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Concept: Polynesia


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


Previous studies document Nukuleka in the Kingdom of Tonga as a founder colony for first settlement of Polynesia by Lapita peoples. A limited number of radiocarbon dates are one line of evidence supporting this claim, but they cannot precisely establish when this event occurred, nor can they afford a detailed chronology for sequent occupation. High precision U/Th dates of Acropora coral files (abraders) from Nukuleka give unprecedented resolution, identifying the founder event by 2838±8 BP and documenting site development over the ensuing 250 years. The potential for dating error due to post depositional diagenetic alteration of ancient corals at Nukuleka also is addressed through sample preparation protocols and paired dates on spatially separated samples for individual specimens. Acropora coral files are widely distributed in Lapita sites across Oceania. U/Th dating of these artifacts provides unparalleled opportunities for greater precision and insight into the speed and timing of this final chapter in human settlement of the globe.

Concepts: Coral, Polynesia, Founder effect, Lapita, Tonga, Radiocarbon dating, Fiji, Samoa


Spatial variation in growth is a common feature of demersal fish populations which often exist as discrete adult sub-populations linked by a pelagic larval stage. However, it remains unclear whether variation in growth occurs at similar spatial scales for populations of highly migratory pelagic species, such as tuna. We examined spatial variation in growth of albacore Thunnus alalunga across 90° of longitude in the South Pacific Ocean from the east coast of Australia to the Pitcairn Islands. Using length-at-age data from a validated ageing method we found evidence for significant variation in length-at-age and growth parameters (L(∞) and k) between sexes and across longitudes. Growth trajectories were similar between sexes up until four years of age, after which the length-at-age for males was, on average, greater than that for females. Males reached an average maximum size more than 8 cm larger than females. Length-at-age and growth parameters were consistently greater at more easterly longitudes than at westerly longitudes for both females and males. Our results provide strong evidence that finer spatial structure exists within the South Pacific albacore stock and raises the question of whether the scale of their “highly migratory” nature should be re-assessed. Future stock assessment models for South Pacific albacore should consider sex-specific growth curves and spatial variation in growth within the stock.

Concepts: Fish, New Zealand, Pacific Ocean, Polynesia, Tuna, Thunnus, Scombridae, Yellowfin tuna


The population genetic structure of Native Hawaiians has yet to be comprehensively studied, and the ancestral origins of Polynesians remain in question. In this study, we utilized high-resolution genome-wide SNP data and mitochondrial genomes of 148 and 160 Native Hawaiians, respectively, to characterize their population structure of the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes, ancestral origins, and population expansion. Native Hawaiians, who self-reported full Native Hawaiian heritage, demonstrated 78% Native Hawaiian, 11.5% European, and 7.8% Asian ancestry with 99% belonging to the B4 mitochondrial haplogroup. The estimated proportions of Native Hawaiian ancestry for those who reported mixed ancestry (i.e. 75% and 50% Native Hawaiian heritage) were found to be consistent with their self-reported heritage. A significant proportion of Melanesian ancestry (mean = 32%) was estimated in 100% self-reported Native Hawaiians in an ADMIXTURE analysis of Asian, Melanesian, and Native Hawaiian populations of K = 2, where K denotes the number of ancestral populations. This notable proportion of Melanesian admixture supports the “Slow-Boat” model of migration of ancestral Polynesian populations from East Asia to the Pacific Islands. In addition, approximately 1,300 years ago a single, strong expansion of the Native Hawaiian population was estimated. By providing important insight into the underlying population structure of Native Hawaiians, this study lays the foundation for future genetic association studies of this U.S. minority population.

Concepts: DNA, United States, Population genetics, Pacific Ocean, Native Americans in the United States, Polynesia, Native Hawaiians, Polynesians


The human colonization of Remote Oceania remains one of the great feats of exploration in history, proceeding east from Asia across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Human commensal and domesticated species were widely transported as part of this diaspora, possibly as far as South America. We sequenced mitochondrial control region DNA from 122 modern and 22 ancient chicken specimens from Polynesia and Island Southeast Asia and used these together with Bayesian modeling methods to examine the human dispersal of chickens across this area. We show that specific techniques are essential to remove contaminating modern DNA from experiments, which appear to have impacted previous studies of Pacific chickens. In contrast to previous reports, we find that all ancient specimens and a high proportion of the modern chickens possess a group of unique, closely related haplotypes found only in the Pacific. This group of haplotypes appears to represent the authentic founding mitochondrial DNA chicken lineages transported across the Pacific, and allows the early dispersal of chickens across Micronesia and Polynesia to be modeled. Importantly, chickens carrying this genetic signature persist on several Pacific islands at high frequencies, suggesting that the original Polynesian chicken lineages may still survive. No early South American chicken samples have been detected with the diagnostic Polynesian mtDNA haplotypes, arguing against reports that chickens provide evidence of Polynesian contact with pre-European South America. Two modern specimens from the Philippines carry haplotypes similar to the ancient Pacific samples, providing clues about a potential homeland for the Polynesian chicken.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, United States, New Zealand, Asia, Pacific Ocean, Oceania, South America, Polynesia


