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Concept: Madagascar


The gecko genus Geckolepis, endemic to Madagascar and the Comoro archipelago, is taxonomically challenging. One reason is its members ability to autotomize a large portion of their scales when grasped or touched, most likely to escape predation. Based on an integrative taxonomic approach including external morphology, morphometrics, genetics, pholidosis, and osteology, we here describe the first new species from this genus in 75 years: Geckolepis megalepissp. nov. from the limestone karst of Ankarana in northern Madagascar. The new species has the largest known body scales of any gecko (both relatively and absolutely), which come off with exceptional ease. We provide a detailed description of the skeleton of the genus Geckolepis based on micro-Computed Tomography (micro-CT) analysis of the new species, the holotype of G. maculata, the recently resurrected G. humbloti, and a specimen belonging to an operational taxonomic unit (OTU) recently suggested to represent G. maculata. Geckolepis is characterized by highly mineralized, imbricated scales, paired frontals, and unfused subolfactory processes of the frontals, among other features. We identify diagnostic characters in the osteology of these geckos that help define our new species and show that the OTU assigned to G. maculata is probably not conspecific with it, leaving the taxonomic identity of this species unclear. We discuss possible reasons for the extremely enlarged scales of G. megalepis in the context of an anti-predator defence mechanism, and the future of Geckolepis taxonomy.

Concepts: Biology, Taxonomy, Reptile, Gecko, Madagascar, Taxonomic rank, Zoological nomenclature, Gekkonidae


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 importance of exercise for health and neurogenesis is becoming increasingly clear. Wheel running is often used in the laboratory for triggering enhanced activity levels, despite the common objection that this behaviour is an artefact of captivity and merely signifies neurosis or stereotypy. If wheel running is indeed caused by captive housing, wild mice are not expected to use a running wheel in nature. This however, to our knowledge, has never been tested. Here, we show that when running wheels are placed in nature, they are frequently used by wild mice, also when no extrinsic reward is provided. Bout lengths of running wheel behaviour in the wild match those for captive mice. This finding falsifies one criterion for stereotypic behaviour, and suggests that running wheel activity is an elective behaviour. In a time when lifestyle in general and lack of exercise in particular are a major cause of disease in the modern world, research into physical activity is of utmost importance. Our findings may help alleviate the main concern regarding the use of running wheels in research on exercise.

Concepts: Drug addiction, Motivation, Psychiatry, Madagascar, Stretching, Stereotypy


Selenium (Se) is an essential human micronutrient with critical roles in immune functioning and antioxidant defence. Estimates of dietary Se intakes and status are scarce for Africa although crop surveys indicate deficiency is probably widespread in Malawi. Here we show that Se deficiency is likely endemic in Malawi based on the Se status of adults consuming food from contrasting soil types. These data are consistent with food balance sheets and composition tables revealing that >80% of the Malawi population is at risk of dietary Se inadequacy. Risk of dietary Se inadequacy is >60% in seven other countries in Southern Africa, and 22% across Africa as a whole. Given that most Malawi soils cannot supply sufficient Se to crops for adequate human nutrition, the cost and benefits of interventions to alleviate Se deficiency should be determined; for example, Se-enriched nitrogen fertilisers could be adopted as in Finland.

Concepts: Human, Agriculture, Nutrition, Africa, Dietary mineral, Nitrogen, Selenium, Madagascar


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 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


Tropical forests are undergoing land use change in many regions of the world, including the African continent. Human populations living close to forest margins fragmented and disturbed by deforestation may be particularly exposed to zoonotic infections because of the higher likelihood for humans to be in contact with disease reservoirs. Quantitative analysis of the nexus between deforestation and the emergence of Ebola virus disease (EVD), however, is still missing. Here we use land cover change data in conjunction with EVD outbreak records to investigate the association between recent (2004-2014) outbreaks in West and Central Africa, and patterns of land use change in the region. We show how in these EVD outbreaks the index cases in humans (i.e. spillover from wildlife reservoirs) occurred mostly in hotspots of forest fragmentation.

