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Concept: North America


The explosive pandemic of Zika virus infection occurring throughout South America, Central America, and the Caribbean (see map) and potentially threatening the United States is the most recent of four unexpected arrivals of important arthropod-borne viral diseases in the Western Hemisphere over the past 20 years. It follows dengue, which entered this hemisphere stealthily over decades and then more aggressively in the 1990s; West Nile virus, which emerged in 1999; and chikungunya, which emerged in 2013. Are the successive migrations of these viruses unrelated, or do they reflect important new patterns of disease emergence? Furthermore, are there secondary health consequences . . .

Concepts: United States, North America, South America, Americas, Latin America, Caribbean, Central America, Indigenous peoples of the Americas


The timing of the first entry of humans into North America is still hotly debated within the scientific community. Excavations conducted at Bluefish Caves (Yukon Territory) from 1977 to 1987 yielded a series of radiocarbon dates that led archaeologists to propose that the initial dispersal of human groups into Eastern Beringia (Alaska and the Yukon Territory) occurred during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). This hypothesis proved highly controversial in the absence of other sites of similar age and concerns about the stratigraphy and anthropogenic signature of the bone assemblages that yielded the dates. The weight of the available archaeological evidence suggests that the first peopling of North America occurred ca. 14,000 cal BP (calibrated years Before Present), i.e., well after the LGM. Here, we report new AMS radiocarbon dates obtained on cut-marked bone samples identified during a comprehensive taphonomic analysis of the Bluefish Caves fauna. Our results demonstrate that humans occupied the site as early as 24,000 cal BP (19,650 ± 130 14C BP). In addition to proving that Bluefish Caves is the oldest known archaeological site in North America, the results offer archaeological support for the “Beringian standstill hypothesis”, which proposes that a genetically isolated human population persisted in Beringia during the LGM and dispersed from there to North and South America during the post-LGM period.

Concepts: Alaska, Canada, North America, Pleistocene, Archaeology, Yukon, Radiocarbon dating, Whitehorse, Yukon


The fossil record of centrosaurine ceratopsids is largely restricted to the northern region of western North America (Alberta, Montana and Alaska). Exceptions consist of single taxa from Utah (Diabloceratops) and China (Sinoceratops), plus otherwise fragmentary remains from the southern Western Interior of North America. Here, we describe a remarkable new taxon, Nasutoceratops titusi n. gen. et sp., from the late Campanian Kaiparowits Formation of Utah, represented by multiple specimens, including a nearly complete skull and partial postcranial skeleton. Autapomorphies include an enlarged narial region, pneumatic nasal ornamentation, abbreviated snout and elongate, rostrolaterally directed supraorbital horncores. The subrectangular parietosquamosal frill is relatively unadorned and broadest in the mid-region. A phylogenetic analysis indicates that Nasutoceratops is the sister taxon to Avaceratops, and that a previously unknown subclade of centrosaurines branched off early in the group’s history and persisted for several million years during the late Campanian. As the first well-represented southern centrosaurine comparable in age to the bulk of northern forms, Nasutoceratops provides strong support for the provincialism hypothesis, which posits that Laramidia-the western landmass formed by inundation of the central region of North America by the Western Interior Seaway-hosted at least two coeval dinosaur communities for over a million years of late Campanian time.

Concepts: United States, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, North America, Cretaceous, Fossil, Dinosaur, Ceratopsidae


Mayaro virus has been associated with small outbreaks in northern South America. We isolated this virus from a child with acute febrile illness in rural Haiti, confirming its role as a cause of mosquitoborne illness in the Caribbean region. The clinical presentation can mimic that of chikungunya, dengue, and Zika virus infections.

Concepts: United States, North America, South America, Americas, Caribbean, Dutch language, Haiti


The Caribbean basin is home to some of the most complex interactions in recent history among previously diverged human populations. Here, we investigate the population genetic history of this region by characterizing patterns of genome-wide variation among 330 individuals from three of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola), two mainland (Honduras, Colombia), and three Native South American (Yukpa, Bari, and Warao) populations. We combine these data with a unique database of genomic variation in over 3,000 individuals from diverse European, African, and Native American populations. We use local ancestry inference and tract length distributions to test different demographic scenarios for the pre- and post-colonial history of the region. We develop a novel ancestry-specific PCA (ASPCA) method to reconstruct the sub-continental origin of Native American, European, and African haplotypes from admixed genomes. We find that the most likely source of the indigenous ancestry in Caribbean islanders is a Native South American component shared among inland Amazonian tribes, Central America, and the Yucatan peninsula, suggesting extensive gene flow across the Caribbean in pre-Columbian times. We find evidence of two pulses of African migration. The first pulse-which today is reflected by shorter, older ancestry tracts-consists of a genetic component more similar to coastal West African regions involved in early stages of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The second pulse-reflected by longer, younger tracts-is more similar to present-day West-Central African populations, supporting historical records of later transatlantic deportation. Surprisingly, we also identify a Latino-specific European component that has significantly diverged from its parental Iberian source populations, presumably as a result of small European founder population size. We demonstrate that the ancestral components in admixed genomes can be traced back to distinct sub-continental source populations with far greater resolution than previously thought, even when limited pre-Columbian Caribbean haplotypes have survived.

