Awkward Silences: Technical Delays Can Diminish Feelings of Unity and Belonging

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Smooth social interaction is fundamental to a sense of togetherness. We’ve all experienced disrupted conversations—some caused by human awkwardness and others by breakdowns in technology. The content of our interactions does influence our connection to each other, but the form and process of communication also play a role.  Technical delays that occur below our conscious detection can still make us feel like we don’t quite click with the person we are trying to communicate with. The authors of a recently published PLOS ONE article, funded by a Google Research Award, investigated how delays introduced into technologically mediated conversations affected participants’ sense of solidarity with each other, defined as unity, belongingness, and shared reality.

For this research, conducted at University of Groningen, The Netherlands, participants in three sets of experiments sat in cubicles with headsets connected to computers (conditions that many of us with desk jobs can relate to) and were asked to talk about holidays for five minutes with an assigned partner. Some conversations were uninterrupted. Others were manipulated by introducing a one-second auditory delay. Some pairs knew about the delay and others did not. Afterward, the conversationalists completed a questionnaire about their sense of unity, belonging, understanding, and agreement with their partners.

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Researchers found that those participants whose conversations were interrupted expressed significantly diminished feelings of unity and belonging. Awareness of technical problems had no apparent effect on perceived solidarity.  Even acquaintances stated that they felt a disconnect, though to a lesser degree, than participants who did not know each other. Despite participants expressing that they felt less unity and belongingness with their partner even when they had the opportunity to attribute it to technical problems, technology did not get a free pass on the delayed signal. Those with an interrupted connection also expressed less satisfaction with the technology. Points may have been lost for both relationships and telecommunications.

In a world where our interactions are increasingly mediated by computers and mobile phones with less than perfect signals, the authors suggest that this research provides insight into how our daily interactions may be affected. The method of communication we choose may influence our personal and business relationships, especially among strangers. The authors also posit that technology meant to improve long distance communication by imitating face-to-face interaction may not measure up to expectations if it is not executed without interruptions or delays. Perhaps this is something to consider during your next awkward phone call or video conference— though your awareness of technology as a possible barrier ultimately may not make a difference in how you perceive the person on the other end of the line.

Citation: Koudenburg N, Postmes T, Gordijn EH (2013) Conversational Flow Promotes Solidarity. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78363. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078363

Images: First image by Villemard is in the public domain. Second image is Supplemetary Figure 1 from the article.

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PLOS ONE Heads to the Big Easy for the 2013 Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology

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PLOS ONE is excited for the opportunity to exhibit alongside PLOS Biology at the American Society for Cell Biology’s (ASCB) Annual Meeting in New Orleans from December 14 – 18. This year’s ASCB meeting will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and is expected to draw approximately 7,000 cell biology enthusiasts. The conference will feature upwards of 100 scientific sessions and 2500 posters on a plethora of topics within cell biology research.  Additionally, as stated on the ASCB Annual Meeting website, Nobel Laureates Randy Schekman, a PLOS ONE author, and James Rotham will be special guest speakers.

We encourage all conference attendees to stop by booth # 211 on Publisher’s Row to speak with PLOS ONE staff and learn about the journal. We look forward to engaging with PLOS ONE authors—current and prospective alike—as well as reviewers, members of our Editorial Board (Academic Editors) and all others wanting to learn about PLOS ONE and PLOS as a whole. Additionally, Dr. Ines Alvarez-Garcia, a Senior Editor from our sister journal, PLOS Biology, will be at the exhibition booth for a “meet the editor” session from noon – 1 pm on Monday, December 16. Be sure to stop by and say hello. After the conference on the evening of the 16th PLOS ONE will be hosting a mixer for all Academic Editors who are in attendance at the event. Please contact Camron Assadi (cassadi@plos.org) to RSVP.

See you in New Orleans on December 14!