Concepts: Human, Africa, Continent, Madagascar, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Malaise, Prehistory, Central Africa


The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and other climate patterns can have profound impacts on the occurrence of infectious diseases ranging from dengue to cholera. In Africa, El Niño conditions are associated with increased rainfall in East Africa and decreased rainfall in southern Africa, West Africa, and parts of the Sahel. Because of the key role of water supplies in cholera transmission, a relationship between El Niño events and cholera incidence is highly plausible, and previous research has shown a link between ENSO patterns and cholera in Bangladesh. However, there is little systematic evidence for this link in Africa. Using high-resolution mapping techniques, we find that the annual geographic distribution of cholera in Africa from 2000 to 2014 changes dramatically, with the burden shifting to continental East Africa-and away from Madagascar and portions of southern, Central, and West Africa-where almost 50,000 additional cases occur during El Niño years. Cholera incidence during El Niño years was higher in regions of East Africa with increased rainfall, but incidence was also higher in some areas with decreased rainfall, suggesting a complex relationship between rainfall and cholera incidence. Here, we show clear evidence for a shift in the distribution of cholera incidence throughout Africa in El Niño years, likely mediated by El Niño’s impact on local climatic factors. Knowledge of this relationship between cholera and climate patterns coupled with ENSO forecasting could be used to notify countries in Africa when they are likely to see a major shift in their cholera risk.

Concepts: Africa, Climate change, West Africa, Madagascar, Southern Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Sahel


Recent forecasts suggest that African countries must triple their current electricity generation by 2030. Our multicriteria assessment of wind and solar potential for large regions of Africa shows how economically competitive and low-environmental-impact renewable resources can significantly contribute to meeting this demand. We created the Multicriteria Analysis for Planning Renewable Energy (MapRE) framework to map and characterize solar and wind energy zones in 21 countries in the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP) and find that potential is several times greater than demand in many countries. Significant fractions of demand can be quickly served with “no-regrets” options-or zones that are low-cost, low-environmental impact, and highly accessible. Because no-regrets options are spatially heterogeneous, international interconnections are necessary to help achieve low-carbon development for the region as a whole, and interconnections that support the best renewable options may differ from those planned for hydropower expansion. Additionally, interconnections and selecting wind sites to match demand reduce the need for SAPP-wide conventional generation capacity by 9.5% in a high-wind scenario, resulting in a 6-20% cost savings, depending on the avoided conventional technology. Strategic selection of low-impact and accessible zones is more cost effective with interconnections compared with solutions without interconnections. Overall results are robust to multiple load growth scenarios. Together, results show that multicriteria site selection and deliberate planning of interconnections may significantly increase the economic and environmental competitiveness of renewable alternatives relative to conventional generation.

Concepts: Energy, Africa, Madagascar, Renewable energy, Wind power, East Africa, Renewable resource, Capacity factor


The history of southern Africa involved interactions between indigenous hunter-gatherers and a range of populations that moved into the region. Here we use genome-wide genetic data to show that there are at least two admixture events in the history of Khoisan populations (southern African hunter-gatherers and pastoralists who speak non-Bantu languages with click consonants). One involved populations related to Niger-Congo-speaking African populations, and the other introduced ancestry most closely related to west Eurasian (European or Middle Eastern) populations. We date this latter admixture event to ∼900-1,800 y ago and show that it had the largest demographic impact in Khoisan populations that speak Khoe-Kwadi languages. A similar signal of west Eurasian ancestry is present throughout eastern Africa. In particular, we also find evidence for two admixture events in the history of Kenyan, Tanzanian, and Ethiopian populations, the earlier of which involved populations related to west Eurasians and which we date to ∼2,700-3,300 y ago. We reconstruct the allele frequencies of the putative west Eurasian population in eastern Africa and show that this population is a good proxy for the west Eurasian ancestry in southern Africa. The most parsimonious explanation for these findings is that west Eurasian ancestry entered southern Africa indirectly through eastern Africa.

Concepts: Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Lion, Madagascar, Southern Africa, Kenya, World War II, East Africa