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Concept: India


A fragment of continental crust has been postulated to underlie the young plume-related lavas of the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius based on the recovery of Proterozoic zircons from basaltic beach sands. Here we document the first U-Pb zircon ages recovered directly from 5.7 Ma Mauritian trachytic rocks. We identified concordant Archaean xenocrystic zircons ranging in age between 2.5 and 3.0 Ga within a trachyte plug that crosscuts Older Series plume-related basalts of Mauritius. Our results demonstrate the existence of ancient continental crust beneath Mauritius; based on the entire spectrum of U-Pb ages for old Mauritian zircons, we demonstrate that this ancient crust is of central-east Madagascar affinity, which is presently located ∼700 km west of Mauritius. This makes possible a detailed reconstruction of Mauritius and other Mauritian continental fragments, which once formed part of the ancient nucleus of Madagascar and southern India.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Igneous rock, India, Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Basalt, Lava, Mauritius


The Night Frog genus Nyctibatrachus (Family Nyctibatrachidae) represents an endemic anuran lineage of the Western Ghats Biodiversity Hotspot, India. Until now, it included 28 recognised species, of which more than half were described recently over the last five years. Our amphibian explorations have further revealed the presence of undescribed species of Nights Frogs in the southern Western Ghats. Based on integrated molecular, morphological and bioacoustic evidence, seven new species are formally described here as Nyctibatrachus athirappillyensis sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus manalari sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus pulivijayani sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus radcliffei sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus robinmoorei sp. nov., Nyctibatrachus sabarimalai sp. nov. and Nyctibatrachus webilla sp. nov., thereby bringing the total number of valid Nyctibatrachus species to 35 and increasing the former diversity estimates by a quarter. Detailed morphological descriptions, comparisons with other members of the genus, natural history notes, and genetic relationships inferred from phylogenetic analyses of a mitochondrial dataset are presented for all the new species. Additionally, characteristics of male advertisement calls are described for four new and three previously known species. Among the new species, six are currently known to be geographically restricted to low and mid elevation regions south of Palghat gap in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and one is probably endemic to high-elevation mountain streams slightly northward of the gap in Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, four new species are also among the smallest known Indian frogs. Hence, our discovery of several new species, particularly of easily overlooked miniaturized forms, reiterates that the known amphibian diversity of the Western Ghats of India still remains underestimated.

Concepts: Biodiversity, India, Tamil Nadu, Amphibian, Frog, Western Ghats, Kerala


The risk associated with any climate change impact reflects intensity of natural hazard and level of human vulnerability. Previous work has shown that a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C can be considered an upper limit on human survivability. On the basis of an ensemble of high-resolution climate change simulations, we project that extremes of wet-bulb temperature in South Asia are likely to approach and, in a few locations, exceed this critical threshold by the late 21st century under the business-as-usual scenario of future greenhouse gas emissions. The most intense hazard from extreme future heat waves is concentrated around densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins. Climate change, without mitigation, presents a serious and unique risk in South Asia, a region inhabited by about one-fifth of the global human population, due to an unprecedented combination of severe natural hazard and acute vulnerability.

Concepts: Population, Earth, Climate change, Population density, India, Natural gas, World population, Greenhouse gas


The lost Saraswati River mentioned in the ancient Indian tradition is postulated to have flown independently of the Indus River into the Arabian Sea, perhaps along courses of now defunct rivers such as Ghaggar, Hakra and Nara. The persistence of such a river during the Harappan Bronze Age and the Iron Age Vedic period is strongly debated. We drilled in the Great Rann of Kachchh (Kutch), an infilled gulf of the Arabian Sea, which must have received input from the Saraswati, if active. Nd and Sr isotopic measurements suggest that a distinct source may have been present before 10 ka. Later in Holocene, under a drying climate, sediments from the Thar Desert probably choked the signature of an independent Saraswati-like river. Alternatively, without excluding a Saraswati-like secondary source, the Indus and the Thar were the dominant sources throughout the post-glacial history of the GRK. Indus-derived sediment accelerated the infilling of GRK after ~6 ka when the Indus delta started to grow. Until its complete infilling few centuries ago, freshwater input from the Indus, and perhaps from the Ghaggar-Hakra-Nara, probably sustained a productive marine environment as well as navigability toward old coastal Harappan and historic towns in the region.

