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Birds of a feather…

It's month two of our concerted effort to recruit more papers in specific fields into PLoS ONE. For our June focus, we have analyzed the strong Avian research papers that have flocked to PLoS ONE since we launched. These articles fall into three main categories, Avian Flu, Ecology and Conservation plus Behavior and Birdsong.

For your reading pleasure, the top five Bird papers from PLoS ONE in terms of usage (based on unique page view statistics from Google Analytics) are as follows:

In first place is the paper entitled Coevolution of Male and Female Genital Morphology in Waterfowl by Brennan et al whose subject matter (sex and genitalia) and study subjects (ducks) caused a flurry of press interest, notably this piece from The New York Times among many others.

Corresponding Author, Patricia Brennan of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Peabody Natural History Museum, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA on learning of this top ranking position, said “The impact of our paper is high for several reasons: It provides a very clear example to well-developed evolutionary theories for the interactions between the sexes. Our discovery of complex genitalia in female waterfowl provides a mechanism by which females may be able to retain control of fertilization even when males are able to force copulate. This is a very clear anatomical example of cryptic female choice. Also the coevolution that occurs between male and female genital anatomy demonstrates how the sexes are locked in an arms race for the control of fertilization. It also highlights the importance of considering female adaptation when studying sexual selection: perhaps the most remarkable thing about our findings is that it took so long to discover in an avian group that has been so well studied. Obviously one of the reasons why the paper has been viewed so many times is because there was so much press around it. The interest was created by the subject matter (sex and genitalia), and the study subjects (waterfowl), both of which are very popular. Open-access made it possible for the general public to download and read the paper and post it in their blogs. More than a year later, I still get interview requests and e-mail from people who have observed ducks mating in their backyard”.

The Academic Editor Tommaso Pizzari from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom said “Right from the review stage, the study triggered a lively debate and re-ignited an age old question: What drives this evolutionary arms race between the sexes? One possibility is that male adaptations to sexual competition may harm females, triggering the evolution of counteracting female traits that enable females to reduce harm. Another possibility, is that females make fertilisation difficult for males to make sure that only the most competitive males stand a chance of fathering offspring. In other words, females may coevolve to reduce male-inflicted harm or to retain control over paternity and increase the fitness of their offspring. The jury is still out. One aspect seems clear, females are threading on a thin line: they cannot make fertilisation so difficult as to risk infertile eggs. This intimate process of intersexual coevolution has important ramifications for the evolution of reproductive isolation and ultimately speciation. Brennan and colleagues provide one of the most compelling bits of evidence of such coevolution in vertebrates, so I wasn’t surprised by the intense media interest that this study has already generated. What has surprised me is the increasingly high number of high profile studies such as Brennan et al that have been published by PloS ONE. I find this surprising for two reasons. First, PLoS is still a very young journal. Second, PLoS ONE publishes studies that are scientifically sound but does not prioritise topical or exciting results. It is very encouraging that the combination of public access, rapid editing and scientific rigour is proving a magnet for important contributions. When PLoS ONE was born the editorial team knew it was going to be one big brave gamble, I am delighted that it has worked out beyond our wildest dreams”!

In the number two slot is A Visual Pathway Links Brain Structures Active during Magnetic Compass Orientation in Migratory Birds by Heyers et al. Author Henrik Mouritsen was good enough to share with us his opinion of publishing his work in PLoS ONE. He said “Publishing with PLoS ONE was a PLEASURE! Very quick response times, good, constructive reviewer comments, speedy publication once accepted, good press work. If it wasn't for the impact factor tyranny, we would publish most of our papers in PLoS ONE! We have already published two additional papers in PLoS ONE (PLoS ONE 2(10): e1106 and PLoS ONE, 3(3): e1768). I am curious, how many citings these papers will end up getting and what impact factor PLoS ONE will get for papers in our field compared to what papers from our field gets in other journals”.

Rounding out the picture, positions three, four and five in the countdown went to these papers respectively: Cross-Clade Protective Immune Responses to Influenza Viruses with H5N1 HA and NA Elicited by an Influenza Virus-Like Particle; Leg Disorders in Broiler Chickens: Prevalence Risk Factors and Prevention and Cross-Protection against Lethal H5N1 Challenge in Ferrets with an Adjuvanted Pandemic Influenza Vaccine. The sad and sorry state of Broiler Chicken Legs inspired Bex from the PLoS ONE team to write this blog post on the significant media coverage that this paper also received.

We’re delighted that the Avian research community has spontaneously taken the publishing principles of PLoS ONE, namely open access, fast publication, peer-review, friendly service plus interactivity and made them their own.

And, we’re equally pleased to hear the Bird Research community sing the praises of PLoS ONE, as Patricia Brennan said “The experience of publishing at PLoS one was overall very positive. The Academic Editor was willing to work with us in producing the final manuscript, despite our different approaches to some of the scientific issues, because he recognized the novelty and importance of our work. Referees comments were provided quickly and were good and fair. The paper was published quickly once accepted, something that is very appealing given the publishing delay in many journals. I will submit further work for publication in PLoS ONE and have no hesitation recommending it to others”.

To conclude, the PLoS ONE nest is ready to be feathered with more Avian papers, so please send us your work today.

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