The history of sweet potato in the Pacific has long been an enigma. Archaeological, linguistic, and ethnobotanical data suggest that prehistoric human-mediated dispersal events contributed to the distribution in Oceania of this American domesticate. According to the “tripartite hypothesis,” sweet potato was introduced into Oceania from South America in pre-Columbian times and was then later newly introduced, and diffused widely across the Pacific, by Europeans via two historically documented routes from Mexico and the Caribbean. Although sweet potato is the most convincing example of putative pre-Columbian connections between human occupants of Polynesia and South America, the search for genetic evidence of pre-Columbian dispersal of sweet potato into Oceania has been inconclusive. Our study attempts to fill this gap. Using complementary sets of markers (chloroplast and nuclear microsatellites) and both modern and herbarium samples, we test the tripartite hypothesis. Our results provide strong support for prehistoric transfer(s) of sweet potato from South America (Peru-Ecuador region) into Polynesia. Our results also document a temporal shift in the pattern of distribution of genetic variation in sweet potato in Oceania. Later reintroductions, accompanied by recombination between distinct sweet potato gene pools, have reshuffled the crop’s initial genetic base, obscuring primary patterns of diffusion and, at the same time, giving rise to an impressive number of local variants. Moreover, our study shows that phenotypes, names, and neutral genes do not necessarily share completely parallel evolutionary histories. Multidisciplinary approaches, thus, appear necessary for accurate reconstruction of the intertwined histories of plants and humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Pacific Ocean, South America, History, Americas, Caribbean, Polynesia


Ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP), a disease caused by consuming fish that have accumulated ciguatoxins (CTXs) in their tissue, is regarded as the most prevalent form of intoxication in French Polynesia. Recently, the Australes, one of the least affected archipelago until the early 1980s, has shown a dramatic increase in its incidence rates in 2009 with unusual CFP cases. In the present work, potential health hazards associated with the proliferation of various marine phytoplankton species and the consumption of fish and marine invertebrates highly popular among local population were assessed in three Australes islands: Raivavae, Rurutu and Rapa. Extracts from the marine dinoflagellates Gambierdiscus, Ostreospis and mat-forming cyanobacteria as well as fish, giant clams and sea urchin samples were examined for the presence of CTXs and palytoxin (PLTX) by using the neuroblastoma cell-based assay (CBA-N2a). Cytotoxic responses observed with both standards (Pacific CTX-3C and PLTX) and targeted marine products indicate that CBA-N2a is a robust screening tool, with high sensitivity and good repeatability and reproducibility. In Rurutu and Raivavae islands, our main findings concern the presence of CTX-like compounds in giant clams and sea urchins, suggesting a second bio-accumulation route for CFP toxins in the ciguatera food chain. In Rapa, the potential CFP risk from Gambierdiscus bloom and fish was confirmed for the first time, with levels of CTXs found above the consumer advisory level of 0.01 ng Pacific CTX-1B g(-1) of flesh in three fish samples. However, despite the presence of trace level of PLTX in Ostreopsis natural assemblages of Rapa, no sign of PLTX accumulation is yet observed in tested fish samples. Because this multi-toxinic context is likely to emerge in most French Polynesian islands, CBA-N2a shows great potential for future applications in the algal- and toxin-based field monitoring programmes currently on hand locally.

Concepts: Pacific Ocean, Algal bloom, Dinoflagellate, Sea urchin, French Polynesia, Polynesia, Austral Islands, Ciguatera


We examined nine Y chromosome short tandem repeats (Y-STRs) and the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) hypervariable segment 1 region in the Fijian island populations of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Kadavu, the Lau islands and Rotuma. We found significant genetic structure among these populations for the Y-STRs, both with and without the Rotumans, but not for the mtDNA. We also found that all five populations exhibited the sex-biased admixture associated with areas settled by Austronesian-speaking people, with paternal lineages more strongly associated with Melanesian populations and maternal lineages more strongly associated with Polynesian populations. We also found that the Rotumans in the north and the Lau Islanders in the east were genetically more similar to Polynesian populations than were the other Fijians, but only for the mtDNA. For the Y-STRs, the Rotumans and the Lau Islanders were genetically as similar to Melanesian populations as were the other three populations. Of the five populations, the Rotumans were the most different in almost every regard. Although past genetic studies treated the Fijians as being genetically homogenous despite known geographic, phenotypic, cultural and linguistic variation, our findings show significant genetic variation and a need for a closer examination of individual island populations within Fiji, particularly the Rotumans, in order to better understand the process of the peopling of Fiji and of the surrounding regions.Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication, 8 January 2015; doi:10.1038/jhg.2014.105.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Polynesia, Fiji, Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Rotuma


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


The origins and lifeways of the inhabitants of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a remote island in the southeast Pacific Ocean, have been debated for generations. Archaeological evidence substantiates the widely accepted view that the island was first settled by people of Polynesian origin, as late as 1200 CE [1-4]. What remains controversial, however, is the nature of events in the island’s population history prior to the first historic contact with Europeans in 1722 CE. Purported contact between Rapa Nui and South America is particularly contentious, and recent studies have reported genetic evidence for Native American admixture in present-day indigenous inhabitants of Rapa Nui [5-8]. Statistical modeling has suggested that this genetic contribution might have occurred prior to European contact [6]. Here we directly test the hypothesis that the Native American admixture of the current Rapa Nui population predates the arrival of Europeans with a paleogenomic analysis of five individual samples excavated from Ahu Nau Nau, Anakena, dating to pre- and post-European contact, respectively. Complete mitochondrial genomes and low-coverage autosomal genomes show that the analyzed individuals fall within the genetic diversity of present-day and ancient Polynesians, and we can reject the hypothesis that any of these individuals had substantial Native American ancestry. Our data thus suggest that the Native American ancestry in contemporary Easter Islanders was not present on the island prior to European contact and may thus be due to events in more recent history.

Concepts: United States, Chile, European American, Polynesia, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Easter Island, Rapanui, Anakena