New Year, New Species

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Rock lizards, pigment producing fungus, eagle rays, ant garden parasites, and Antarctic sea anemones: new species are discovered all the time and there are likely still millions that we simply haven’t yet discovered or assessed. Species are identified by researchers using a range of criteria including DNA, appearance, and habitat. PLOS ONE typically publishes several new species articles every month, and below we are pleased to help introduce five that were discovered in 2013.

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Iranian Rock Lizards

Thought previously to consist of only three species, this group of lizards are now seven distinct species. They appear very similar to one another, making it difficult to tell which characteristics define different species, and which are just variations present in the same species. They also have a variety of habitats, from trees to rocky outcrops, and the genus is widespread. Iranian, German, and Portuguese scientists used genetic variation and habitat to help describe four new species of Iranian rock lizards, Darevskia caspica, D. Kamii, D. kopetdaghica, and D. schaekeli. These techniques, in addition to analysis of the the lizards’ physical features, as in the photo of the four new species’ heads at the top of this page, helped to identify them definitively.

 

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Pigment producing fungus

Found in soil, indoor environments, and fruit, Talaromyces atroroseus produces a red pigment that might be good for manufacturing purposes, especially in food. Some other species of this type of fungus produce red pigments, but they are not always as useful because they can also produce toxins. T. atroroseus produces a stable red pigment with no known toxins, making it safer for human use, according to the Dutch and Danish researchers who identified it.

 

 

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Naru eagle ray

Fish, like rays and sharks, are at high risk for extinction as a group, but as rare as they are, they can be plentiful enough in some locations to make them undesirable to locals. The discovery of the Naru eagle ray, Aetobatus narutobiei, splits a previously defined species, A. flagellum, that, due to its shellfish-eating habits, is considered a pest and culled in southern Japan. The discovery by Australian and Japanese scientists that this species is actually two species prompted the authors to encourage a reassessment of the conservation status of the rays.

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Fungal parasites in ant gardens

In the Brazilian rainforest of Minas Gerais, leafcutter ants cultivate fungus, their primary source of food, on harvested leaf clippings. But scientists from Brazil, United Kingdom, and The Netherlands have discovered that their food source is threatened by four newly identified mycoparasites, Escovopsis lentecrescens, E. microspora, E. moellieri, and Escovopsioides nivea. The parasites grow like weeds in the ants’ gardens, crowding out more desirable fungus used for food. Unfortunately for the ants, researchers expect there are many similar unidentified species yet to be discovered.

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Antarctic sea anemone

Living on the previously undocumented ecosystem of the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, American researchers discovered the first species of sea anemone known to live in ice, Edwardsiella andrillae. Fields of anemone were discovered using a scientist-driven remote-controlled submersible. The anemone burrows and lives within the ice and dangles a tentacle into the water beneath, almost as if it is dipping a toe in the water to test the chilly temperature.

 

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Look here to read more about new species.

 

Citations

Ahmadzadeh F, Flecks M, Carretero MA, Mozaffari O, Böhme W, et al. (2013) Cryptic Speciation Patterns in Iranian Rock Lizards Uncovered by Integrative Taxonomy. PLoS ONE 8(12): e80563. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080563

Frisvad JC, Yilmaz N, Thrane U, Rasmussen KB, Houbraken J, et al. (2013)Talaromyces atroroseus, a New Species Efficiently Producing Industrially Relevant Red Pigments. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84102. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084102

White WT, Furumitsu K, Yamaguchi A (2013) A New Species of Eagle RayAetobatus narutobiei from the Northwest Pacific: An Example of the Critical Role Taxonomy Plays in Fisheries and Ecological Sciences. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83785. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083785

Augustin JO, Groenewald JZ, Nascimento RJ, Mizubuti ESG, Barreto RW, et al. (2013) Yet More “Weeds” in the Garden: Fungal Novelties from Nests of Leaf-Cutting Ants. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82265. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082265

Daly M, Rack F, Zook R (2013) Edwardsiella andrillae, a New Species of Sea Anemone from Antarctic Ice. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83476. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083476

Figures are all from their respective articles.

