. That smarts!

Scientists analyzed Neanderthal history and genetics and suggest that maybe they weren’t less intelligent than modern humans, as previously thought, but rather interbred and assimilated with modern humans in a study “Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex,” published in April.

Published 4/30/2014

10. Study “yields” data for the GMO debate

A large meta-analysis suggests genetically modified crops (“GMOs”) may have widespread benefits for farmers, according to a study “A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops,” published in November. This article has the most page views on our list, with over 56,000 and has nearly 5000 PDF downloads. The article contributes data to ongoing debates around the world about the role genetically modified crops should play in agriculture and society.

Published 11/3/2014

11. Let’s talk jazz

crop.journal.pone.0088665.g001Scientists found that a jazz improvisation technique called ‘trading fours,’ where soloists from an ensemble take turns playing four bars at a time, may engage language areas of the brain specialized for processing communication, according to the study “Neural Substrates of Interactive Musical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of “Trading Fours” in Jazz.”

Published 2/19/2014, Image from the article

12. Say what?

Linguists applied evolutionary analysis to the relationship between North American and Central Siberian languages and found that the relationship between them may show that people moved out from the Bering Land Bridge, with some migrating back to central Asia and others into North America, according to a study published in March, “Linguistic Phylogenies Support Back-Migration from Beringia to Asia.”

Published 3/12/2014

13. Daughter dearest

journal.pone.0086169.g001With over 19,000 views and over 1700 PDF downloads, a study, “Holsteins Favor Heifers, Not Bulls: Biased Milk Production Programmed during Pregnancy as a Function of Fetal Sex,” showing that daughters may get more milk from their mothers than sons, if you’re a cow that is, published in February.

Published 2/3/2014, Image from the article

14. Holy flying reptiles!

Scientists found a new flying reptile with a sail-shaped crest in a Brazilian boneyard, according to a study published in August, “Discovery of a Rare Pterosaur Bone Bed in a Cretaceous Desert with Insights on Ontogeny and Behavior of Flying Reptiles.”

Published 8/13/2014

15. Long labor


Possibly showing the earliest live birth from a Mesozoic marine reptile, a fossil displaying the birth has been discovered, according to the article, “Terrestrial Origin of Viviparity in Mesozoic Marine Reptiles Indicated by Early Triassic Embryonic Fossils.”

Published 2/12/2014, Image from the article

16. 3,000-year-old cancer


What may be the world’s oldest example of human cancer was found in 3,000 year-old bones from Sudan, according to a study from March, “On the Antiquity of Cancer: Evidence for Metastatic Carcinoma in a Young Man from Ancient Nubia (c. 1200BC).”

Published 3/17/2014, Image from the article

17. That stinks!

A failing sense of smell may be a predictor of mortality in older adults, according to a study published in October, “Olfactory Dysfunction Predicts 5-Year Mortality in Older Adults.”

Published 10/1/2014

18. Neanderthals might’ve loved their veggies

Analysis of the oldest human feces ever found may indicate that Neanderthals ate their vegetables, according to the study, “The Neanderthal Meal: A New Perspective Using Faecal Biomarkers.”

Published 6/25/2014

19. No need to re-invent the wheel…er, violin

journal.pone.0109229.g007They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If that’s true, then according to “Imitation, Genetic Lineages, and Time Influenced the Morphological Evolution of the Violin,” Stradivarius must be blushing. An analysis of violin shape and history suggests that Stradivarius and three other families likely influenced violin shape over the last four centuries, with many imitating their designs.

Published 10/8/2014, Image from the article

20. Glowing gobies and friends

journal.pone.0083259.g001Scientists have conducting a glowing review of fish and discovered over 180 biofluorescent fish in the ocean, according to “The Covert World of Fish Biofluorescence: A Phylogenetically Widespread and Phenotypically Variable Phenomenon,” published in January.

Published 1/8/2014, Image from the article

It’s been another great year at PLOS ONE, and we hope you enjoyed reading this year’s top ALMs papers of 2014. If you’d like to make your own list, please check out our ALMs report.

* This list is selected from a report of papers generated based on the following ALMs ratio: PDF downloads/HTML ratios.

First Image: 20 – Cyrus Tabar

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PLOS ONE’s Top 5 Videos of 2014


Throughout the year we highlight research images that are worth a thousand words. For this year-end list, we’d like to extend the category to our research videos. Here, we’ve highlighted some of this year’s most popular videos, published in the Supporting Information of research articles.

To read the full research article associated with each video, click the links in the descriptions below them.


Nighttime Chimp Raids

What monkey business are these chimps up to at night? Wild chimpanzees living in disturbed habitats may raid nearby agricultural fields for maize at night to avoid detection by their human neighbors.


Tracking Dino Tracks

Perhaps a dinosaur chase is up to your speed? This model of a dinosaur chase was digitally reconstructed from theropod and sauropod footprints excavated 70 years ago.


Otter Talk

These giant otters communicate with one another using different calls in a surprisingly diverse vocal repertoire. Young giant otters beg for food from the adults using a contact call in this video.


Say Hello to the Hemihelix

Scientists define and describe a new shape using rubber bands—and they have the video evidence to show how it forms. This shape, a hemihelix, is rarely seen in Nature and could provide clues for fabricating 3D shapes from flat parts.


New Caledonians Rule

This video soars above all others as the most popular video from 2014, with 377,000 views at the time of this post. A New Caledonian crow drops objects of different sizes and densities into tubes of water, demonstrating that it may understand water displacement at the same level as a 5-7 year-old child.

