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A Geophysical and Climatological Assessment of New Guinea — Implications for the Origins of Saccharum

By Dyfed Lloyd Evans

Posted 20 Jun 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.06.20.162842

Any assessment of whether or not Saccharum species are native or introduced in New Guinea require an evolutionary (in a geological sense), geophysical and climatological assessment of the island. Like many of the land masses circling the Pacific (in the volcanically active region known as the 'ring of fire') New Guinea is geologically young, with the island in its modern form not pre-dating 2Ma. Novel modelling of the 74ka youngest Toba supereruption indicates a potential extinction level tsunami and loss of habitat. The late Pleistocene megafaunal mass extinction and the last glacial maximum (33-16 ka) are two global effects that would have significantly altered the flora on New Guinea; though the implications of these events on New Guinea have not previously been studied. Even if the genus Saccharum was established on the island during pre-historic times the consequences of Toba and other global climate change events means that it would have been eliminated from New Guinea and would have had to be re-introduced during the period of human colonization. Indeed, given the evolution of Saccharum 's immediate ancestors in Africa and Indochina it is most parsimonious to conclude that it was never native to New Guinea, but was introduced by humans relatively recently. Little work has been done on palaeotsunami evidence and ancient tsunami modelling in New Guinea. However, the recent recognition that the Aitape skull (dating to about 6 ka) may have been the victim of a tsunami show that, in the past, tsunami have penetrated significantly (about 10 km in this case) into the interior of the island to have a profound effect on biodiversity. This tsunami would have left the north coast of the island impoverished of plant life for several decades after. ### Competing Interest Statement Though the author states that no competing interests exist, for transparency DLlE declares that he is co-founder and senior scientist at CSS a non-profit organization for the furtherment of sequencing technologies.

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