 

 

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Thanking Our Peer Reviewers

In 2013 PLOS ONE published 31,500 articles, nearly 8,000 more than in 2012. In reaching this milestone, we would like to take a moment to recognize the hard work and dedication of our peer reviewers. Without their critical insight, support, and hard work, we couldn’t do what we do.

Last year we had over 78,000 unique reviewers from 172 countries. The top 20 institutions that contributed nearly 4,000 reviews are represented below (find the interactive version here).Reviewer word cloud

We would like to send a sincere thank you to all of our amazing peer reviewers. We are enormously grateful for your contributions and look forward to working with you in the New Year!

In addition to PLOS ONE’s record-breaking year, PLOS has just announced the publication of its 100,000th article, so we also  extend our thanks for the hard work of the peer reviewers contributing to all of the PLOS journals.

Best wishes in the New Year!

PLOS ONE Team

Image: http://tagul.com

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Underwater Compositions: Song Sharing Between Southern Ocean Humpback Whales

Whale Tail

Imagine a world where sight is limited by the extreme scattering of photons and smell is ineffective due to lethargic diffusion of molecules slowed by the density of water. In these conditions both sight and smell are limited. These conditions characterize, among other things, the ocean, where large sea mammals rely mostly on sound to communicate. The speed of sound is four times greater in water than in air at sea level. Male humpback whales have been observed communicating via ever-changing patterns of vocalization, which scientists have termed ‘song’. These whales compose their songs for the purposes of breeding, learning new songs as they come in contact with fellow crooners. Exactly how and when humpback whales learn these songs, however, remains a larger mystery.

To dive more deeply into the nebulous realms of humpback whale song sharing, researchers of a recent PLOS ONE study recorded instances of humpback whale song in the Southern Ocean.

Humpback whale song is identifiable because of its intricate pattern of structure. Songs are composed of multiple sound types, for example, as these researchers suggest, ‘ascending cry,’ ‘moan,’ and ‘purr’. When units come together to form a pattern, these units form a phrase. Phrases repeated become a theme, and themes sung in a particular order compose a song. Researchers recorded these compositions by deploying radio-linked sonobuoys, which transmit underwater sound, and then digitized the recordings.

Here is an example of song recorded off the coast of New Caledonia in 2010: 

Recordings, like the one above, reveal a possible link between three distinct breeding populations (marked D, E, and F on the map below) off the shores of eastern Australia and the island to the east of New Caledonia with a shared feeding ground in Antarctica (Area V).

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In early 2010, the researchers identified four songs near Antarctica that matched themes from eastern Australia in 2009. By July, 2010, all four songs were then also identified in the group from New Caledonia. The themes recognized in New Caledonia in 2010 were entirely different than the themes of 2009, suggesting a movement of new songs eastward from eastern Australia to New Caledonia.

Consequently, the shared feeding grounds in Antarctica used by both the eastern Australia and New Caledonia groups in early 2010 may be the point at which these populations’ songs diverged.

By capturing sonobuoy recordings near feeding grounds off the Balleny Islands, researchers recorded the first instances of humpback whale song in Area V of Antarctica.

Sonobuoy recording

 

In addition, the inclusion of feeding grounds into the dynamic pattern of humpback whale song sharing helps shed new light on overall patterns of song learning and transmission from one breeding group to another.

Sound recording off the Balleny Islands near Antarctica, however, is challenging, and the sample of whale singers from this area remains relatively small. Regardless, the song documented here suggests Antarctica (Area V) as an emerging location for future study, and highlights the importance of feeding grounds in the transmission of humpback whale song. Through a better understanding of how and where these dynamic compositions radiate across the Southern Ocean, we can begin to understand humpback whale population connectivity and one of the best examples of non-human, large-scale learning demonstrated throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

To listen to more of the whale song recorded by these researchers, check out the Supporting Information of their article. For more on humpback whales, check out these PLOS ONE papers.