In celebration of all things cell biology, here are some of the most viewed and most cited cell biology-related papers published in PLOS ONE over the past year:

Most Viewed

Citation: Rundqvist H, Augsten M, Strömberg A, Rullman E, Mijwel S, et al. (2013) Effect of Acute Exercise on Prostate Cancer Cell Growth. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67579. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067579

Citation: Hanauske-Abel HM, Saxena D, Palumbo PE, Hanauske A-R, Luchessi AD, et al. (2013) Drug-Induced Reactivation of Apoptosis Abrogates HIV-1 Infection. PLoS ONE 8(9): e74414. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074414

Citation: Bhasin MK, Dusek JA, Chang B-H, Joseph MG, Denninger JW, et al. (2013) Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62817. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062817

Most Cited

Citation: Xu Y, Ding J, Wu L-Y, Chou K-C (2013) iSNO-PseAAC: Predict Cysteine S-Nitrosylation Sites in Proteins by Incorporating Position Specific Amino Acid Propensity into Pseudo Amino Acid Composition. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55844. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055844

Citation: Ohkura M, Sasaki T, Sadakari J, Gengyo-Ando K, Kagawa-Nagamura Y, et al. (2012) Genetically Encoded Green Fluorescent Ca2+ Indicators with Improved Detectability for Neuronal Ca2+ Signals. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51286. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051286

Citation: Manikkam M, Tracey R, Guerrero-Bosagna C, Skinner MK (2013) Plastics Derived Endocrine Disruptors (BPA, DEHP and DBP) Induce Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Obesity, Reproductive Disease and Sperm Epimutations. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55387. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055387

Image Credit(2004) Protein Helps Orchestrate Cells’ Fluid Uptake. PLOS Biology 2(9): e318. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020318.

 

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Reptilian Sibling Rivalry

Do you ever fight with your siblings? Unless you’re regularly biting, head-butting, and threatening each other all night long, things could probably be worse. The authors of a new PLOS ONE study investigate how well crocodilians get along with each other as youngsters.

Researchers observed seven species of hatchling and juvenile captive-raised crocodilians in Darwin, Australia and Chennai, India. The animals were divided into small groups and then introduced into new mixed water and land enclosures. The scientists counted, classified, and analyzed instances of aggressive interactions, postures and behavior among the animals. Because crocodilians are at their most active in the evenings and during the night (and at their most amiable during the day), the authors analyzed footage from 4pm until 8am the next morning.

Siblings aren’t always so bad: juvenile Siamese crocodiles socializing

Siblings aren’t always so bad: juvenile Siamese crocodiles socializing

Some but not all of the awesome aggressive behaviors the authors observed during the study included:

  • Biting: “Jaws closed shut on an opponent.” Bites range from light mouthing to prolonged bites.
  • Head pushing: “Head is pushed into an opponent.”
  • Inflated posture: The crocodilian extends upward on its legs and arches its back downward to appear large and dominant. Other species also modify their posture in a similar fashion when challenged—two classic examples are cats and puffer fish.

  • Tail wagging: Crocodilians (like cats and many other animals) wag their tails as a way to signal and respond to aggression. They also sometimes tail wag as a windup to increase the force of a bite or a side head strike.
  • Side head strikes: One individual thrusts his or her head sideways into another’s.

Based on the observed behaviors, the authors classified the seven species according to levels of aggression. The authors suggest that the significant overall differences in relative temperament likely arise from each species’ unique ecological environment and adaptations. Some species, like the American alligator, the gharial (native to India), and the freshwater crocodile, were highly tolerant of one another and had relatively few aggressive interactions. When these species did display aggressive behavior, the vast majority of aggressive incidents appeared to be accidental and low-intensity. Other more aggressive species, like the saltwater crocodile and the New Guinea crocodile, displayed pronounced dominance patterns and had a higher incidence of deliberate, intense aggression.  These species used direct challenges like biting to establish dominance, and submissive behaviors such as raising the head into the air to yield.  Bites and head pushes were the most common forms of aggressive contact across all the species, although many behaviors were species-specific. For example, slender-snouted crocodilians tended to avoid aggressive interactions and the most potentially damaging behaviors, perhaps due to a relatively higher risk of injury.

The researchers suggest that aggressive behavior in young crocodilians could be a survival strategy to help them learn social cues and minimize their chances of being injured in social settings. The extent of the hatchling’s aggression may affect how long it takes them to abandon their initial family groups. Babies will spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few years with siblings and a small number of adults, until (like so many humans) they leave their families and strike out on their own “due to a growing intolerance of each other.”

The authors indicate that this research may have implications for effectively rearing multiple species in captivity and may also inform the planning, management, and success of effective reintroduction and conservation programs worldwide.

