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Concept: Mediterranean Sea


Despite convincing evidence in the Mediterranean region, the cardiovascular benefit of the Mediterranean diet is not well established in non-Mediterranean countries and the optimal criteria for defining adherence are unclear. The population attributable fraction (PAF) of adherence to this diet is also unknown.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Mediterranean Sea, Attributable risk, Mediterranean diet, Mediterranean Basin, History of the Mediterranean region


The Canaanites inhabited the Levant region during the Bronze Age and established a culture that became influential in the Near East and beyond. However, the Canaanites, unlike most other ancient Near Easterners of this period, left few surviving textual records and thus their origin and relationship to ancient and present-day populations remain unclear. In this study, we sequenced five whole genomes from ∼3,700-year-old individuals from the city of Sidon, a major Canaanite city-state on the Eastern Mediterranean coast. We also sequenced the genomes of 99 individuals from present-day Lebanon to catalog modern Levantine genetic diversity. We find that a Bronze Age Canaanite-related ancestry was widespread in the region, shared among urban populations inhabiting the coast (Sidon) and inland populations (Jordan) who likely lived in farming societies or were pastoral nomads. This Canaanite-related ancestry derived from mixture between local Neolithic populations and eastern migrants genetically related to Chalcolithic Iranians. We estimate, using linkage-disequilibrium decay patterns, that admixture occurred 6,600-3,550 years ago, coinciding with recorded massive population movements in Mesopotamia during the mid-Holocene. We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age. In addition, we find Eurasian ancestry in the Lebanese not present in Bronze Age or earlier Levantines. We estimate that this Eurasian ancestry arrived in the Levant around 3,750-2,170 years ago during a period of successive conquests by distant populations.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Neolithic, Fertile Crescent, Lebanon, Levant, Syria, Mesopotamia, Mediterranean


Concentrations of floating plastic were measured throughout the Mediterranean Sea to assess whether this basin can be regarded as a great accumulation region of plastic debris. We found that the average density of plastic (1 item per 4 m2), as well as its frequency of occurrence (100% of the sites sampled), are comparable to the accumulation zones described for the five subtropical ocean gyres. Plastic debris in the Mediterranean surface waters was dominated by millimeter-sized fragments, but showed a higher proportion of large plastic objects than that present in oceanic gyres, reflecting the closer connection with pollution sources. The accumulation of floating plastic in the Mediterranean Sea (between 1,000 and 3,000 tons) is likely related to the high human pressure together with the hydrodynamics of this semi-enclosed basin, with outflow mainly occurring through a deep water layer. Given the biological richness and concentration of economic activities in the Mediterranean Sea, the affects of plastic pollution on marine and human life are expected to be particularly frequent in this plastic accumulation region.

Concepts: Water, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Spain, Sea, France, Ocean, Marine debris


Organochlorine (OC) pesticides and the more persistent polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have well-established dose-dependent toxicities to birds, fish and mammals in experimental studies, but the actual impact of OC pollutants on European marine top predators remains unknown. Here we show that several cetacean species have very high mean blubber PCB concentrations likely to cause population declines and suppress population recovery. In a large pan-European meta-analysis of stranded (n = 929) or biopsied (n = 152) cetaceans, three out of four species:- striped dolphins (SDs), bottlenose dolphins (BNDs) and killer whales (KWs) had mean PCB levels that markedly exceeded all known marine mammal PCB toxicity thresholds. Some locations (e.g. western Mediterranean Sea, south-west Iberian Peninsula) are global PCB “hotspots” for marine mammals. Blubber PCB concentrations initially declined following a mid-1980s EU ban, but have since stabilised in UK harbour porpoises and SDs in the western Mediterranean Sea. Some small or declining populations of BNDs and KWs in the NE Atlantic were associated with low recruitment, consistent with PCB-induced reproductive toxicity. Despite regulations and mitigation measures to reduce PCB pollution, their biomagnification in marine food webs continues to cause severe impacts among cetacean top predators in European seas.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Europe, Spain, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Dolphin, Cetacea, Whale, Marine mammals


Few at-sea behavioural data exist for oceanic-stage neonate sea turtles, a life-stage commonly referred to as the sea turtle ‘lost years’. Historically, the long-term tracking of small, fast-growing organisms in the open ocean was logistically or technologically impossible. Here, we provide the first long-term satellite tracks of neonate sea turtles. Loggerheads (Caretta caretta) were remotely tracked in the Atlantic Ocean using small solar-powered satellite transmitters. We show that oceanic-stage turtles (i) rarely travel in Continental Shelf waters, (ii) frequently depart the currents associated with the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, (iii) travel quickly when in Gyre currents, and (iv) select sea surface habitats that are likely to provide a thermal benefit or refuge to young sea turtles, supporting growth, foraging and survival. Our satellite tracks help define Atlantic loggerhead nursery grounds and early loggerhead habitat use, allowing us to re-examine sea turtle ‘lost years’ paradigms.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Ocean, Marine debris, Sea turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Sargasso Sea


