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Concept: Amazon River


The discovery of large geometrical earthworks in interfluvial settings of southern Amazonia has challenged the idea that Pre-Columbian populations were concentrated along the major floodplains. However, a spatial gap in the archaeological record of the Amazon has limited the assessment of the territorial extent of earth-builders. Here, we report the discovery of Pre-Columbian ditched enclosures in the Tapajós headwaters. The results show that an 1800 km stretch of southern Amazonia was occupied by earth-building cultures living in fortified villages ~Cal AD 1250-1500. We model earthwork distribution in this broad region using recorded sites, with environmental and terrain variables as predictors, estimating that earthworks will be found over ~400,000 km2of southern Amazonia. We conclude that the interfluves and minor tributaries of southern Amazonia sustained high population densities, calling for a re-evaluation of the role of this region for Pre-Columbian cultural developments and environmental impact.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, Population density, Stream, Amazon River, Archaeology, Indigenous peoples


True river dolphins are some of the rarest and most endangered of all vertebrates. They comprise relict evolutionary lineages of high taxonomic distinctness and conservation value, but are afforded little protection. We report the discovery of a new species of a river dolphin from the Araguaia River basin of Brazil, the first such discovery in nearly 100 years. The species is diagnosable by a series of molecular and morphological characters and diverged from its Amazonian sister taxon 2.08 million years ago. The estimated time of divergence corresponds to the separation of the Araguaia-Tocantins basin from the Amazon basin. This discovery highlights the immensity of the deficit in our knowledge of Neotropical biodiversity, as well as vulnerability of biodiversity to anthropogenic actions in an increasingly threatened landscape. We anticipate that this study will provide an impetus for the taxonomic and conservation reanalysis of other taxa shared between the Araguaia and Amazon aquatic ecosystems, as well as stimulate historical biogeographical analyses of the two basins.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Ecology, Drainage basin, Amazon River, Brazil, Amazon Basin, Amazon Rainforest


Tropical rainforest regions have large hydropower generation potential that figures prominently in many nations' energy growth strategies. Feasibility studies of hydropower plants typically ignore the effect of future deforestation or assume that deforestation will have a positive effect on river discharge and energy generation resulting from declines in evapotranspiration (ET) associated with forest conversion. Forest loss can also reduce river discharge, however, by inhibiting rainfall. We used land use, hydrological, and climate models to examine the local “direct” effects (through changes in ET within the watershed) and the potential regional “indirect” effects (through changes in rainfall) of deforestation on river discharge and energy generation potential for the Belo Monte energy complex, one of the world’s largest hydropower plants that is currently under construction on the Xingu River in the eastern Amazon. In the absence of indirect effects of deforestation, simulated deforestation of 20% and 40% within the Xingu River basin increased discharge by 4-8% and 10-12%, with similar increases in energy generation. When indirect effects were considered, deforestation of the Amazon region inhibited rainfall within the Xingu Basin, counterbalancing declines in ET and decreasing discharge by 6-36%. Under business-as-usual projections of forest loss for 2050 (40%), simulated power generation declined to only 25% of maximum plant output and 60% of the industry’s own projections. Like other energy sources, hydropower plants present large social and environmental costs. Their reliability as energy sources, however, must take into account their dependence on forests.

Concepts: Hydrology, Amazon River, Brazil, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Amazon Basin, Amazon Rainforest, Xingu River


Madre de Dios is located in the southeastern Amazonian region of Peru. Rodents have been estimated to be the reservoirs for up to 50 % of emerging zoonotic pathogens, including a host of viruses, bacteria, and parasites. As part of a larger study involving both human and animal research, this study serves to obtain a broader understanding of the key challenges and concerns related to health and rodent-borne illnesses from the perspective of the people living in these communities.

Concepts: Medicine, Epidemiology, Bacteria, Microbiology, Amazon River, Brazil, Peru, Madre de Dios Region


A general northward shift in marine species distributions has been observed in the western North Atlantic Ocean, which may have significant ecological consequences. Large coastal sharks can have wide migratory distributions but show fidelity to specific nursery habitats. Here we show evidence for nursery range expansion into Pamlico Sound, North Carolina by a marine apex predator, the Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas). Previous assessments have shown little to no use of estuarine North Carolina waters as nursery habitat by Bull Sharks from 1965-2011. Juvenile sharks were rarely captured in a fishery-independent gillnet survey conducted by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) from 2003-2011, but were present every year from 2011-2016. Juvenile Bull Shark presence in the Sound was strongly related to early summer temperatures and late summer salinities, which have increased in the estuary over the 13 survey years, and further evidence for increasing water temperatures in Pamlico Sound was found in a 45-year data set for the NCDMF estuarine trawl survey. These results suggest that increasing water temperature and salinity have allowed Bull Sharks to expand their nursery habitat. This shift will have unknown, but potentially strong, impacts on both the local ecosystem and interactions with humans.

