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Concept: Indian Ocean


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


In recent decades, many marine populations have experienced major declines in abundance, but we still know little about where management interventions may help protect the highest levels of marine biodiversity. We used modeled spatial distribution data for nearly 12,500 species to quantify global patterns of species richness and two measures of endemism. By combining these data with spatial information on cumulative human impacts, we identified priority areas where marine biodiversity is most and least impacted by human activities, both within Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). Our analyses highlighted places that are both accepted priorities for marine conservation like the Coral Triangle, as well as less well-known locations in the southwest Indian Ocean, western Pacific Ocean, Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, and within semi-enclosed seas like the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. Within highly impacted priority areas, climate and fishing were the biggest stressors. Although new priorities may arise as we continue to improve marine species range datasets, results from this work are an essential first step in guiding limited resources to regions where investment could best sustain marine biodiversity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Australia, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Southern Ocean


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


Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions. Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world’s oceans from 24 expeditions (2007-2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres, costal Australia, Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea conducting surface net tows (N = 680) and visual survey transects of large plastic debris (N = 891). Using an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal calibrated by our data, and correcting for wind-driven vertical mixing, we estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons. When comparing between four size classes, two microplastic <4.75 mm and meso- and macroplastic >4.75 mm, a tremendous loss of microplastics is observed from the sea surface compared to expected rates of fragmentation, suggesting there are mechanisms at play that remove <4.75 mm plastic particles from the ocean surface.

Concepts: Oceanography, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris


Using top predators as sentinels of the marine environment, Hg contamination was investigated within the large subantarctic seabird community of Kerguelen Islands, a remote area from the poorly known Southern Indian Ocean. Chicks of 21 sympatric seabirds presented a wide range of Hg concentrations, with the highest contaminated species containing ∼102 times more feather Hg than the less contaminated species. Hence, Kerguelen seabirds encompass the whole range of chick feather Hg values that were previously collected worldwide in poorly industrialized localities. Using stable isotopes, the effects of foraging habitats (reflected by δ(13)C) and trophic positions (reflected by δ(15)N) on Hg concentrations were investigated. Species-related Hg variations were highly and positively linked to feather δ(15)N values, thus highlighting the occurrence of efficient Hg biomagnification processes within subantarctic marine trophic webs. By contrast, Hg contamination overall correlated poorly with feeding habitats, because of the pooling of species foraging within different isotopic gradients corresponding to distinct seabird habitats (benthic, pelagic, neritic and oceanic). However, when focusing on oceanic seabirds, Hg concentration was related to feather δ(13)C values, with species feeding in colder waters (lower δ(13)C values) south of Kerguelen Islands being less prone to be contaminated than species feeding in northern warmer waters (higher δ(13)C values). Within the context of continuous increase in global Hg emissions, Kerguelen Islands that are located far away from anthropogenic sources can be considered as an ideal study site to monitor the temporal trend of global Hg contamination. The present work helps selecting some seabird species as sentinels of environmental pollution according to their high Hg concentrations and their contrasted foraging ecology.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Bird, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Southern Ocean, Subantarctic, Kerguelen Islands


BACKGROUND: Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a major food source for over 200 million sub-Saharan Africans. Unfortunately, its cultivation is severely hampered by cassava mosaic disease (CMD). Caused by a complex of bipartite cassava mosaic geminiviruses (CMG) species (Family: Geminivirideae; Genus: Begomovirus) CMD has been widely described throughout Africa and it is apparent that CMGs are expanding their geographical distribution. Determining where and when CMG movements have occurred could help curtail its spread and reveal the ecological and anthropic factors associated with similar viral invasions. We applied Bayesian phylogeographic inference and recombination analyses to available and newly described CMG sequences to reconstruct a plausible history of CMG diversification and migration between Africa and South West Indian Ocean (SWIO) islands. RESULTS: The isolation and analysis of 114 DNA-A and 41 DNA-B sequences demonstrated the presence of three CMG species circulating in the Comoros and Seychelles archipelagos (East African cassava mosaic virus, EACMV; East African cassava mosaic Kenya virus, EACMKV; and East African cassava mosaic Cameroon virus, EACMCV). Phylogeographic analyses suggest that CMG’s presence on these SWIO islands is probably the result of at least four independent introduction events from mainland Africa occurring between 1988 and 2009. Amongst the islands of the Comoros archipelago, two major migration pathways were inferred: One from Grande Comore to Moheli and the second from Mayotte to Anjouan. While only two recombination events characteristic of SWIO islands isolates were identified, numerous re-assortments events were detected between EACMV and EACMKV, which seem to almost freely interchange their genome components. CONCLUSIONS: Rapid and extensive virus spread within the SWIO islands was demonstrated for three CMG complex species. Strong evolutionary or ecological interaction between CMG species may explain both their propensity to exchange components and the absence of recombination with non-CMG begomoviruses. Our results suggest an important role of anthropic factors in CMGs spread as the principal axes of viral migration correspond with major routes of human movement and commercial trade. Finer-scale temporal analyses of CMGs to precisely scale the relative contributions of human and insect transmission to their movement dynamics will require further extensive sampling in the SWIO region.

