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Concept: South 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 exact timing, route, and process of the initial peopling of the Americas remains uncertain despite much research. Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of humans as far as southern Chile by 14.6 thousand years ago (ka), shortly after the Pleistocene ice sheets blocking access from eastern Beringia began to retreat. Genetic estimates of the timing and route of entry have been constrained by the lack of suitable calibration points and low genetic diversity of Native Americans. We sequenced 92 whole mitochondrial genomes from pre-Columbian South American skeletons dating from 8.6 to 0.5 ka, allowing a detailed, temporally calibrated reconstruction of the peopling of the Americas in a Bayesian coalescent analysis. The data suggest that a small population entered the Americas via a coastal route around 16.0 ka, following previous isolation in eastern Beringia for ~2.4 to 9 thousand years after separation from eastern Siberian populations. Following a rapid movement throughout the Americas, limited gene flow in South America resulted in a marked phylogeographic structure of populations, which persisted through time. All of the ancient mitochondrial lineages detected in this study were absent from modern data sets, suggesting a high extinction rate. To investigate this further, we applied a novel principal components multiple logistic regression test to Bayesian serial coalescent simulations. The analysis supported a scenario in which European colonization caused a substantial loss of pre-Columbian lineages.

Concepts: DNA, Regression analysis, United States, Brazil, South America, Americas, Latin America, Indigenous peoples of the Americas


In 1985, a frozen mummy was found in Cerro Aconcagua (Argentina). Archaeological studies identified the mummy as a seven-year-old Inca sacrifice victim who lived >500 years ago, at the time of the expansion of the Inca Empire towards the southern cone. The sequence of its entire mitogenome was obtained. After querying a large worldwide database of mitogenomes (>28,000) we found that the Inca haplotype belonged to a branch of haplogroup C1b (C1bi) that has not yet been identified in modern Native Americans. The expansion of C1b into the Americas, as estimated using 203 C1b mitogenomes, dates to the initial Paleoindian settlements (~18.3 thousand years ago [kya]); however, its internal variation differs between Mesoamerica and South America. By querying large databases of control region haplotypes (>150,000), we found only a few C1bi members in Peru and Bolivia (e.g. Aymaras), including one haplotype retrieved from ancient DNA of an individual belonging to the Wari Empire (Peruvian Andes). Overall, the results suggest that the profile of the mummy represents a very rare sub-clade that arose 14.3 (5-23.6) kya and could have been more frequent in the past. A Peruvian Inca origin for present-day C1bi haplotypes would satisfy both the genetic and paleo-anthropological findings.

Concepts: South America, Americas, Argentina, Latin America, Chile, Andes, Peru, Inca Empire


Questions surrounding the chronology, place, and character of the initial human colonization of the Americas are a long-standing focus of debate. Interdisciplinary debate continues over the timing of entry, the rapidity and direction of dispersion, the variety of human responses to diverse habitats, the criteria for evaluating the validity of early sites, and the differences and similarities between colonization in North and South America. Despite recent advances in our understanding of these issues, archaeology still faces challenges in defining interdisciplinary research problems, assessing the reliability of the data, and applying new interpretative models. As the debates and challenges continue, new studies take place and previous research reexamined. Here we discuss recent exploratory excavation at and interdisciplinary data from the Monte Verde area in Chile to further our understanding of the first peopling of the Americas. New evidence of stone artifacts, faunal remains, and burned areas suggests discrete horizons of ephemeral human activity in a sandur plain setting radiocarbon and luminescence dated between at least ~18,500 and 14,500 cal BP. Based on multiple lines of evidence, including sedimentary proxies and artifact analysis, we present the probable anthropogenic origins and wider implications of this evidence. In a non-glacial cold climate environment of the south-central Andes, which is challenging for human occupation and for the preservation of hunter-gatherer sites, these horizons provide insight into an earlier context of late Pleistocene human behavior in northern Patagonia.

Concepts: Debate, Human behavior, South America, Americas, Latin America, Pleistocene, Archaeology, Prehistory


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 linking of North and South America by the Isthmus of Panama had major impacts on global climate, oceanic and atmospheric currents, and biodiversity, yet the timing of this critical event remains contentious. The Isthmus is traditionally understood to have fully closed by ca. 3.5 million years ago (Ma), and this date has been used as a benchmark for oceanographic, climatic, and evolutionary research, but recent evidence suggests a more complex geological formation. Here, we analyze both molecular and fossil data to evaluate the tempo of biotic exchange across the Americas in light of geological evidence. We demonstrate significant waves of dispersal of terrestrial organisms at approximately ca. 20 and 6 Ma and corresponding events separating marine organisms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at ca. 23 and 7 Ma. The direction of dispersal and their rates were symmetrical until the last ca. 6 Ma, when northern migration of South American lineages increased significantly. Variability among taxa in their timing of dispersal or vicariance across the Isthmus is not explained by the ecological factors tested in these analyses, including biome type, dispersal ability, and elevation preference. Migration was therefore not generally regulated by intrinsic traits but more likely reflects the presence of emergent terrain several millions of years earlier than commonly assumed. These results indicate that the dramatic biotic turnover associated with the Great American Biotic Interchange was a long and complex process that began as early as the Oligocene-Miocene transition.

Concepts: Biology, Ecology, Earth, Ecosystem, Pacific Ocean, South America, Ocean, Isthmus of Panama


Scrub typhus is a life-threatening zoonosis caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi organisms that are transmitted by the larvae of trombiculid mites. Endemic scrub typhus was originally thought to be confined to the so called “tsutsugamushi triangle” within the Asia-Pacific region. In 2006, however, two individual cases were detected in the Middle East and South America, which suggested that the pathogen was present farther afield. Here, we report three autochthonous cases of scrub typhus caused by O. tsutsugamushi acquired on Chiloé Island in southern Chile, which suggests the existence of an endemic focus in South America. (Funded by the Chilean Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica and the Wellcome Trust.).

Concepts: North Africa, Middle East, Asia, South America, Chile, Asia-Pacific, Scrub typhus, Orientia tsutsugamushi


Developing countries are increasingly decentralizing forest governance by granting indigenous groups and other local communities formal legal title to land. However, the effects of titling on forest cover are unclear. Rigorous analyses of titling campaigns are rare, and related theoretical and empirical research suggests that they could either stem or spur forest damage. We analyze such a campaign in the Peruvian Amazon, where more than 1,200 indigenous communities comprising some 11 million ha have been titled since the mid-1970s. We use community-level longitudinal data derived from high-resolution satellite images to estimate the effect of titling between 2002 and 2005 on contemporaneous forest clearing and disturbance. Our results indicate that titling reduces clearing by more than three-quarters and forest disturbance by roughly two-thirds in a 2-y window spanning the year title is awarded and the year afterward. These results suggest that awarding formal land titles to local communities can advance forest conservation.

Concepts: South America, United Nations, Bolivia, Amazon Basin, Indigenous peoples, Title, Peru, Amazon Rainforest


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


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