Concepts: Africa, United States, North America, Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Slavery, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Atlantic slave trade


For the last 500 years, the Americas have been a melting pot both for genetically diverse humans and for the pathogenic and commensal organisms associated with them. One such organism is the stomach-dwelling bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which is highly prevalent in Latin America where it is a major current public health challenge because of its strong association with gastric cancer. By analyzing the genome sequence of H. pylori isolated in North, Central and South America, we found evidence for admixture between H. pylori of European and African origin throughout the Americas, without substantial input from pre-Columbian (hspAmerind) bacteria. In the US, strains of African and European origin have remained genetically distinct, while in Colombia and Nicaragua, bottlenecks and rampant genetic exchange amongst isolates have led to the formation of national gene pools. We found three outer membrane proteins with atypical levels of Asian ancestry in American strains, as well as alleles that were nearly fixed specifically in South American isolates, suggesting a role for the ethnic makeup of hosts in the colonization of incoming strains. Our results show that new H. pylori subpopulations can rapidly arise, spread and adapt during times of demographic flux, and suggest that differences in transmission ecology between high and low prevalence areas may substantially affect the composition of bacterial populations.

Concepts: Gene, Bacteria, United States, Helicobacter pylori, North America, South America, Americas, Indigenous peoples of the Americas


The fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda is a prime noctuid pest of maize on the American continents where it has remained confined despite occasional interceptions by European quarantine services in recent years. The pest has currently become a new invasive species in West and Central Africa where outbreaks were recorded for the first time in early 2016. The presence of at least two distinct haplotypes within samples collected on maize in Nigeria and São Tomé suggests multiple introductions into the African continent. Implications of this new threat to the maize crop in tropical Africa are briefly discussed.

Concepts: Africa, Continent, Europe, North America, East Africa, Central Africa, Army worm, Spodoptera


Most individuals throughout the Americas are admixed descendants of Native American, European, and African ancestors. Complex historical factors have resulted in varying proportions of ancestral contributions between individuals within and among ethnic groups. We developed a panel of 446 ancestry informative markers (AIMs) optimized to estimate ancestral proportions in individuals and populations throughout Latin America. We used genome-wide data from 953 individuals from diverse African, European, and Native American populations to select AIMs optimized for each of the three main continental populations that form the basis of modern Latin American populations. We selected markers on the basis of locus-specific branch length to be informative, well distributed throughout the genome, capable of being genotyped on widely available commercial platforms, and applicable throughout the Americas by minimizing within-continent heterogeneity. We then validated the panel in samples from four admixed populations by comparing ancestry estimates based on the AIMs panel to estimates based on genome-wide association study (GWAS) data. The panel provided balanced discriminatory power among the three ancestral populations and accurate estimates of individual ancestry proportions (R² > 0.9 for ancestral components with significant between-subject variance). Finally, we genotyped samples from 18 populations from Latin America using the AIMs panel and estimated variability in ancestry within and between these populations. This panel and its reference genotype information will be useful resources to explore population history of admixture in Latin America and to correct for the potential effects of population stratification in admixed samples in the region.

Concepts: United States, Spanish language, North America, South America, Americas, Latin America, Nicaragua, Indigenous peoples of the Americas


The increasing burdens of obesity and diabetes are two of the most prominent threats to the health of populations of developed and developing countries alike. The Central America Diabetes Initiative (CAMDI) is the first study to examine the prevalence of diabetes in Central America.

Concepts: Mexico, North America, Americas, Latin America, Caribbean, Central America, Nicaragua


The ability of species to respond to novel future climates is determined in part by their physiological capacity to tolerate climate change and the degree to which they have reached and continue to maintain distributional equilibrium with the environment. While broad-scale correlative climatic measurements of a species' niche are often described as estimating the fundamental niche, it is unclear how well these occupied portions actually approximate the fundamental niche per se, versus the fundamental niche that exists in environmental space, and what fitness values bounding the niche are necessary to maintain distributional equilibrium. Here, we investigate these questions by comparing physiological and correlative estimates of the thermal niche in the introduced North American house sparrow (Passer domesticus). Our results indicate that occupied portions of the fundamental niche derived from temperature correlations closely approximate the centroid of the existing fundamental niche calculated on a fitness threshold of 50% population mortality. Using these niche measures, a 75-year time series analysis (1930-2004) further shows that: (i) existing fundamental and occupied niche centroids did not undergo directional change, (ii) interannual changes in the two niche centroids were correlated, (iii) temperatures in North America moved through niche space in a net centripetal fashion, and consequently, (iv) most areas throughout the range of the house sparrow tracked the existing fundamental niche centroid with respect to at least one temperature gradient. Following introduction to a new continent, the house sparrow rapidly tracked its thermal niche and established continent-wide distributional equilibrium with respect to major temperature gradients. These dynamics were mediated in large part by the species' broad thermal physiological tolerances, high dispersal potential, competitive advantage in human-dominated landscapes, and climatically induced changes to the realized environmental space. Such insights may be used to conceptualize mechanistic climatic niche models in birds and other taxa.

Concepts: Climate, Temperature, Climate change, North America, House Sparrow, Sparrow, Passer, Eurasian Tree Sparrow