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The Muted Mating of Female Chimps

As Niyaz Ahmed, PLoS ONE Section Editor for Microbiology and Genomics, observed on his blog, there were two articles on the behaviour of chimpanzees published in PLoS ONE last week, one of which, Female Chimpanzees Use Copulation Calls Flexibly to Prevent Social Competition, really swept the board of the UK press: there were stories in the Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, which focused on the chimps’ “subtle mating game”, and The Independent, which was intrigued by "the mystery of female sex cries".

Simon Townsend and colleagues at the University of St Andrews studied the calls made by female chimpanzees during mating and found that the females produced louder calls in the presence of high-ranking males but were much quieter when aggressive females were around in order not to alert the competition. The study was also featured in the New York Times (Chimp’s Sex Calls May Reflect Calculation), the BBC News (Monogamy shunned by female chimps), Live Science (Why Female Chimps Shout or Shut Up During Sex), Reuters (Shhhh! Quiet copulation key for female chimps) and BoingBoing (Sounds of chimp sex) and was discussed on the Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast.

Once chimpanzees have successfully reproduced, what role do their infant offspring play in the spread of epidemics to the rest of their family? An article by Hjalmar Kuehl and colleagues, entitled, The Price of Play: Self-Organized Infant Mortality Cycles in Chimpanzees, examines play and sociability in young chimps and their effects on the spread of deadly respiratory diseases, and was covered by New Scientist (Frolicking chimp youngsters spread deadly epidemics), Science (Chimpanzees' Terrible Twos) and Science News (Peril of Play) and you can read the comments from Niyaz (who was the Academic Editor of the paper) about the article on the published paper, as well as on his blog (The ‘surfeit’ of chimp articles at PLoS ONE).

It wasn’t just the chimpanzees in the limelight this week, however; three of the other 60 articles published last week also made it into the news.

Ngaire Kerse’s article, Falls, Depression and Antidepressants in Later Life: A Large Primary Care Appraisal, was picked up by The Telegraph (Depression in the elderly increases risk of falls) and by Psych Central (Late Life Depression Linked to Falls). The authors found that older people are at high risk for falls and subsequent injuries and that those with depression have an increased risk of falls and the medications they take for depression increase their risk even more.

Reporting in an article entitled, Sexually Antagonistic Selection in Human Male Homosexuality, Andrea Camperio Ciani and colleagues examined various mathematical models to explain the evolutionary origin and maintenance of male homosexuality in human populations. The model that best explained the data involved two "gay genes," at least one of which on the X chromosome. These genes increased the fertility of women while decreasing it in men, a phenomenon, known as “sexual antagonism,” which has previously been observed in insects and mammals. There have been news articles and blog posts on the study in Science ("Gay Genes" May Be Good for Women), Live Science (Mom's Genetics Could Produce Gay Sons), Discover Magazine (Are Highly Fertile Women More Likely to Have Gay Sons?) and io9 (A Gene That Makes You Really Horny for Men).

Finally, Myra Finkelstein’s paper, Evaluating the Potential Effectiveness of Compensatory Mitigation Strategies for Marine Bycatch, saw the authors studying the problems caused by the huge numbers of fish, seabirds, and other marine animals, which are routinely killed and discarded after being inadvertently caught during fishing operations, and which are known as marine bycatch. The study was covered by the Discovery Channel (Bycatch Fees Won't Help Seabirds) and by Journal Watch (There’s a catch, after all).

In case you’ve already finished reading last week’s release of PLoS ONE articles, we are getting ready to publish our 2,500th paper on Wednesday and there are plenty more papers available online available for you to read, to rate and to discuss – why not join the conversation today?

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