Related Content:

Determinants of Habitat Selection by Hatchling Australian Freshwater Crocodiles

Why the Long Face? The Mechanics of Mandibular Symphysis Proportions in Crocodiles

Citation: Brien ML, Lang JW, Webb GJ, Stevenson C, Christian KA (2013) The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Agonistic Behaviour in Juvenile Crocodilians. PLoS ONE 8(12): e80872. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080872

Images: Siamese crocodiles picture by chem7, other pictures taken from Figure 1 of the published paper.

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PLOS ONE at AGU 2013

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PLOS ONE is excited to participate in the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting 2013, held this week in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Conveniently, Moscone is just down the street from our San Francisco office, so several members of PLOS staff will be in attendance and available to chat with you about the journal. We’re looking forward to meeting both current and potential Academic Editors, reviewers, and of course authors! Please stop by Booth #301 to say hello.

Last week was a very geophysics-oriented one for us, with both the publication of Hansen et al.’s work “Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature” and with the announcement of our call for papers in a new collection entitled “Responding to Climate Change.” What’s more exciting is that James Hansen will be in attendance at AGU and will be giving a talk today (December 10th) on this topic, in support of taking significant, active measures to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

Last year, at AGU 2012, we were a little bit of an unfamiliar face to many. This year, we hope to continue our conversation with the physical sciences community about our commitment to open access and the publication of sound scientific research in all areas of science and medicine, including geoscience, space science, chemistry, and physics.

After AGU, look out for the PLOS booth again in just a few days at the American Society for Cell Biology!

Image Credit: Detailed view of Arctic Sea Ice in 2007, from NASA Visible Earth.

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Mama Gorilla Knows Best

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While few question the importance of maternal care in humans, scientists do question the influence of a mother’s behavior in other species. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology have now published an article in PLOS ONE showing exactly how important a mother’s guidance can be to our friend the western lowland gorilla. After monitoring the spread of two specific behaviors in captive groups of gorillas, the authors suggest that gorilla mothers play a vital role in social learning and the transmission of behaviors between generations.

The authors videotaped gorilla behavior for 4-6 hours per day over the course of eight weeks in 2000 and 2010 at Howletts Wild Animal Parks. Throughout their sittings, they watched for two specific behaviors shown by different individuals: the “Puff-Blowing” technique, used during mealtimes to separate oat from chaff, and the “Throw-Kiss-Display,” one male gorilla’s coy way of drawing visitors’ attention to him. Check out the live-action versions in the videos below.

During the initial observational period in 2000, the “Puff-Blowing” technique was used by three adult females, while the “Throw-Kiss-Display” was implemented by a single silverback male, Kouillou, and no other members of the group.

By the time the researchers returned in 2010, the “Puff-Blowing” technique was practiced by 15 individuals, while the “Throw-Kiss-Display” had been dropped entirely, even by the original practitioner.

When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that the spread of the observed “Puff-Blowing” technique to new gorillas could be tracked through mother-child relationships. All but three offspring (13 total) of the original three mothers used the technique. Furthermore, this behavior was never seen in the offspring of mothers who did not perform the technique.

Based on their observations, the authors suggest that the actions of the gorilla mother play a major role in the transmission of behaviors. In other words, baby gorilla see, baby gorilla do. While the authors mention that “Puff-Blowing” may be more likely to be passed down because it’s useful at mealtime—unlike the “Throw-Kiss-Display”—they argue that the path of transmission (mother-offspring) is significant. The authors also indicate that genetic factors may affect the occurrence of these behaviors, as not all offspring of the “Puff-Blowing” mothers inherited the action, suggesting that other forces may be at play.

Lesson learned: Even gorillas need their mommies.

For more evidence of the importance of mothers in the animal kingdom, check out this paper on migration patterns in humpback whales.

Citation: Luef EM, Pika S (2013) Gorilla Mothers Also Matter! New Insights on Social Transmission in Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in Captivity. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79600. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079600

Image Credit: USINFO Photo Gallery

Videos: S1 and S2 from the paper

 


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Snail Mucus May Alter Plant Defenses

Michael_Gwyther-Jones_-_Garden_Snail_smallPredator-prey relationships make up a large part of the food chain, and both predators and prey have developed visual, auditory, physical, and even chemical abilities to better their respective chances for surviving, whether that means catching a meal or avoiding turning into one. Ants may mimic spiders to avoid predators and a grizzly bear’s size and strength allow them to feast on pretty much anything. But what about the interactions between a slow-moving predator, like the garden snail pictured above, and completely stationary “prey,” like a plant?

