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Acanthaster planci is the principle natural enemy of reef-building corals. Outbreaks of this coral-feeding starfish occur periodically, due to reasons that remain unclear. It decimates entire reefs in the space of just a few years, as has been the case in French Polynesia since 2004. A new study conducted by IRD researchers and their partners( 1) describes this population explosion around Moorea, the “sister island of Tahiti”( 2). The rate of living coral cover in ocean depths and lagoons alike has dropped from 50% (healthy reef) to under 5% in 2009. The ecosystem will need at least a decade to be restored to its original state.
The mangroves of Guyana, in South America, are gradually disappearing. Contrary to the coastline of its near neighbour, French Guiana, which is still relatively protected, that of Guyana has been largely developed. In order to develop agriculture and aquaculture, earth dikes were built, destroying the greater part of the mangrove forest.
A study( 1) conducted by IRD researchers and the University of Aix-Marseille shows that the reduced protection provided by mangroves against the swell will lead to the large-scale erosion of 370 km of the country's coastline. Only one ecosystem restoration programme will help contain this phenomenon.
The second greatest economic resource of French Polynesia after tourism, black pearl culture has been facing a major crisis since the first decade of this century. Overproduction, falling prices, reduced activity that had boosted many remote atolls... In response, IRD researchers and their partners( 1) are helping to maintain and sustain the sector.
In particular, scientists have been studying the Ahe atoll lagoon (north of Tahiti) since 2008. Specifically, they coordinated studies on the plankton resources available to feed oysters and on water flow in the lagoon.
These projects contribute to decision-making tools intended for oyster farmers, for the sustainable exploitation of the "Tahitian treasure".
In Africa, more than 25 million people, most of them women, are currently infected by the AIDS virus. However, a study conducted by Epicentre( 1) and IRD researchers shows that men are less responsive to treatment. The provision of healthcare is intended to restore the level of lymphocyte cells, called T-CD4, reduced by HIV. Based on 13,000 patients monitored through four programmes carried out by Médecins sans frontières France in Malawi, Uganda and Kenya, the study shows that the reconstitution of these white blood cells is slower in men than in women.
Due to stigmatisation and work- and transport-related constraints, among others, men often receive healthcare at a later stage and are less responsive to treatment. However, this gender-based difference could also stem from biological causes, such as physiologically lower rates of T-CD4 lymphocytes.
This study underlines the fact that men should therefore receive special attention from programmes aimed at fighting the disease.
It is a much debated question: why did Central African forests become partially fragmented between 2,500 and 2,000 years ago, leaving room for more open forest landscapes and savannah? Recently, a publication attempted to explain that it was the farming Bantu peoples who were responsible for this, through the large-scale clearing that they undertook. But several IRD experts and their partners( 1) contest this argument in Science magazine. The fragmentation of the Central African forest was the result of drastic climate change. In fact, during this period a phase of general desiccation spread from the equatorial region right to the edges of the Sahel. Numerous data show that it was only 500 years later, in other words some 2,000 years ago, that Bantu colonisation became widespread. The first Bantu populations therefore merely took advantage of the opening up of the forest to enter these areas and start growing their crops.