Concepts: River, India, Pakistan, Indus River, Indus Valley Civilization, Harappa, Rigveda, Kutch District


The antiquity and decline of the Bronze Age Harappan civilization in the Indus-Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys is an enigma in archaeology. Weakening of the monsoon after ~5 ka BP (and droughts throughout the Asia) is a strong contender for the Harappan collapse, although controversy exists about the synchroneity of climate change and collapse of civilization. One reason for this controversy is lack of a continuous record of cultural levels and palaeomonsoon change in close proximity. We report a high resolution oxygen isotope (δ(18)O) record of animal teeth-bone phosphates from an archaeological trench itself at Bhirrana, NW India, preserving all cultural levels of this civilization. Bhirrana was part of a high concentration of settlements along the dried up mythical Vedic river valley ‘Saraswati’, an extension of Ghaggar river in the Thar desert. Isotope and archaeological data suggest that the pre-Harappans started inhabiting this area along the mighty Ghaggar-Hakra rivers fed by intensified monsoon from 9 to 7 ka BP. The monsoon monotonically declined after 7 ka yet the settlements continued to survive from early to mature Harappan time. Our study suggests that other cause like change in subsistence strategy by shifting crop patterns rather than climate change was responsible for Harappan collapse.

Concepts: India, Tin, Monsoon, Archaeology, Bronze Age, Indus Valley Civilization, Harappa, Thar Desert


In the third millennium B.C., the Indus Civilization flourished in northwest India and Pakistan. The late mature phase (2200-1900 B.C.) was characterized by long-distance exchange networks, planned urban settlements, sanitation facilities, standardized weights and measures, and a sphere of influence over 1,000,000 square kilometers of territory. Recent paleoclimate reconstructions from the Beas River Valley demonstrate hydro-climatic stress due to a weakened monsoon system may have impacted urban centers like Harappa by the end of the third millennium B.C. the impact of environmental change was compounded by concurrent disruptions to the regional interaction sphere. Climate, economic, and social changes contributed to the disintegration of this civilization after 1900 B.C. We assess evidence for paleopathology to infer the biological consequences of climate change and socio-economic disruption in the post-urban period at Harappa, one of the largest urban centers in the Indus Civilization. Bioarchaeological evidence demonstrates the prevalence of infection and infectious disease increased through time. Furthermore, the risk for infection and disease was uneven among burial communities. Corresponding mortuary differences suggest that socially and economically marginalized communities were most vulnerable in the context of climate uncertainty at Harappa. Combined with prior evidence for increasing levels of interpersonal violence, our data support a growing pathology of power at Harappa after 2000 B.C. Observations of the intersection between climate change and social processes in proto-historic cities offer valuable lessons about vulnerability, insecurity, and the long-term consequences of short-term strategies for coping with climate change.

Concepts: Disease, Infectious disease, Infection, India, Pakistan, Indus River, Punjab, Indus Valley Civilization


Previous studies that pooled Indian populations from a wide variety of geographical locations, have obtained contradictory conclusions about the processes of the establishment of the Varna caste system and its genetic impact on the origins and demographic histories of Indian populations. To further investigate these questions we took advantage that both Y chromosome and caste designation are paternally inherited, and genotyped 1,680 Y chromosomes representing 12 tribal and 19 non-tribal (caste) endogamous populations from the predominantly Dravidian-speaking Tamil Nadu state in the southernmost part of India. Tribes and castes were both characterized by an overwhelming proportion of putatively Indian autochthonous Y-chromosomal haplogroups (H-M69, F-M89, R1a1-M17, L1-M27, R2-M124, and C5-M356; 81% combined) with a shared genetic heritage dating back to the late Pleistocene (10-30 Kya), suggesting that more recent Holocene migrations from western Eurasia contributed <20% of the male lineages. We found strong evidence for genetic structure, associated primarily with the current mode of subsistence. Coalescence analysis suggested that the social stratification was established 4-6 Kya and there was little admixture during the last 3 Kya, implying a minimal genetic impact of the Varna (caste) system from the historically-documented Brahmin migrations into the area. In contrast, the overall Y-chromosomal patterns, the time depth of population diversifications and the period of differentiation were best explained by the emergence of agricultural technology in South Asia. These results highlight the utility of detailed local genetic studies within India, without prior assumptions about the importance of Varna rank status for population grouping, to obtain new insights into the relative influences of past demographic events for the population structure of the whole of modern India.