Garden snails are found throughout the world and feast on many species of plants, including those in our gardens. One of those species is the black mustard plant. Originally from the Mediterranean, black mustard is now common throughout the world. Scientists are working to understand if a common plant, like black mustard, may be able to pick up chemical signals from snail mucus called kairomones and preemptively change their biochemistry to become less appealing to snails. Snails produce mucus during motion, and its presence is often a good indicator to plants that a snail is nearby.

In a recent article published in PLOS ONE, a researcher from the Department of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied whether “unwounded” black mustard plants exposed to snail mucus before being exposed to actual snails experienced lower rates of snail predation.

The researcher exposed black mustard plants at different ages to snail mucus, collected on paper, when the plant was a seed, a seedling, or when it was a seed and again when it was a seedling. The control plant group was not exposed to mucus at any point. After plants were exposed to one of these treatments, a single adult garden snail was then placed with one of the plants to measure if the snail would munch on each plant equally.

Plants that received early exposure or a repeated exposure to mucus during the seedling stage showed a reduced susceptibility to snail feeding or “attack,” but plants in the control group experienced no significant reduction in feeding. The author suggests that plants may pick up on chemicals associated with plant eaters—in this case snail mucus—that may prompt them to become less appealing before an initial attack even occurs.

Although the chemical mechanism that the plants used to make themselves less appealing isn’t clear, in this predator-prey-like interaction, the predators may actually be inadvertently making their dinner less appealing. Turns out gardeners aren’t the only ones that don’t like slimy snail trails.

Citation: Orrock JL (2013) Exposure of Unwounded Plants to Chemical Cues Associated with Herbivores Leads to Exposure-Dependent Changes in Subsequent Herbivore Attack. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79900. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079900

Image: Garden Snail by Michael Gwyther-Jones

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James Hansen and Colleagues Offer Evidence for a Disruptive Call to Action

The article PLOS ONE publishes today from James Hansen and colleagues, “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change:  Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature” is extraordinary in many ways. From its diverse list of authors to the breadth of the analysis and the conclusions that emerge, the paper goes beyond the scope of a traditional research article by dismantling boundaries between disciplines and adding a moral dimension to the collective dialogue. Most significant for scientists and non-scientists alike is the paper’s prediction that current carbon emissions targets will prove too high to prevent long-lasting, irreversible damage to the planet. As a result, the authors say, cohesive, unified action is required – now — to reduce fossil fuel emissions to pre-Industrial Era levels.

The former head of NASA’s ONE_Climate-change-250x250Goddard Institute for Space Studies is joined on this paper by seventeen high-profile academics with expertise across the climate research spectrum, from atmospheric science, earth science, and environmental science, to economics, global change, and public health, with the paper’s analysis reflecting all these topics. The authors assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. By calculating atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) as a function of fossil fuel emissions and examining the potential for reducing atmospheric CO2 through reforestation efforts and attempts to increase carbon in the soil, the authors re-evaluate fossil fuel emission reduction scenarios and conclude that an appropriate target is to keep global temperature within or close to the temperature range estimated for the Holocene, the interglacial period in which civilization first developed.

By accompanying their scientific analysis with an explicit call for action by governments, scientists, and average citizens, Hansen et al. go a large distance toward connecting the dots of current scientific and political discourse on climate change. They demonstrate why reductions delayed are far less meaningful than reductions now, how damaging the warming will be without these reductions, and the challenges presented by carbon extraction.

New Territory

For PLOS ONE, which has in the past primarily published biomedical research, this paper represents a broadening in scope. As often happens at our journal, it comes about in response to a need from the scientific community—in this case, the need to publish fully peer-reviewed climate research in a high-profile venue, fully accessible to the entire world for free.

Few areas can benefit as much from the force of Open Access as climate change research: the combination of public, scientific, and governmental interest with the mounting misinformation, unsubstantiated opinions, and unsourced data make public access to original, well-reported, and peer-reviewed climate change research of utmost importance. We hope that this paper will be the first of many that deal with this rapidly growing area of multidisciplinary research.

