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Concept: Mauritius


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 dodo, Raphus cucullatus, a flightless pigeon endemic to Mauritius, became extinct during the 17(th) century due to anthropogenic activities. Although it was contemporaneous with humans for almost a century, little was recorded about its ecology. Here we present new aspects of the life history of the dodo based on our analysis of its bone histology. We propose that the dodo bred around August and that the rapid growth of the chicks enabled them to reach a robust size before the austral summer or cyclone season. Histological evidence of molting suggests that after summer had passed, molt began in the adults that had just bred; the timing of molt derived from bone histology is also corroborated by historical descriptions of the dodo by mariners. This research represents the only bone histology analysis of the dodo and provides an unprecedented insight into the life history of this iconic bird.

Concepts: Bird, Columbidae, Flightless bird, Mauritius, Columbiformes, Dodo, Raphinae, Rodrigues Solitaire


The cynomolgus macaque, Macaca fascicularis, was introduced onto the island of Mauritius in the early 17(th) century. The species experienced explosive population growth, and currently exists at high population densities. Anecdotes collected from nonhuman primate trappers on the island of Mauritius allege that animals from the northern portion of the island are larger in body size than and superior in condition to their conspecifics in the south. Although previous genetic studies have reported Mauritian cynomolgus macaques to be panmictic, the individuals included in these studies were either from the southern/central or an unknown portion of the island. In this study, we sampled individuals broadly throughout the entire island of Mauritius and used spatial principle component analysis to measure the fine-scale correlation between geographic and genetic distance in this population. A stronger correlation between geographic and genetic distance was found among animals in the north than in those in the southern and central portions of the island. We found no difference in body weight between the two groups, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary. We hypothesize that the increased genetic structure among populations in the north is related to a reduction in dispersal distance brought about by human habitation and tourist infrastructure, but too recent to have produced true genetic differentiation.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, Population density, Macaque, Primate, Crab-eating Macaque, Mauritius


The study of islands as model systems plays a key role in understanding many evolutionary processes. Knowledge of the historical events leading to present-day island communities is pivotal for exploring fundamental mechanisms of speciation and adaptation. The remote Mascarene archipelago (Mauritius, Réunion, Rodrigues), considered to be the product of an age-progressive trend of north-to-south volcanic activity in the Indian Ocean, hosts a remarkably diverse, endemic and threatened concentration of flora and fauna that has traditionally been considered to be biogeographically related to Madagascar and Africa. To explore the evolutionary diversity of the Mascarene stick insects (Phasmatodea), we constructed a global phylogeny from approximately 2.4 kb of mitochondrial and nuclear sequence data of more than 120 species representing all major phasmatodean lineages.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Insect, Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Island, Mauritius


The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) might be the most enigmatic bird of all times. It is, therefore, highly remarkable that no consensus has yet been reached on its body mass; previous scientific estimates of its mass vary by more than 100%. Until now, the vast amount of bones stored at the Natural History Museum in Mauritius has not yet been studied morphometrically nor in relation to body mass. Here, a new estimate of the dodo’s mass is presented based on the largest sample of dodo femora ever measured (n = 174). In order to do this, we have used the regression method and chosen our variables based on biological, mathematical and physical arguments. The results indicate that the mean mass of the dodo was circa 12 kg, which is approximately five times as heavy as the largest living Columbidae (pigeons and doves), the clade to which the dodo belongs.

Concepts: Bird, Columbidae, Mauritius, Columbiformes, Dodo, Raphinae, Rodrigues Solitaire, Nicobar Pigeon


This study assesses the biogeographic classification of the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) on the basis of the species diversity and distribution of reef-building corals. Twenty one locations were sampled between 2002 and 2011. Presence/absence of scleractinian corals was noted on SCUBA, with the aid of underwater digital photographs and reference publications for species identification. Sampling effort varied from 7 to 37 samples per location, with 15 to 45 minutes per dive allocated to species observations, depending on the logistics on each trip. Species presence/absence was analyzed using the Bray-Curtis similarity coefficient, followed by cluster analysis and multi-dimensional scaling. Total (asymptotic) species number per location was estimated using the Michaelis-Menten equation. Three hundred and sixty nine coral species were named with stable identifications and used for analysis. At the location level, estimated maximum species richness ranged from 297 (Nacala, Mozambique) to 174 (Farquhar, Seychelles). Locations in the northern Mozambique Channel had the highest diversity and similarity, forming a core region defined by its unique oceanography of variable meso-scale eddies that confer high connectivity within this region. A distinction between mainland and island fauna was not found; instead, diversity decreased radially from the northern Mozambique Channel. The Chagos archipelago was closely related to the northern Mozambique Channel region, and analysis of hard coral data in the IUCN Red List found Chagos to be more closely related to the WIO than to the Maldives, India and Sri Lanka. Diversity patterns were consistent with primary oceanographic drivers in the WIO, reflecting inflow of the South Equatorial Current, maintenance of high diversity in the northern Mozambique Channel, and export from this central region to the north and south, and to the Seychelles and Mascarene islands.