Citation: Garland EC, Gedamke J, Rekdahl ML, Noad MJ, Garrigue C, et al. (2013) Humpback Whale Song on the Southern Ocean Feeding Grounds: Implications for Cultural Transmission. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79422. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079422

Images and Acoustic Files:

Image 1: Humpback Whale Tail by Natalie Tapson

Acoustic File: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079422

Image 2: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079422

Image 3: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079422

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Fish Beware – A New Species of Parasite is Discovered

Drawing of  Lethacotyle vera.

Drawing of Lethacotyle vera.

The world is full of creepy crawlers; some are harmless bugs while others are blood sucking parasites. Adding to the list of parasites this month is one identified in a recent PLOS ONE article, Lethacotyle vera n. sp, a new species of fish parasite, found in the South Pacific. Lethacotyle vera is part of the class Polyopisthocotylean monogenean, which are tiny (less than 1-cm long), parasitic flatworms that live on fish gills.

For any type of ectoparasite (parasites that live outside their host’s body) staying attached to their host is an important ability. One of the most notable features of Polyopisthocotylea is their multiple sucking clamps that allow them to keep their position on the fish. These clamps are found on the haptor, a body part developed specifically for attaching. Some parasites in this group can have hundreds of clamps as part of their haptor. In fact, Polyopisthocotylea literally translates to ‘many sucker-cups at the rear’. Thank goodness they only like fish!

However, there is one rare species discovered 60 years ago, Lethacotyle fijiensis, that appears to be clamp-less. The only available specimen for study is the one shown in the picture below.

The only available specimen of L. fijiensis

The only available specimen of L. fijiensis.

 

This close up below shows you what L. fijiensis actually looks like. The clamp-less haptor is the oblong protrusion on the very left end.

 

Close up of L. fijiensis

Because only four specimens of L. fijiensis have ever been found, and because having clamps is a major distinguishing feature of monogeneans, many researchers have assumed that L. fijiensis was incorrectly identified as clamp-less, and that these specimens probably lost their clamps through mishandling of the specimens by people.

In an attempt to verify the true nature of L. fijiensis, the authors went in search of additional specimens in the Pacific, where it was originally discovered. While they were unable to find any, they instead unearthed a hereto-undiscovered close relative, which they named Lethacotyle vera (vera is Latin for true, meaning that the genus Lethacotyle, is indeed real).

Haptor and Hooks

As it turns out L. vera is also a monogenean without clamps. The main physical difference between L. vera and L. fjiensis is the length in the male reproductive organ. The authors noted that L. vera has flaps on its haptor that are covered in many ridges, as well as hooks. A drawing of the haptor with its ridges and hooks can be seen in part F in the image to the right.

 

The authors sequenced the DNA from two of the eighteen specimens. The extracted DNA showed that the genetic information in L. vera is unique from all other known monogeneans. Then, in an effort to determine why L. fijiensis and L. vera don’t have the typical clamps of their family, they compared the ratio of clamp-to-body surface area in 120 different monogenean species. They found that members of the monogenean family to which L. vera and L. fijiensis belong, protomicrocotylids, had consistently the smallest clamp-to-body ratio. Additionally, many other species of polyopisthocotylean monogeneans had lateral flaps with ridges on their haptors.

From this observation, the authors concluded that in the family protomicrocotylids, their clamps are in fact slowly disappearing, and that in the specific case of L. fijiensis, the clamps have completely disappeared. The authors suggest that flaps can also hold onto the host, and that this process is assisted by the ridges and hooks along the flaps.

The discovery of a new species is always exciting, and as the case of L. vera shows us, can lead to insights about the larger family of related organisms. Read more about new species at PLOS ONE, such as this orchid or this Indonesian owl.

Citation: Justine J-L, Rahmouni C, Gey D, Schoelinck C, Hoberg EP (2013) The Monogenean Which Lost Its Clamps. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79155. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079155

Image 1 Credit: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079155.g001

Image 2 Credit: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079155.g002

Image 3 Credit: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079155.g007

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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

gorilla

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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