If you enjoyed watching these top videos from 2014, feel free to check out more of our videos on the PLOS Media YouTube channel here, and don’t forget to subscribe to our channel!


Video 1: Krief S, Cibot M, Bortolamiol S, Seguya A, Krief J-M, et al. (2014) Wild Chimpanzees on the Edge: Nocturnal Activities in Croplands. PLoS ONE 9(10): e109925. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109925

Video 2: Falkingham PL, Bates KT, Farlow JO (2014) Historical Photogrammetry: Bird’s Paluxy River Dinosaur Chase Sequence Digitally Reconstructed as It Was prior to Excavation 70 Years Ago. PLoS ONE 9(4): e93247. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093247

Video 3: Mumm CAS, Knornschild M (2014) The Vocal Repertoire of Adult and Neonate Giant Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis). PLoS ONE 9(11): e112562. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0112562

Video 4: Liu J, Huang J, Su T, Bertoldi K, Clarke DR (2014) Structural Transition from Helices to Hemihelices. PLoS ONE 9(4): e93183. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093183

Image and Video 5: Jelbert SA, Taylor AH, Cheke LG, Clayton NS, Gray RD (2014) Using the Aesop’s Fable Paradigm to Investigate Causal Understanding of Water Displacement by New Caledonian Crows. PLoS ONE 9(3): e92895. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092895

All videos are published under a Creative Commons Attribution license, and may be freely reused or remixed.

Category: Aggregators, Fun, Worth A Thousand Words | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Announcing the Latest Update to the Responding the Climate Change Collection

Responding to climate changeNew research added to the PLOS Responding to Climate Change Collection

In December 2013 PLOS ONE published a unique article, Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature”, by James Hansen and colleagues. The article calls for action on climate change to reduce fossil fuel emissions back to pre-industrial era levels. In coordination with the publication of this review, a PLOS ONE call for papers on the topic Responding to Climate Change was made, which in turn led to the launch of the PLOS Responding to Climate Change Collection in July, highlighting research that focuses on efforts to on mitigating and adapting to the effects of the changing climate.

In the year since, the call for papers has launched PLOS into the multidisciplinary territories of earth science. The impact has been great, not only from the Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change” article (nearly 100,000 views, 18 citations and counting), but also from the breadth of research published in this newly emerging field of climate research.

By choosing to publish their research in an Open Access journal, authors’ works are much more accessible to fellow scientists, policymakers, and the public. Allowing their work to be reused under the CC-BY license means that progress in this critical field is faster and unrestricted by copyright.

PLOS is attending the AGU 2014 Fall Meeting this week and, to coincide with the anniversary of James Hansen announcing the call for papers at AGU 2013, we are excited to announce an update to the collection. This selection of research recently published in PLOS ONE covers a wide variety of disciplines from the impact of collective human behaviour to alternative energy resources, such as wind power and its potential use in Australia.


Jenni Horsley is Editorial Project Coordinator of PLOS Collections. Find her on Twitter at @jennihy

Image Credits (clockwise from upper left): Matt Rudge,; Vik Walker,; Vera Kratochvil,; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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Meet PLOS at AGU 2014

AGU_CarouselPLOS ONE is excited to return to the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting (AGU 2014) for a third consecutive year.  The event will be held once again at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, just a few blocks south of PLOS Headquarters.  All are encouraged to stop by booth #2605 to speak with PLOS staff and learn more about our journals.  We look forward to meeting current and prospective authors, Academic Editors, reviewers and anyone else who is interested in PLOS!

At AGU 2013 we announced a call for papers for a new PLOS Collection entitled “Responding to Climate Change” which included Hansen et al.’s article, ‘Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature.’  To coincide with AGU 2014, we will shortly be updating this collection to feature new research articles.  These papers focus on mitigating and adapting to the effects of the changing climate and feature a range of geophysical approaches, from managing coral reefs based on thermal patterns to the potential of wind power in Australia.  Be sure to look out for the blog highlighting the updated collection in mid-December to see all of the latest additions.  The call for papers remains open; if you are interested in submitting your research to the Responding to Climate Change Collection please contact us at

In addition to our PLOS Collections articles, we publish many other great works in the geophysical sciences.  This includes one of PLOS ONE’s most popular articles this year, which solved a long-standing national park mystery by combining glaciology, petrology, and atmospheric science.  To date, Norris et al.’s “Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion” has received nearly 202,000 page views and 5,000 PDF downloads, impressive press coverage, and massive social media buzz.  This article is just one of the many compelling and important works published in the past year.

The PLOS booth, #2605, will be active all week during AGU 2014, so please stop by any time to see more highlights and meet our staff!  You can also time your visit to coincide with one of our Meet-the-Editor sessions, where you can bring your questions directly to PLOS ONE staff Editors.  These will be held Tuesday December 16th from 2:00-3:00, Wednesday the 17th from 12:30-1:30 and Thursday the 18th from 12:30-1:30.  We look forward to seeing you!

Post written by Jessica Rozek

Images: NASA Goddard Photo and Video. 2010; Petraglia MD, Alsharekh A, Breeze P, Clarckson C, Crassard R, et al. PLOS ONE. 2012. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049840; Nie Y, Liu Q, Lui S. PLOS ONE, 2013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083973; van Breugel M, Hall JS, Craven D, Bailon M, Hernandez A, et al. PLOS ONE. 2013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082433

Category: Collections, Conferences, Images | Tagged , , | 1 Comment