SciCombinator

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Concept: New Caledonia

231

The land planarian Platydemus manokwari de Beauchamp, 1963 or “New Guinea flatworm” is a highly invasive species, mainly in the Pacific area, and recently in Europe (France). We report specimens from six additional countries and territories: New Caledonia (including mainland and two of the Loyalty Islands, Lifou and Maré), Wallis and Futuna Islands, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida, USA. We analysed the COI gene (barcoding) in these specimens with two sets of primers and obtained 909 bp long sequences. In addition, specimens collected in Townsville (Australia) were also sequenced. Two haplotypes of the COI sequence, differing by 3.7%, were detected: the “World haplotype” found in France, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Singapore, Florida and Puerto Rico; and the “Australian haplotype” found in Australia. The only locality with both haplotypes was in the Solomon Islands. The country of origin of Platydemus manokwari is New Guinea, and Australia and the Solomon Islands are the countries closest to New Guinea from which we had specimens. These results suggest that two haplotypes exist in the area of origin of the species, but that only one of the two haplotypes (the “World haplotype”) has, through human agency, been widely dispersed. However, since P. manokwari is now recorded from 22 countries in the world and we have genetic information from only 8 of these, with none from New Guinea, this analysis provides only partial knowledge of the genetic structure of the invasive species. Morphological analysis of specimens from both haplotypes has shown some differences in ratio of the genital structures but did not allow us to interpret the haplotypes as different species. The new reports from Florida and Puerto Rico are firsts for the USA, for the American continent, and the Caribbean. P. manokwari is a known threat for endemic terrestrial molluscs and its presence is a matter of concern. While most of the infected territories reported until now were islands, the newly reported presence of the species in mainland US in Florida should be considered a potential major threat to the whole US and even the Americas.

Concepts: Pacific Ocean, Australia, French language, Melanesia, Oceania, New Caledonia, Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna

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The giant flightless bird Sylviornis neocaledoniae (Aves: Sylviornithidae) existed on La Grande Terre and Ile des Pins, New Caledonia, until the late Holocene when it went extinct shortly after human arrival on these islands. The species was generally considered to be a megapode (Megapodiidae) until the family Sylviornithidae was erected for it in 2005 to reflect multiple cranial autapomorphies. However, despite thousands of bones having been reported for this unique and enigmatic taxon, the postcranial anatomy has remained largely unknown. We rectify this deficiency and describe the postcranial skeleton of S. neocaledoniae based on ~600 fossils and use data from this and its cranial anatomy to make a comprehensive assessment of its phylogenetic affinities. Sylviornis neocaledoniae is found to be a stem galliform, distant from megapodiids, and the sister taxon to the extinct flightless Megavitiornis altirostris from Fiji, which we transfer to the family Sylviornithidae. These two species form the sister group to extant crown-group galliforms. Several other fossil galloanseres also included in the phylogenetic analysis reveal novel hypotheses of their relationships as follows: Dromornis planei (Dromornithidae) is recovered as a stem galliform rather than a stem anseriform; Presbyornis pervetus (Presbyornithidae) is the sister group to Anseranatidae, not to Anatidae; Vegavis iaai is a crown anseriform but remains unresolved relative to Presbyornis pervetus, Anseranatidae and Anatidae. Sylviornis neocaledoniae was reconstructed herein to be 0.8 m tall in a resting stance and weigh 27-34 kg. The postcranial anatomy of S. neocaledoniae shows no indication of the specialised adaptation to digging seen in megapodiids, with for example, its ungual morphology differing little from that of chicken Gallus gallus. These observations and its phylogenetic placement as stem galliforms makes it improbable that this species employed ectothermic incubation or was a mound-builder. Sylviornis neocaledoniae can therefore be excluded as the constructor of tumuli in New Caledonia.

Concepts: Bird, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Galliformes, New Caledonia, Late Quaternary prehistoric birds, Anseriformes, Sylviornis

25

Exploration of a landlocked cenote on Lifou (Loyalty Islands) revealed 37 shells of the cephalopod Nautilus macromphalus Sowerby, 1849, in saltwater on the cenote floor, approximately 40 m below the water surface. The occurrence of these shells is unusual because N. macromphalus is restricted to the open marine waters surrounding the island. All of the shells are mature, and nearly all of them are unbroken, with faded red-brown color stripes. We analyzed seven shells to determine their age. Radiocarbon dating yielded ages of 6380±30 to 7095±30 y BP. The 238U-series radionuclides 210Pb (half-life  = 22.3 y) and 226Ra (half-life  = 1600 y) also were measured. Two of the samples showed radioactive equilibrium between the nuclides, consistent with the old radiocarbon dates, but the other five samples showed excess 210Pb. When corrected for radioactive decay, the 226Ra activities were much greater than those found in living Nautilus. We conclude that exposure to high activities of 222Rn and 226Ra in the salty groundwater of the cenote altered the activities originally incorporated into the shells. Human placement of the shells in the cavity is rejected based on their radiocarbon age and the geometry of the cenote. The most probable explanation is that the animals entered the flooded karstic system through a connection on the seaward side at approximately 7,000 y BP, during an interval of slowly rising sea level. Unable to find an exit and/or due to anoxic bottom waters, the animals were trapped and died inside. The open connection with the sea persisted for ∼700 y, but after ∼6400 y BP, the connection was lost, probably due to a roof collapse. This is a rare example of Nautilus in a karstic coastal basin and provides a minimum age for the appearance of N. macromphalus in the Loyalty Islands.

