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Concept: Sicily


The Messina Strait, that separates peninsular Italy from Sicily, is one of the most seismically active areas of the Mediterranean. The structure and seismotectonic setting of the region are poorly understood, although the area is highly populated and important infrastructures are planned there. New seismic reflection data have identified a number of faults, as well as a crustal scale NE-trending anticline few km north of the strait. These features are interpreted as due to active right-lateral transpression along the north-eastern Sicilian offshore, coexisting with extensional and right-lateral transtensional tectonics in the southern Messina Strait. This complex tectonic network appears to be controlled by independent and overlapping tectonic settings, due to the presence of a diffuse transfer zone between the SE-ward retreating Calabria subduction zone relative to slab advance in the western Sicilian side.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Italy, Calabria, Sicily, Southern Italy, Naples, Sicilian language, Palermo


A Mediterranean “roche du large” ecosystem, represented by four rocky shoals, located a few miles apart on a muddy bottom at 70-130 m depth in the gulf of St. Eufemia (Calabria, South Tyrrhenian Sea), was studied by means of Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) photo imaging. The shoals host highly diversified coral communities, mainly composed of arborescent colonies of gorgonians (Callogorgia verticillata, Paramuricea clavata, Paramuricea macrospina, Bebryce mollis, Villogorgia bebrycoides, Corallium rubrum, and Leptogorgia sarmentosa), and antipatharians (Antipathella subpinnata, Antipathes dichotoma and Parantipathes larix). The coral colonies reach high densities (up to ca. 17 colonies m(-2)) and large sizes, such as the over 1.5 m wide antipatharian colonies. We hypothesized that the abundance and composition of the coral assemblages differed significantly among the rocky shoals and with respect to the surrounding soft bottoms. Various environmental variables were tested as possible explanatory factors of the observed differences. Moreover, due to their off-coast localization, we report here that these unique ecosystems are potentially subjected to a strong pressure from the local fishing activities, which were tentatively characterized. The recorded coral β-diversity among the shoals supports the hypothesis that these habitats behave like small oases of hard substrata interspersed in a muddy bottom. Because of their intrinsic beauty and rarity and their biological and ecological value, we stress the need of specific actions aimed at the urgent protection of these oases of biodiversity.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mediterranean Sea, Hypothesis, Italy, Calabria, Sicily, Tyrrhenian Sea, Corallium


Crystals formed prior to a volcanic event can provide evidence of processes leading to and timing of eruptions. Clinopyroxene is common in basaltic to intermediate volcanoes, however, its ability as a recorder of pre-eruptive histories has remained comparatively underexplored. Here we show that novel high-resolution trace element images of clinopyroxene track eruption triggers and timescales at Mount Etna (Sicily, Italy). Chromium (Cr) distribution in clinopyroxene from 1974 to 2014 eruptions reveals punctuated episodes of intrusion of primitive magma at depth. Magma mixing efficiently triggered volcanism (success rate up to 90%), within only 2 weeks of arrival of mafic intrusions. Clinopyroxene zonations distinguish between injections of mafic magma and regular recharges with more evolved magma, which often fail to tip the system to erupt. High Cr zonations can therefore be used to reconstruct past eruptions and inform responses to geophysical signals of volcano unrest, potentially offering an additional approach to volcano hazard monitoring.

Concepts: Volcano, Sicily, Magma, Basalt, Lava, Volcanology, Mount Vesuvius, Decade Volcanoes


The Mediterranean shores stretching between Sicily, Southern Italy and the Southern Balkans witnessed a long series of migration processes and cultural exchanges. Accordingly, present-day population diversity is composed by multiple genetic layers, which make the deciphering of different ancestral and historical contributes particularly challenging. We address this issue by genotyping 511 samples from 23 populations of Sicily, Southern Italy, Greece and Albania with the Illumina GenoChip Array, also including new samples from Albanian- and Greek-speaking ethno-linguistic minorities of Southern Italy. Our results reveal a shared Mediterranean genetic continuity, extending from Sicily to Cyprus, where Southern Italian populations appear genetically closer to Greek-speaking islands than to continental Greece. Besides a predominant Neolithic background, we identify traces of Post-Neolithic Levantine- and Caucasus-related ancestries, compatible with maritime Bronze-Age migrations. We argue that these results may have important implications in the cultural history of Europe, such as in the diffusion of some Indo-European languages. Instead, recent historical expansions from North-Eastern Europe account for the observed differentiation of present-day continental Southern Balkan groups. Patterns of IBD-sharing directly reconnect Albanian-speaking Arbereshe with a recent Balkan-source origin, while Greek-speaking communities of Southern Italy cluster with their Italian-speaking neighbours suggesting a long-term history of presence in Southern Italy.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Europe, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Sicily, Albania, Albanian language


A survey was carried out to determine the prevalence of anisakid nematode larvae in European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) fished off the Tyrrhenian coast of central Italy. From February through July 2012, 1,490 specimens of E. encrasicolus caught in three different fishing areas (off Civitavecchia, Anzio, and Gaeta in the northern, central, and southern Lazio region of Italy, respectively) were tested for the presence of anisakid larvae, both by visual microscopic inspection and enzymatic digestion. In each of the three fishing areas, each of two sampling times produced 250 fish (with the exception of one sampling time in Gaeta that produced 240 fish). Larvae of the family Anisakidae were detected with an overall estimated prevalence of 2.3%, and each positive fish harbored a single larva. No anisakid larvae were detected in fish caught off Gaeta. Fish with larvae were significantly longer (standard length) than fish without larvae. Twenty-six larvae (74.3%) were detected by visual inspection of the viscera, eight larvae (22.8%) were detected by visual inspection of the fillets, and one larva (2.8%) was detected after digestion of pooled fillets. Molecular analysis to fully characterize the 35 detected larvae revealed 15 specimens of Anisakis pegreffii, 10 specimens of Hysterothylacium aduncum, and one hybrid genotype of A. pegreffii × Anisakis simplex. For nine specimens, no visible product was obtained after PCR amplification. The overall prevalence for A. pegreffii and H. aduncum was 1.0 and 0.7%, respectively. A comparison between fishes harboring A. pegreffii larvae and those harboring H. aduncum revealed that those with A. pegreffii were significantly heavier. The prevalence of anisakid larvae found in the present study is lower then that reported previously in E. encrasicolus collected in the Mediterranean Sea.