Concepts: Evolution, Virus, Africa, Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Comoros, Mayotte, Mohéli


The Southwest Indian Ridge is the longest section of very slow to ultraslow-spreading seafloor in the global mid-ocean ridge system, but the biogeography and ecology of its hydrothermal vent fauna are previously unknown. We collected 21 macro- and megafaunal taxa during the first Remotely Operated Vehicle dives to the Longqi vent field at 37° 47’S 49° 39'E, depth 2800 m. Six species are not yet known from other vents, while six other species are known from the Central Indian Ridge, and morphological and molecular analyses show that two further polychaete species are shared with vents beyond the Indian Ocean. Multivariate analysis of vent fauna across three oceans places Longqi in an Indian Ocean province of vent biogeography. Faunal zonation with increasing distance from vents is dominated by the gastropods Chrysomallon squamiferum and Gigantopelta aegis, mussel Bathymodiolus marisindicus, and Neolepas sp. stalked barnacle. Other taxa occur at lower abundance, in some cases contrasting with abundances at other vent fields, and δ(13)C and δ(15)N isotope values of species analysed from Longqi are similar to those of shared or related species elsewhere. This study provides baseline ecological observations prior to mineral exploration activities licensed at Longqi by the United Nations.

Concepts: Biology, Ecology, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, United Nations, Ocean, Hydrothermal vent, Rodrigues Triple Point


Future precipitation changes in a warming climate depend regionally upon the response of natural climate modes to anthropogenic forcing. North Pacific hydroclimate is dominated by the Aleutian Low, a semi-permanent wintertime feature characterized by frequent low-pressure conditions that is influenced by tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures through the Pacific-North American (PNA) teleconnection pattern. Instrumental records show a recent increase in coastal Alaskan precipitation and Aleutian Low intensification, but are of insufficient length to accurately assess low frequency trends and forcing mechanisms. Here we present a 1200-year seasonally- to annually-resolved ice core record of snow accumulation from Mt. Hunter in the Alaska Range developed using annual layer counting and four ice-flow thinning models. Under a wide range of glacier flow conditions and layer counting uncertainty, our record shows a doubling of precipitation since ~1840 CE, with recent values exceeding the variability observed over the past millennium. The precipitation increase is nearly synchronous with the warming of western tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures. While regional 20th Century warming may account for a portion of the observed precipitation increase on Mt. Hunter, the magnitude and seasonality of the precipitation change indicate a long-term strengthening of the Aleutian Low.

Concepts: Earth, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Antarctica, Global warming, Equator


The devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caught millions of coastal residents and the scientific community off-guard. Subsequent research in the Indian Ocean basin has identified prehistoric tsunamis, but the timing and recurrence intervals of such events are uncertain. Here we present an extraordinary 7,400 year stratigraphic sequence of prehistoric tsunami deposits from a coastal cave in Aceh, Indonesia. This record demonstrates that at least 11 prehistoric tsunamis struck the Aceh coast between 7,400 and 2,900 years ago. The average time period between tsunamis is about 450 years with intervals ranging from a long, dormant period of over 2,000 years, to multiple tsunamis within the span of a century. Although there is evidence that the likelihood of another tsunamigenic earthquake in Aceh province is high, these variable recurrence intervals suggest that long dormant periods may follow Sunda megathrust ruptures as large as that of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Concepts: Indonesia, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Tsunami, Somalia, Sumatra, Aceh


The Austronesian settlement of the remote island of Madagascar remains one of the great puzzles of Indo-Pacific prehistory. Although linguistic, ethnographic, and genetic evidence points clearly to a colonization of Madagascar by Austronesian language-speaking people from Island Southeast Asia, decades of archaeological research have failed to locate evidence for a Southeast Asian signature in the island’s early material record. Here, we present new archaeobotanical data that show that Southeast Asian settlers brought Asian crops with them when they settled in Africa. These crops provide the first, to our knowledge, reliable archaeological window into the Southeast Asian colonization of Madagascar. They additionally suggest that initial Southeast Asian settlement in Africa was not limited to Madagascar, but also extended to the Comoros. Archaeobotanical data may support a model of indirect Austronesian colonization of Madagascar from the Comoros and/or elsewhere in eastern Africa.

Concepts: Africa, Southeast Asia, Human migration, Indian Ocean, French language, Madagascar, East Africa, Comoros