Concepts: Radioactive decay, Isotope, Half-life, New Caledonia, Radioactivity, Radiocarbon dating, Carbon-14, Nautilus

21

The appearance of people associated with the Lapita culture in the South Pacific around 3,000 years ago marked the beginning of the last major human dispersal to unpopulated lands. However, the relationship of these pioneers to the long-established Papuan people of the New Guinea region is unclear. Here we present genome-wide ancient DNA data from three individuals from Vanuatu (about 3,100-2,700 years before present) and one from Tonga (about 2,700-2,300 years before present), and analyse them with data from 778 present-day East Asians and Oceanians. Today, indigenous people of the South Pacific harbour a mixture of ancestry from Papuans and a population of East Asian origin that no longer exists in unmixed form, but is a match to the ancient individuals. Most analyses have interpreted the minimum of twenty-five per cent Papuan ancestry in the region today as evidence that the first humans to reach Remote Oceania, including Polynesia, were derived from population mixtures near New Guinea, before their further expansion into Remote Oceania. However, our finding that the ancient individuals had little to no Papuan ancestry implies that later human population movements spread Papuan ancestry through the South Pacific after the first peopling of the islands.

Concepts: Asia, Pacific Ocean, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Oceania, New Caledonia, Polynesia, New Guinea

5

We report the unprecedented Lapita exploitation and subsequent extinction of large megafauna tortoises (?Meiolania damelipi) on tropical islands during the late Holocene over a 281,000 km(2) region of the southwest Pacific spanning from the Vanuatu archipelago to Viti Levu in Fiji. Zooarchaeological analyses have identified seven early archaeological sites with the remains of this distinctive hornless tortoise, unlike the Gondwanan horned meiolaniid radiation to the southwest. These large tortoise radiations in the Pacific may have contributed to the rapid dispersal of early mobile Neolithic hunters throughout southwest Melanesia and on to western Polynesia. Subsequent rapid extinctions of these terrestrial herbivorous megafauna are likely to have led to significant changes in ecosystems that help explain changes in current archaeological patterns from Post-Lapita contexts in the region.

Concepts: Pacific Ocean, Australia, Solomon Islands, Melanesia, New Caledonia, Polynesia, Fiji, Vanuatu

4

Nickel hyperaccumulator plants are of much interest for their evolution and unique ecophysiology, and also for potential applications in agromining-a novel technology that uses plants to extract valuable metals from soil. The majority of nickel hyperaccumulators are known from ultramafic soils in tropical regions (Cuba, New Caledonia and Southeast Asia), and one genus, Phyllanthus (Phyllanthaceae), is globally the most represented taxonomic entity. A number of tropical Phyllanthus-species have the potential to be used as ‘metal crops’ in agromining operations mainly because of their ease in cultivation and their ability to attain high nickel concentrations and biomass yields.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Metal, Philippines, Pacific Ocean, Borneo, Nickel, New Caledonia, Malaysia

4

Ross River is an emerging mosquito-borne disease in the Western Pacific. Ross River virus (RRV) circulation has been sporadically reported in some Pacific Island Countries and Territories but never in French Polynesia. To determine if RRV has circulated locally among the French Polynesian population, we conducted a seroprevalence study on blood donors.

Concepts: New Zealand, Pacific Ocean, French language, Oceania, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Polynesia, Island

2

Quantitative reconstructions of terrestrial climate are highly sought after but rare, particularly in Australia. Carbon isotope discrimination in plant leaves (Δleaf ) is an established indicator of past hydroclimate because the fractionation of carbon isotopes during photosynthesis is strongly influenced by water stress. Leaves of the evergreen tree Melaleuca quinquenervia have been recovered from the sediments of some perched lakes on North Stradbroke and Fraser Islands, south-east Queensland, eastern Australia. Here, we examine the potential for using M. quinquenervia ∆leaf as a tracer of past rainfall by analysing carbon isotope ratios (δ(13) C) of modern leaves. We firstly assess Δleaf variation at the leaf and stand scale and find no systematic pattern within leaves or between leaves due to their position on the tree. We then examine the relationships between climate and Δleaf for a 11-year time series of leaves collected in a litter tray. M. quinquenervia retains its leaves for 1-4 years; thus, cumulative average climate data are used. There is a significant relationship between annual mean ∆leaf and mean annual rainfall of the hydrological year for 1-4 years (i.e. 365-1460 days) prior to leaf fall (r(2)  = 0.64, P = 0.003, n = 11). This relationship is marginally improved by accounting for the effect of pCO2 on discrimination (r(2)  = 0.67, P = 0.002, n = 11). The correlation between rainfall and Δleaf , and the natural distribution of Melaleuca quinquenervia around wetlands of eastern Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia offers significant potential to infer past rainfall on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Papua New Guinea, Leaf, Plant morphology, New Caledonia, Deciduous, Melaleuca, Melaleuca quinquenervia

2

With a cultural and linguistic origin in Island Southeast Asia the Lapita expansion is thought to have led ultimately to the Polynesian settlement of the east Polynesian region after a time of mixing/integration in north Melanesia and a nearly 2,000-y pause in West Polynesia. One of the major achievements of recent Lapita research in Vanuatu has been the discovery of the oldest cemetery found so far in the Pacific at Teouma on the south coast of Efate Island, opening up new prospects for the biological definition of the early settlers of the archipelago and of Remote Oceania in general. Using craniometric evidence from the skeletons in conjunction with archaeological data, we discuss here four debated issues: the Lapita-Asian connection, the degree of admixture, the Lapita-Polynesian connection, and the question of secondary population movement into Remote Oceania.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Pacific Ocean, Australia, Melanesia, Oceania, New Caledonia, Polynesia, Vanuatu