Hunter-gatherers living in Europe during the transition from the late Pleistocene to the Holocene intensified food acquisition by broadening the range of resources exploited to include marine taxa. However, little is known on the nature of this dietary change in the Mediterranean Basin. A key area to investigate this issue is the archipelago of the Ègadi Islands, most of which were connected to Sicily until the early Holocene. The site of Grotta d'Oriente, on the present-day island of Favignana, was occupied by hunter-gatherers when Postglacial environmental changes were taking place (14,000-7,500 cal BP). Here we present the results of AMS radiocarbon dating, palaeogenetic and isotopic analyses undertaken on skeletal remains of the humans buried at Grotta d'Oriente. Analyses of the mitochondrial hypervariable first region of individual Oriente B, which belongs to the HV-1 haplogroup, suggest for the first time on genetic grounds that humans living in Sicily during the early Holocene could have originated from groups that migrated from the Italian Peninsula around the Last Glacial Maximum. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses show that the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of Favignana consumed almost exclusively protein from terrestrial game and that there was only a slight increase in marine food consumption from the late Pleistocene to the early Holocene. This dietary change was similar in scale to that at sites on mainland Sicily and in the rest of the Mediterranean, suggesting that the hunter-gatherers of Grotta d'Oriente did not modify their subsistence strategies specifically to adapt to the progressive isolation of Favignana. The limited development of technologies for intensively exploiting marine resources was probably a consequence both of Mediterranean oligotrophy and of the small effective population size of these increasingly isolated human groups, which made innovation less likely and prevented transmission of fitness-enhancing adaptations.

Concepts: Human, Mediterranean Sea, Isotope, Pleistocene, Paleolithic, Holocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Stone Age


Historian Ammianus Marcellinus documented the devastating effects of a tsunami hitting Alexandria, Egypt, on July 21, AD 365. “The solidity of the earth was made to shake … and the sea was driven away. The waters returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning. Huge ships… perched on the roofs of houses… hurled miles from the shore….”. Other settlements around the Mediterranean were hit at roughly the same time. This scenario is similar to that of the recent Sumatra and Tohoku tsunamis. Based on geophysical surveys and sediment cores from the Ionian Sea we show that the 20-25 m thick megaturbidite known in the literature as Homogenite/Augias was triggered not by the Santorini caldera collapse but by the 365 AD Cretan earthquake/tsunami. An older similar megaturbidite was deposited after 14.590 ± 80 yr BP, implying a large recurrence time of such extreme sedimentary events in the Mediterranean Sea.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Italy, Alexandria, Tsunami, Greece, Santorini, 365 Crete earthquake, Ammianus Marcellinus


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


The tick-borne apicomplexan bovine parasite Theileria annulata is endemic in many tropical and temperate areas, including Minorca (Balearic Islands, Spain). Real-time PCR is widely used for the detection of piroplasms but quantification is not commonly considered.

Concepts: Polymerase chain reaction, Mediterranean Sea, Theileria, Balearic Islands, Catalan language


To investigate the epidemiological relationship of isolates from different Portuguese geographical regions and to assess the diversity among isolates, the MLVA16(Orsay) assay (panels 1, 2A and 2B) was performed with a collection of 126 Brucella melitensis (46 human and 80 animal isolates) and 157 B. abortus field isolates, seven vaccine strains and the representative reference strains of each species. The MLVA16(Orsay) showed a similar high discriminatory power (HGDI 0.972 and 0.902) for both species but panel 1 and 2A markers displayed higher diversity (HGDI 0.693) in B. abortus compared to B. melitensis isolates (HGDI 0.342). The B. melitensis population belong to the “Americas” (17%) and “East Mediterranean” (83%) groups. No isolate belonged to the “West Mediterranean” group. Eighty-five percent of the human isolates (39 in 46) fit in the “East-Mediterranean” group where a single lineage known as MLVA11 genotype 116 is responsible for the vast majority of Brucella infections in humans. B. abortus isolates formed a consistent group with bv1 and bv3 isolates in different clusters. Four MLVA11 genotypes were observed for the first time in isolates from S. Jorge and Terceira islands from Azores. From the collection of isolates analysed in this study we conclude that MLVA16(Orsay) provided a clear view of Brucella spp. population, confirming epidemiological linkage in outbreak investigations. In particular, it suggests recent and ongoing colonisation of Portugal with one B. melitensis lineage usually associated with East Mediterranean countries.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Mediterranean Sea, Portugal, Europe, Brucellosis, Brucella melitensis, Brucella