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What’s the Buzz? PLOS ONE in the News in 2017

[Above image: Flying bumblebee. Mikkel Houmøller, wikimedia]


As we ring in the New Year, we thought it would be fun to look back on the PLOS ONE articles that were the biggest hits in the news in 2017. With 3,383 articles covered in the media over the past year we couldn’t look at them all but we are sharing some of the papers that made the biggest splash.

Monkey Business

PLOS ONE: Evidence of Pre-Hominin Speech Precursors in Baboon

In January, Louis-Jean Boë et al. shared their study in language evolution showing evidence that baboons can make vowel-like sounds similar to those made by humans. With coverage in The Guardian, Scientific American, the LA Times, and 24 other media outlets this research started the year off with a bang at PLOS ONE.

Open Wide!


PLOS ONE: Dragonfish flexible head joint
Image Credit: Nalani Schnell, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

February continued to wow us with beautiful visualizations of the functional head joint in the deep sea dragonfish that saw coverage in the New York Times, Smithsonian magazine, and Gizmodo, among others.

(Almost) No Rest for the Weary

PLOS ONE: Elephant
Image Source: Elephant (Loxodonta Africana) 04. Andrew Shiva, Wikimedia

In March we learned that two free-roaming African elephants sleep for an average of just 2 hours per day, which is the shortest daily sleep time recorded for mammals! This collaboration from researchers in South Africa, Botswana, and California, fascinated journalists at Science News, Wired, and the Washington Post.

On Track for Discovery


Newsweek and the BBC were among the media outlets reporting in April on a new speciesProrotodactylus mesaxonichnus, which may have given rise to crocodiles and dinosaurs, identified within a group of tracks in the Iberian Peninsula, Spain.

On the Origins of (Human) Species

PLOS ONE: Early Hominins in Europe

In May, Jochen Fuss et al. published their contribution to the conversation regarding the location of some of our oldest ancestors, showing evidence that the last common ancestor of humans and great apes may have lived in Europe.  It’s not surprising that this hot topic was heavily reported in the media including coverage in the Washington PostSmithsonian magazine, and the Telegraph, among others.

Learning From the Mistakes of Others

PLOS ONE: Female Elk Learn to Avoid Hunters
Image Source: Ever Herd Of Elk? (5055474561). Ian Sane, Wikimedia

Elk everywhere got some good news in June when the CBCNew York Times, and Smithsonian magazine, reported on PLOS ONE findings from the University of Alberta that female elk learn to avoid hunters showing adaptive behaviors as they age such as reduced movement rates and increased use of secure areas.

A Leg Up for Stairs Climbers

PLOS ONE: Energy-Recycling Assistive Stairs

July was all about giving a leg up to stairs climbers as Wired, Smithsonian magazine, and Gizmodo, all reported on PLOS ONE research into the development of energy-recycling assistive stairs to help reduce the amount of work required to go up and down.

Feast Your Eyes on This Discovery!


PLOS ONE: Upper Paleolithic Ritualistic Cannibalism

Things took a darker turn in August as an investigation of an Upper Palaeolithic engraved human bone revealed evidence of ritualistic cannibalism for the first time in this era. Yikes! The BBC, New York Times, and Nature, were all fascinated with this macabre discovery, and who can blame them? We were too!

Coming Out of Our Shell

PLOS ONE: Hemit Crab and Coral

New species abounded this year at PLOS ONE and one of the media’s favorites was a hermit crab species, Diogenes heteropsammicola – a fascinating example of walking symbiosis. The little crabs that live in the south of Japan grow alongside the “walking” coral they use as their home, and were iresistable to GizmodoCBC, and Popular Science.

Where’s the Buzz?

PLOS ONE: 75% Decline in Insect Biomass

The media was abuzz (pun intended) in October with disturbing news about disappearing flying insects, which have shown a greater than 75% decline over the last 27 years in protected areas of Germany. It was tough to miss this story reported in the Guardian, Washington Post, BBC, and 22 others. This paper was also #6 on the AltMetric Top 100 of 2017!

History Slips Into the Sea

PLOS ONE: Sea Level Rise and Archaeological Site Destruction

The bad news didn’t stop in November as PLOS ONE authors used open data to predict dire consequences for archaeological sites in the face of climate change. News outlets including Forbes, National Geographic, and the Washington Post reported the sobering prediction that a sea-level rise of just 1 meter could result in the loss of over 13,000 historical sites in the southeastern United States alone.

Take Me to the River

PLOS ONE: New river dolphin species, Urkudelphis chawpipacha

December brought us to the water with media outlets reporting on another new species. This time, we were captivated by the fossilized skull of a new river dolphin speciesUrkudelphis chawpipacha, found in Ecuador.

We hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane and look forward to more exciting and news-worthy open science in 2018.

Happy New Year!





Boë L-J, Berthommier F, Legou T, Captier G, Kemp C, Sawallis TR, et al. (2017) Evidence of a Vocalic Proto-System in the Baboon (Papio papio) Suggests Pre-Hominin Speech Precursors. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0169321.

Schnell NK, Johnson GD (2017) Evolution of a Functional Head Joint in Deep-Sea Fishes (Stomiidae). PLoS ONE 12(2): e0170224.

Gravett N, Bhagwandin A, Sutcliffe R, Landen K, Chase MJ, Lyamin OI, et al. (2017) Inactivity/sleep in two wild free-roaming African elephant matriarchs – Does large body size make elephants the shortest mammalian sleepers? PLoS ONE 12(3): e0171903.

Mujal E, Fortuny J, Bolet A, Oms O, López JÁ (2017) An archosauromorph dominated ichnoassemblage in fluvial settings from the late Early Triassic of the Catalan Pyrenees (NE Iberian Peninsula). PLoS ONE 12(4): e0174693.

Fuss J, Spassov N, Begun DR, Böhme M (2017) Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the Late Miocene of Europe. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0177127.

Thurfjell H, Ciuti S, Boyce MS (2017) Learning from the mistakes of others: How female elk (Cervus elaphus) adjust behaviour with age to avoid hunters. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0178082.

Song YS, Ha S, Hsu H, Ting LH, Liu CK (2017) Stair negotiation made easier using novel interactive energy-recycling assistive stairs. PLoS ONE 12(7): e0179637.

Bello SM, Wallduck R, Parfitt SA, Stringer CB (2017) An Upper Palaeolithic engraved human bone associated with ritualistic cannibalism. PLoS ONE 12(8): e0182127.

Igawa M, Kato M (2017) A new species of hermit crab, Diogenes heteropsammicola (Crustacea, Decapoda, Anomura, Diogenidae), replaces a mutualistic sipunculan in a walking coral symbiosis. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184311.

Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185809.

Anderson DG, Bissett TG, Yerka SJ, Wells JJ, Kansa EC, Kansa SW, et al. (2017) Sea-level rise and archaeological site destruction: An example from the southeastern United States using DINAA (Digital Index of North American Archaeology). PLoS ONE 12(11): e0188142.

Tanaka Y, Abella J, Aguirre-Fernández G, Gregori M, Fordyce RE (2017) A new tropical Oligocene dolphin from Montañita/Olón, Santa Elena, Ecuador. PLoS ONE 12(12): e0188380.

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