Concepts: Coral, India, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Sri Lanka, Cnidaria, Maldives, Mauritius


In the past decade, leptospirosis has emerged as a major zoonosis with a worldwide distribution. The disease is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. The western Indian Ocean includes more than one hundred tropical or subequatorial islands where leptospirosis constitutes a major public health problem. The clinical signs of the human disease are generally similar to an influenza-like syndrome, but acute forms of the disease are reported and mortality remains significant in this region. In animals, clinical forms are mainly asymptomatic but leptospirosis reduces the fertility of livestock, resulting in economic losses. The data available about human and animal leptospirosis in the western Indian Ocean islands are diverse: human leptospirosis has been extensively studied in Reunion Island, Mayotte, and the Seychelles, whereas the human clinical disease has never been described in Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, or Rodrigues, mainly because of the deficiency in appropriate medical and diagnostic structures. The rat is recognized as the major reservoir host for the bacteria on all islands, but recent data from Reunion Island indicates that almost all mammals can be a source of contamination. The incidence of leptospirosis in humans is highly seasonal, and linked to the rainy season, which is favorable for the environmental maintenance and transmission of the bacteria. The epidemiology of leptospirosis is fully island-dependent, related to the number of mammalian species, the origins of the introduced mammalian species, the relationships between humans and fauna, and environmental as well as cultural and socio-economic factors.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Indian Ocean, French language, Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles, Réunion


Lichen biodiversity and its generative evolutionary processes are practically unknown in the MIOI1 biodiversity hotspot (including Madagascar and the neighboring Mascarene archipelago, formed by Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues). We sought to test the hypothesis that lichenized fungi in this region have undergone a rapid radiation, following a single colonization event, giving rise to narrow endemics, as is characteristic of other lineages of plants. We extensively sampled specimens of the lichen genus Sticta in the Mascarene archipelago (mainly Réunion) and in Madagascar, mainly in the northern range (Amber Mt and Marojejy Mt) and produced the fungal ITS barcode sequence for 148 thalli. We further produced a four-loci data matrix for 68 of them, representing the diversity and geographical distribution of ITS haplotypes. We reconstructed the phylogenetic relationships within this group, established species boundaries with morphological context, and estimated the date of the most recent common ancestor. Our inferences resolve a robust clade comprising 31 endemic species of Sticta that arose from the diversification following a single recent (c. 11 Mya) colonization event. All but three species have a very restricted range, endemic to either the Mascarene archipelago or a single massif in Madagascar. The first genus of lichens to be studied with molecular data in this region underwent a recent radiation, exhibits micro-endemism, and thus exemplifies the biodiversity characteristics found in other taxa in Madagascar and the Mascarenes.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Species, Fungus, Madagascar, Lichen, Endemism, Mauritius


With globalization the Western honey bee has become a nearly cosmopolitan species, but it was originally restricted to the Old World. This renowned model of biodiversity has diverged into five evolutionary lineages and several geographic “subspecies.” If Apis mellifera unicolor is indubitably an African subspecies endemic to Madagascar, its relationship with honey bees from three archipelagos in the southwest Indian Ocean (SWIO) hotspot of biodiversity is misunderstood. We compared recent mtDNA diversity data to an original characterization of the nuclear diversity from honey bees in the Mascarenes and Comoros archipelagos, using 14 microsatellites, but also additional mtDNA tRNALeu-cox2 analysis. Our sampling offers the most comprehensive dataset for the SWIO populations with a total of 3,270 colonies from 10 islands compared with 855 samples from Madagascar, 113 from Africa, and 138 from Europe. Comprehensive mitochondrial screening confirmed that honey bees from La Réunion, Mauritius, and Comoros archipelagos are mainly of African origin (88.1% out of 2,746 colonies) and that coexistence with European lineages occurs only in the Mascarenes. PCA, Bayesian, and genetic differentiation analysis showed that African colonies are not significantly distinct on each island, but have diversified among islands and archipelagos. FST levels progressively decreased in significance from European and African continental populations, to SWIO insular and continental populations, and finally among islands from the same archipelago. Among African populations, Madagascar shared a nuclear background with and was most closely related to SWIO island populations (except Rodrigues). Only Mauritius Island presented clear cytoplasmic disequilibrium and genetic structure characteristic of an admixed population undergoing hybridization, in this case, between A. m. unicolor and A. m. ligustica, A. m. carnica and A. m. mellifera-like individuals. Finally, global genetic clustering analysis helped to better depict the colonization and introduction pattern of honey bee populations in these archipelagos.

Concepts: Species, Insect, European honey bee, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Madagascar, Island, Mauritius


The honeybee population of the tropical Reunion Island is a genetic admixture of the Apis mellifera unicolor subspecies, originally described in Madagascar, and of European subspecies, mainly A.m. carnica and A. m. ligustica, regularly imported to the island since the late 19th century. We took advantage of this population to study genetic admixing of the tropical-adapted indigenous and temperate-adapted European genetic backgrounds. Whole genome sequencing of 30 workers and 6 males from Reunion, compared to samples from Europe, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rodrigues and the Seychelles, revealed the Reunion honeybee population to be composed on average of 53.2 ± 5.9% A. m. unicolor nuclear genomic background, the rest being mainly composed of A. m. carnica and to a lesser extent A. m. ligustica. In striking contrast to this, only one out of the 36 honeybees from Reunion had a mitochondrial genome of European origin, suggesting selection has favoured the A. m. unicolor mitotype, which is possibly better adapted to the island’s bioclimate. Local ancestry was determined along the chromosomes for all Reunion samples, and a test for preferential selection for the A. m. unicolor or European background revealed 15 regions significantly associated with the A. m. unicolor lineage and 9 regions with the European lineage. Our results provide insights into the long-term consequences of introducing exotic specimen on the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes of locally-adapted populations.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genome, Genomics, French language, Mauritius, Seychelles, Réunion