Concepts: Fish, Mediterranean Sea, Italy, Sicily, Tyrrhenian Sea, Anisakis, Lazio, European anchovy


The red algae Asparagopsis taxiformis collected from the Straits of Messina (Italy) were screened for antifungal activity against Aspergillus species. EUCAST methodology was applied and extracts showed antifungal activity against A. fumigatus, A. terreus and A. flavus. The lowest minimum inhibitory concentrations observed were <0.15 mg ml(-1) and the highest were >5 mg ml(-1) for Aspergillus spp. tested. Agar diffusion assays confirmed antifungal activity of A. taxiformis extracts in Aspergillus species.

Concepts: Algae, Plant, Aspergillus, Brown algae, Sicily, Red algae, Algaculture, Coralline algae


The relationship between genetic and linguistic diversification in human populations has been often explored to interpret some specific issues in human history. The Albanian-speaking minorities of Sicily and Southern Italy (Arbereshe) constitute an important portion of the ethnolinguistic variability of Italy. Their linguistic isolation from neighboring Italian populations and their documented migration history, make such minorities particularly effective for investigating the interplay between cultural, geographic and historical factors. Nevertheless, the extent of Arbereshe genetic relationships with the Balkan homeland and the Italian recipient populations has been only partially investigated. In the present study we address the genetic history of Arbereshe people by combining highly resolved analyses of Y-chromosome lineages and extensive computer simulations. A large set of slow- and fast-evolving molecular markers was typed in different Arbereshe communities from Sicily and Southern Italy (Calabria), as well as in both the putative Balkan source and Italian sink populations. Our results revealed that the considered Arbereshe groups, despite speaking closely related languages and sharing common cultural features, actually experienced diverging genetic histories. The estimated proportions of genetic admixture confirm the tight relationship of Calabrian Arbereshe with modern Albanian populations, in accordance with linguistic hypotheses. On the other hand, population stratification and/or an increased permeability of linguistic and geographic barriers may be hypothesized for Sicilian groups, to account for their partial similarity with Greek populations and their higher levels of local admixture. These processes ultimately resulted in the differential acquisition or preservation of specific paternal lineages by the present-day Arbereshe communities.European Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication, 1 July 2015; doi:10.1038/ejhg.2015.138.

Concepts: Genetics, History, Italy, Calabria, Sicily, Southern Italy, Sicilian language, Albanian language


This research aims to define for the first time levels and patterns of different litter groups (macro, meso and microplastics) in sediments from a marine area designed for the institution of a new marine protected area (Aeolian Archipelago, Italy). Microplastics resulted the principal group and found in all samples analyzed, with shape and colours variable between different sampling sites. MPs levels measured in this study are similar to values recorded in harbour sites and lower than reported in Adriatic Sea, while macroplastics levels are notably lower than in harbor sites. Sediment grain-size and island extent resulted not significant in determining levels and distribution of plastic debris among islands. In the future, following the establishment of the MPA in the study area, these basic data will be useful to check for potential protective effects on the levels and distribution of plastic debris.

Concepts: Sediment, Mediterranean Sea, Italy, Sicily, Tyrrhenian Sea, Island, Etruscan civilization, Aeolian Islands


Considering that the determination of authenticity and of the geographical origin of food is a very challenging issue, in this study we studied by means of histological and histochemical analyses the famous Sicilian lemon known as ‘Interdonato Lemon of Messina PGI’. Since the protected geographical indication Interdonato lemon of Messina possesses high organoleptic properties, the composition of the hexane extract of lemon peel was determined by HRGC and HRGC-MS analyses and compared with that of lemon of different cultivars. The results obtained are informative of the oil’s quality and explain the variation of the lemon essential oil composition. Given the fundamental economic implications of any fraud, the aim of this study was to determine a fingerprint able to evaluate the authentication of the geographic origin in such way to prevent frauds in national and international markets.

Concepts: Petroleum, Citrus, Italy, Essential oil, Sicily, Lemon, Geographical indication, Sicilian language


Subduction-transform edge propagators are lithospheric tears bounding slabs and back-arc basins. The volcanism at these edges is enigmatic because it is lacking comprehensive geological and geophysical data. Here we present bathymetric, potential-field data, and direct observations of the seafloor on the 90 km long Palinuro volcanic chain overlapping the E-W striking tear of the roll-backing Ionian slab in Southern Tyrrhenian Sea. The volcanic chain includes arc-type central volcanoes and fissural, spreading-type centers emplaced along second-order shears. The volume of the volcanic chain is larger than that of the neighbor island-arc edifices and back-arc spreading center. Such large volume of magma is associated to an upwelling of the isotherms due to mantle melts upraising from the rear of the slab along the tear fault. The subduction-transform edge volcanism focuses localized spreading processes and its magnitude is underestimated. This volcanism characterizes the subduction settings associated to volcanic arcs and back-arc spreading centers.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Volcano, Sicily, Basalt, Island arc, Convergent boundary, Oceanic trench