Call for Papers

To facilitate this objective, we are drawing on the findings of Hansen et al. to announce a call for papers in a new PLOS ONE Collection entitled, ‘Responding to Climate Change.’ The Collection will incorporate the broad range of areas covered in Hansen et al.’s paper, with a particular focus on work aimed at reducing fossil fuel emissions and returning the Earth and its ecosystems to a state of energy balance.

Areas in the call for papers include,

- atmospheric chemistry

- alternative energy research

- geoengineering

- science policy

- behavioural psychology

- economics of carbon trading

- ecosystem and habitat conservation

PLOS ONE’s wide subject matter scope and broad publication criteria make it a perfect venue to collate and curate relevant articles in these vastly differing areas of research into one place. Our hope, which we share with the Hansen and colleagues, is that by encouraging and facilitating further research, replication, and sharing of both positive and negative results, this Collection will become a catalyst for continued climate research and policy formation, and will, as the authors suggest, lead to an energy-conservative, habitable, and thriving climate that can be sustained for many generations to come.

Submission Guidelines

If you wish to submit your research to the PLOS Responding to Climate Change Collection, please consider the following when preparing your manuscript:

  • All articles must adhere to the Publication Criteria of PLOS ONE.
  • Standard PLOS policies and relevant publication fees apply to all submissions.
  • Submission to PLOS ONE as part of the Responding to Climate Change Collection does not guarantee publication.

All papers should be submitted to PLOS ONE, with a clear statement in the cover letter that they are intending to submit to the Responding to Climate Change Collection. This will ensure that the staff will be aware of your submission to the Collection.

Please contact PLOS Collections (collections@plos.org) if you would like further information about how to submit your research to the PLOS Responding to Climate Change Collection.

Citation: Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F, et al. (2013) Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648

Image Credits (clockwise from upper left): Shundong Bi, Jin Meng, Sarah McLean, Wenyu Wu, Xijun Ni, Jie Ye. PLOS ONE. January 2013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052625; Tom Schils. PLOS ONE. October 2012. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046639; George Sangster, Ben F. King, Philippe Verbelen, Colin R. Trainor. PLOS ONE. February 2013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053712; Thomas Vignaud. PLOS Biology. April 2011. 9(4)

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Winter Service Update

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As we head into winter and as the holiday festivities begin, we wanted to let our authors know in advance that they may experience a slight delay in the peer review process of their manuscript if they submit anytime between now and the end of the year. This is because many of our academic editors and external referees will be out of the office at some point during the holiday season.

Despite many people being on vacation, the work of the journal continues and so we will endeavor to ensure that all manuscripts submitted to PLOS ONE are evaluated as quickly as possible, but please accept our advance apologies for any delays you experience.

In the meantime, we encourage you to visit the following links for information and answers to some of our common questions. For anything not covered here, please contact us at plosone@plos.org and we will respond as quickly as possible.

Image: Emily’s Snowman Cookies by Ralph Daily

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I’ll Have What He’s Having: Dogs Eavesdrop on Human Interactions

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving and sharing a warm meal with loved ones, we’d like to take a moment to give some social credit to our loving, faithful, and clever furry friends. Researchers have been investigating the question of whether animals can eavesdrop—or listen in on third-party interactions—for some time, and evidence of potential eavesdropping has been identified in dogs and other mammals, fish, and birds.

Dogs are especially good candidates for studying eavesdropping because they are social animals and have been domesticated, so they are accustomed to interacting with humans day-in and day-out. Most dog owners know how well their dogs can “read” them, and some might argue that their dogs can do this better than other people they know. Researchers have also confirmed that dogs can recognize human emotions, facial expressions, and friendliness versus hostility, the latter even in strangers.

In a more nuanced form of social interaction, dogs have been shown to prefer certain people over others depending on the outcome of third-party interactions. To further investigate how dogs respond to interactions among people, the authors of this recently published PLOS ONE article asked whether dogs can develop a preference for or against givers, or “donors,” in a “begging” interaction between people.

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The study recruited 72 dogs of various breeds and sizes and put them in a testing environment that either resembled a home or a dog care facility. While the dog watched from across the room, two human assistants acted as “donors” (females, pictured above) who offered food to a “beggar” (male, above), and the beggar either reacted positively or negatively to the offered food. The extent of the reaction was controlled to try to determine which social cues the dog was picking up on: gesture + verbal (GV), gesture only (G), or verbal (V) only.