Concepts: Water, Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Estuary, Amazon River, Shark, Bull shark, Pamlico Sound


In contrast to dominant mode of ecological transition in the evolution of marine mammals, different lineages of toothed whales (Odontoceti) have repeatedly invaded freshwater ecosystems during the Cenozoic era. The so-called ‘river dolphins’ are now recognized as independent lineages that converged on similar morphological specializations (e.g., longirostry). In South America, the two endemic ‘river dolphin’ lineages form a clade (Inioidea), with closely related fossil inioids from marine rock units in the South Pacific and North Atlantic oceans. Here we describe a new genus and species of fossil inioid, Isthminia panamensis, gen. et sp. nov. from the late Miocene of Panama. The type and only known specimen consists of a partial skull, mandibles, isolated teeth, a right scapula, and carpal elements recovered from the Piña Facies of the Chagres Formation, along the Caribbean coast of Panama. Sedimentological and associated fauna from the Piña Facies point to fully marine conditions with high planktonic productivity about 6.1-5.8 million years ago (Messinian), pre-dating the final closure of the Isthmus of Panama. Along with ecomorphological data, we propose that Isthminia was primarily a marine inhabitant, similar to modern oceanic delphinoids. Phylogenetic analysis of fossil and living inioids, including new codings for Ischyrorhynchus, an enigmatic taxon from the late Miocene of Argentina, places Isthminia as the sister taxon to Inia, in a broader clade that includes Ischyrorhynchus and Meherrinia, a North American fossil inioid. This phylogenetic hypothesis complicates the possible scenarios for the freshwater invasion of the Amazon River system by stem relatives of Inia, but it remains consistent with a broader marine ancestry for Inioidea. Based on the fossil record of this group, along with Isthminia, we propose that a marine ancestor of Inia invaded Amazonia during late Miocene eustatic sea-level highs.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Phylogenetics, Geology, Amazon River, Brazil, North America, South America, Cetacea


Considerable interest in the relationship between biodiversity and disease has recently captured the attention of the research community, with important public policy implications. In particular, malaria in the Amazon region is often cited as an example of how forest conservation can improve public health outcomes. However, despite a growing body of literature and an increased understanding of the relationship between malaria and land use / land cover change (LULC) in Amazonia, contradictions have emerged. While some studies report that deforestation increases malaria risk, others claim the opposite. Assessing malaria risk requires examination of dynamic processes among three main components: (i) the environment (i.e. LULC and landscape transformations), (ii) vector biology (e.g. mosquito species distributions, vector activity and life cycle, plasmodium infection rates), and (iii) human populations (e.g. forest-related activity, host susceptibility, movement patterns). In this paper, we conduct a systematic literature review on malaria risk and deforestation in the Amazon focusing on these three components. We explore key features that are likely to generate these contrasting results using the reviewed articles and our own data from Brazil and Peru, and conclude with suggestions for productive avenues in future research.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Conservation, biodiversity and infectious disease: scientific evidence and policy implications’.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Malaria, Infection, Systematic review, Amazon River, Brazil, Deforestation, Amazon Rainforest


Mining poses significant and potentially underestimated risks to tropical forests worldwide. In Brazil’s Amazon, mining drives deforestation far beyond operational lease boundaries, yet the full extent of these impacts is unknown and thus neglected in environmental licensing. Here we quantify mining-induced deforestation and investigate the aspects of mining operations, which most likely contribute. We find mining significantly increased Amazon forest loss up to 70 km beyond mining lease boundaries, causing 11,670 km(2) of deforestation between 2005 and 2015. This extent represents 9% of all Amazon forest loss during this time and 12 times more deforestation than occurred within mining leases alone. Pathways leading to such impacts include mining infrastructure establishment, urban expansion to support a growing workforce, and development of mineral commodity supply chains. Mining-induced deforestation is not unique to Brazil; to mitigate adverse impacts of mining and conserve tropical forests globally, environmental assessments and licensing must considered both on- and off-lease sources of deforestation.

Concepts: Forest, Amazon River, Brazil, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Amazon Basin, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Amazon Rainforest


Andes-to-Amazon river connectivity controls numerous natural and human systems in the greater Amazon. However, it is being rapidly altered by a wave of new hydropower development, the impacts of which have been previously underestimated. We document 142 dams existing or under construction and 160 proposed dams for rivers draining the Andean headwaters of the Amazon. Existing dams have fragmented the tributary networks of six of eight major Andean Amazon river basins. Proposed dams could result in significant losses in river connectivity in river mainstems of five of eight major systems-the Napo, Marañón, Ucayali, Beni, and Mamoré. With a newly reported 671 freshwater fish species inhabiting the Andean headwaters of the Amazon (>500 m), dams threaten previously unrecognized biodiversity, particularly among endemic and migratory species. Because Andean rivers contribute most of the sediment in the mainstem Amazon, losses in river connectivity translate to drastic alteration of river channel and floodplain geomorphology and associated ecosystem services.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Hydrology, River, Drainage basin, Stream, Amazon River, Freshwater, Geomorphology


Forest loss in hotspots around the world impacts not only local climate where loss occurs, but also influences climate and vegetation in remote parts of the globe through ecoclimate teleconnections. The magnitude and mechanism of remote impacts likely depends on the location and distribution of forest loss hotspots, but the nature of these dependencies has not been investigated. We use global climate model simulations to estimate the distribution of ecologically-relevant climate changes resulting from forest loss in two hotspot regions: western North America (wNA), which is experiencing accelerated dieoff, and the Amazon basin, which is subject to high rates of deforestation. The remote climatic and ecological net effects of simultaneous forest loss in both regions differed from the combined effects of loss from the two regions simulated separately, as evident in three impacted areas. Eastern South American Gross Primary Productivity (GPP) increased due to changes in seasonal rainfall associated with Amazon forest loss and changes in temperature related to wNA forest loss. Eurasia’s GPP declined with wNA forest loss due to cooling temperatures increasing soil ice volume. Southeastern North American productivity increased with simultaneous forest loss, but declined with only wNA forest loss due to changes in VPD. Our results illustrate the need for a new generation of local-to-global scale analyses to identify potential ecoclimate teleconnections, their underlying mechanisms, and most importantly, their synergistic interactions, to predict the responses to increasing forest loss under future land use change and climate change.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Amazon River, North America, South America, Amazon Basin, Global climate model