Concepts: Sociology, Genetic genealogy, India, Y chromosome, Tamil Nadu, South India, Tamil language, Tamil people


Quantitative descriptions of animal vocalizations can inform an understanding of their evolutionary functions, the mechanisms for their production and perception, and their potential utility in taxonomy, population monitoring, and conservation. The goal of this study was to provide the first acoustical and statistical analysis of the advertisement calls of Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis. Commonly known as the Indian purple frog, N. sahyadrensis is an endangered species endemic to the Western Ghats of India. As the only known species in its family (Nasikabatrachidae), it has ancient evolutionary ties to frogs restricted to the Seychelles archipelago (Sooglossidae). The role of vocalizations in the behavior of this unique species poses interesting questions, as the animal is fossorial and potentially earless and it breeds explosively above the soil for only about two weeks a year. In this study, we quantified 19 acoustic properties of 208 calls recorded from 10 males. Vocalizations were organized into distinct call groups typically composed of two to six short (59 ms), pulsatile calls, each consisting of about five to seven pulses produced at a rate of about 106 pulses/s. The frequency content of the call consisted of a single dominant peak between 1200-1300 Hz and there was no frequency modulation. The patterns of variation within and among individuals were typical of those seen in other frogs. Few of the properties we measured were related to temperature, body size, or condition, though there was little variation in temperature. Field observations and recordings of captive individuals indicated that males engaged in both antiphonal calling and call overlap with nearby calling neighbors. We discuss our findings in relation to previous work on vocal behavior in other fossorial frogs and in sooglossid frogs.

Concepts: Biodiversity, India, Purple, Amphibian, Western Ghats, Seychelles, Living fossil, Purple frog


We extend the continuity of microblade technology in the Indian Subcontinent to 45 ka, on the basis of optical dating of microblade assemblages from the site of Mehtakheri, (22° 13' 44″ N Lat 76° 01' 36″ E Long) in Madhya Pradesh, India. Microblade technology in the Indian Subcontinent is continuously present from its first appearance until the Iron Age (~3 ka), making its association with modern humans undisputed. It has been suggested that microblade technology in the Indian Subcontinent was developed locally by modern humans after 35 ka. The dates reported here from Mehtakheri show this inference to be untenable and suggest alternatively that this technology arrived in the Indian Subcontinent with the earliest modern humans. It also shows that modern humans in Indian Subcontinent and SE Asia were associated with differing technologies and this calls into question the “southern dispersal” route of modern humans from Africa through India to SE Asia and then to Australia. We suggest that modern humans dispersed from Africa in two stages coinciding with the warmer interglacial conditions of MIS 5 and MIS 3. Competitive interactions between African modern humans and Indian archaics who shared an adaptation to tropical environments differed from that between modern humans and archaics like Neanderthals and Denisovans, who were adapted to temperate environments. Thus, while modern humans expanded into temperate regions during warmer climates, their expansion into tropical regions, like the Indian Subcontinent, in competition with similarly adapted populations, occurred during arid climates. Thus modern humans probably entered the Indian Subcontinent during the arid climate of MIS 4 coinciding with their disappearance from the Middle East and Northern Africa. The out of phase expansion of modern humans into tropical versus temperate regions has been one of the factors affecting the dispersal of modern humans from Africa during the period 200-40 ka.

Concepts: Human, Africa, Climate, Middle East, India, Indian Ocean, Asia, Islam


BACKGROUND: The health and well-being of widows in India is an important but neglected issue of public health and women’s rights. We investigate the lives of Indian women as they become widows, focussing on the causes of their husband’s mortality and the ensuing consequences of these causes on their own lives and identify the opportunities and challenges that widows face in living healthy and fulfilling lives. METHODS: Data were collected in a Gram Panchayat (lowest level territorial decentralised unit) in the south Indian state of Kerala. Interviews were undertaken with key informants in order to gain an understanding of local constructions of ‘widowhood’ and the welfare and social opportunities for widows. Then we conducted semi-structured interviews with widows in the community on issues related to health and vulnerability, enabling us to hear perspectives from widows. Data were analysed for thematic content and emerging patterns. We synthesized our findings with theoretical understandings of vulnerability and Amartya Sen’s entitlements theory to develop a conceptual framework. RESULTS: Two salient findings of the study are: first, becoming a widow can be viewed as a type of ‘shock’ that operates similarly to other ‘economic shocks’ or ‘health shocks’ in poor countries except that the burden falls disproportionately on women. Second, widowhood is not a static phenomenon, but rather can be viewed as a multi-phased process with different public health implications at each stage. CONCLUSION: More research on widows in India and other countries will help to both elucidate the challenges faced by widows and encourage potential solutions. The framework developed in this paper could be used to guide future research on widows.

Concepts: Health, India, Tamil Nadu, South India, Amartya Sen, Kerala, Widow, Widowhood