In the GV group positive scenario, the beggar received a yummy corn flake, ate it, and said “So tasty!”; in the negative scenario, the beggar said “So ugly!” gave the corn flake back, and then turned his back. The G and V groups differed in that they isolated the gesture and verbal components, respectively. After the beggar left, the dog was released and had 10 seconds to decide between the donors, who did not signal the dog in any way. Dogs that did not make a choice were removed from the analysis.

As the results below show, dogs were more likely to choose the donor who received a positive reaction; the authors also noted that the dogs tended to watch or gaze at the donor who received a positive reaction longer than the donor who received a negative reaction. However, the authors state that both gesture and verbal cues (the GV group) were required to show a reliable difference among the groups.

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Although these results alone are not conclusive, as it is difficult to control for all the variables affecting these scenarios (e.g., the authors note that dogs chose randomly if the donors switched places), the authors suggest that the dogs may have attributed a “reputation” to the donor based on the beggar’s reaction, where both gesture and verbal cues were required for the dog to make this association.

While not the same as a scientific experiment, it might be fun to “test” your dog in various eavesdropping scenarios, especially in relation to available food* on the Thanksgiving table.

Happy Thanksgiving from PLOS ONE!

Citation: Freidin E, Putrino N, D’Orazio M, Bentosela M (2013) Dogs’ Eavesdropping from People’s Reactions in Third Party Interactions. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79198. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079198

Image Credits: Figure 1 by carterse, Figures 2 and 3 from the article

*food safe for pets to eat, of course!

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Burning the Candle at Both Ends: Intertidal Ant Species Can Work Night and Day

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If you’ve ever experienced rush hour traffic, you know firsthand that most humans base our schedules roughly around the rise and setting of the Sun, during daylight hours. However, the Australian intertidal ant, Polyrhachis sokolova, must instead schedule its busy day of foraging in the mangrove forest according to the rise and fall of the tide. Low tide can occur day or night, and to function effectively in both the brightest and darkest conditions, these ants possess several useful eye structures—not unlike the pupils in our eyes, or night vision goggles—that help them adjust to different light levels so that they can find food.

AntFaceThere are thousands of ant species that can have a variety of habitats, morphologies (shapes), and navigation methods. Australian intertidal ants use vision to identify landmarks like trees, and celestial cues like the angle of starlight to find their way. Low tide, whenever that may be, is the best time for foraging, so these ants need to see in all light levels without the assistance of flashlights or sunhats. Exactly how they manage to adapt to such a wide range of light conditions was investigated and described in a recent PLOS ONE study.

To learn more, researchers made tiny casts of intertidal ants’ eyes using fingernail polish. They flattened the casts and examined them under a microscope. Ants have compound eyes, meaning that their eyes are made of many tiny facets, or eye units, compared to simple eyes like ours that only have one eye unit each. Researchers counted the number of facets in each compound eye and measured each one’s diameter. The eyes were cast at different times—10am and 10pm—to inspect how the eye structures changed in dark versus light conditions. The light sensitivity of the eyes was calculated based on this morphological data.

journal.pone.0076015.g003Intertidal ants’ compound eyes each have around 596 facets and are similar to the eyes of other ant species specifically adapted to darker conditions. Eyes that “see” in the dark tend to have larger lenses and be extremely sensitive to light to get the most out of the little available light. This night vision adaptation would typically limit an ant’s ability to function in daylight because bright light would overload the photoreceptors in these highly sensitive structures, but the researchers found  other mechanisms that protect these ants’ eyes, restricting the amount of light that can enter—like a pupil—by making the openings that allow light to pass smaller. This mechanism helps the ants adapt their night-vision eyes to bright daylight.  This type of pupil is seen in other nocturnal ants but had not been found previously in ants that forage during the day.

Finally, to assist in navigation, the researchers found yet another structure in the ants’ eyes: special light detectors that act like skylights and help determine direction by sensing the angles of light sources in the sky. Therefore, Australian intertidal ants do not have the very best day or night vision, but they instead sacrifice some of their ability to see well in each condition in order to see “adequately” in both.

Citation: Narendra A, Alkaladi A, Raderschall CA, Robson SKA, Ribi WA (2013) Compound Eye Adaptations for Diurnal and Nocturnal Lifestyle in the Intertidal Ant, Polyrhachis sokolova. PLoS ONE 8(10): e76015. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076015

Image Credits: Images are from Figures 1, 2, and 3 from the manuscript.

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