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Concept: Altiplano


High-elevation environments above 2500 metres above sea level (m.a.s.l.) were among the planet’s last frontiers of human colonization. Research on the speed and tempo of this colonization process is active and holds implications for understanding rates of genetic, physiological and cultural adaptation in our species. Permanent occupation of high-elevation environments in the Andes Mountains of South America tentatively began with hunter-gatherers around 9 ka according to current archaeological estimates, though the timing is currently debated. Recent observations on the archaeological site of Soro Mik'aya Patjxa (8.0-6.5 ka), located at 3800 m.a.s.l. in the Andean Altiplano, offer an opportunity to independently test hypotheses for early permanent use of the region. This study observes low oxygen (δ(18)O) and high carbon (δ(13)C) isotope values in human bone, long travel distances to low-elevation zones, variable age and sex structure in the human population and an absence of non-local lithic materials. These independent lines of evidence converge to support a model of permanent occupation of high elevations and refute logistical and seasonal use models. The results constitute the strongest empirical support to date for permanent human occupation of the Andean highlands by hunter-gatherers before 7 ka.

Concepts: Scientific method, South America, Bolivia, Andes, Peru, Altiplano, Lake Titicaca, Aconcagua


The Altiplano region of the South American Andes is marked by an inhospitable climate to which the autochthonous human populations adapted and then developed great ancient civilizations, such as the Tiwanaku culture and the Inca Empire. Since pre-Columbian times, different rulers established themselves around the Titicaca and Poopo Lakes. By the time of the arrival of Spaniards, Aymara and Quechua languages were predominant on the Altiplano under the rule of the Incas, although the occurrence of other spoken languages, such as Puquina and Uruquilla, suggests the existence of different ethnic groups in this region. In this study, we focused on the pre-Columbian history of the autochthonous Altiplano populations, particularly the Uros ethnic group, which claims to directly descend from the first settlers of the Andes, and some linguists suggest they might otherwise be related to Arawak speaking groups from the Amazon. Using phylogeographic, population structure and spatial genetic analyses of Y-chromosome and mtDNA data, we inferred the genetic relationships among Uros populations (Los Uros from Peru, Uru-Chipaya and Uru-Poopo from Bolivia), and compared their haplotype profiles with eight Aymara, nine Quechua and two Arawak (Machiguenga and Yanesha) speaking populations from Peru and Bolivia. Our results indicated that Uros populations stand out among the Altiplano populations, while appearing more closely related to the Aymara and Quechua from Lake Titicaca and surrounding regions than to the Amazon Arawaks. Moreover, the Uros populations from Peru and Bolivia are genetically differentiated from each other, indicating a high heterogeneity in this ethnic group. Finally, our results support the distinctive ancestry for the Uros populations of Peru and Bolivia, which are likely derived from ancient Andean lineages that were partially replaced during more recent farming expansion events and the establishment of complex civilizations in the Andes.

Concepts: South America, Bolivia, Andes, Peru, Inca Empire, Altiplano, Lake Titicaca, Aymara language


The importance of metallurgy for social and economic development is indisputable. Although copper (Cu) was essential for the wealth of pre- and post-colonial societies in the Andes, the onset of extensive Cu metallurgy in South America is still debated. Comprehensive archaeological findings point to first sophisticated Cu metallurgy during the Moche culture ~200-800 AD, whereas peat-bog records from southern South America suggest earliest pollution potentially from Cu smelting as far back as ~2000 BC. Here we present a 6500-years Cu emission history for the Andean Altiplano, based on ice-core records from Illimani glacier in Bolivia, providing the first complete history of large-scale Cu smelting activities in South America. We find earliest anthropogenic Cu pollution during the Early Horizon period ~700-50 BC, and attribute the onset of intensified Cu smelting in South America to the activities of the central Andean Chiripa and Chavin cultures ~2700 years ago. This study provides for the first time substantial evidence for extensive Cu metallurgy already during these early cultures.

Concepts: Pacific Ocean, South America, Bolivia, Chile, Andes, Peru, Altiplano, Lake Titicaca


While global momentum supporting mobile health (mHealth) research and development is increasing, it is imperative to assess the potential fit of mHealth programs in local settings. We describe the penetration of mobile technologies among Bolivian patients with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) to inform research on mHealth interventions for the Andean region as well as low- and middle-income countries more generally.

Concepts: Mobile phone, Bolivia, Mobile phones, La Paz, Research and development, Mobile network operator, Santiago, Chile, Altiplano


Potato (Solanum tuberosum) is an important staple crop worldwide, it has been cultivated in the Andean Altiplano under low-input farming practices at high altitudes and under harsh environment for centuries. We analyzed secondary metabolite (SM) gene diversity encoded in the potato rhizosphere microbiome during plant growth at three distinct sites located in the Andes at high altitudes by 454-pyrosequencing of non-ribosomal peptide and polyketide biosynthetic genes. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that the majority of rhizosphere SM-encoding sequences differed from previously known sequences and may have distinct ancestors. In particular, actinobacterial methyl-malonyl-CoA transferase and acyl carrier protein from Firmicutes, both involved in the synthesis of SMs, showed widespread distribution of clades which were clearly distinct from sequences deposited in public databases, and only 11% of these sequences could be linked to the production of specific classes of SMs. Although the same cultivar was analyzed, SM gene composition radically differed among plant growth stages and across sites, suggesting a distinct repertoire of SM genes that likely encode diverse SM structures. Also, great diversity of non-ribosomal peptide and polyketide biosynthetic pathways in potato-associated microbiomes in the Andean highlands may represent a rich source of novel natural products.

Concepts: Protein, Agriculture, Amino acid, Metabolism, Starch, Potato, Andes, Altiplano


Terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide concentrations of detrital minerals yield catchment-wide rates at which hillslopes erode. These estimates are commonly used to infer millennial scale denudation patterns and to identify the main controls on mass-balance and landscape evolution at orogenic scale. The same approach can be applied to minerals preserved in stratigraphic records of rivers, although extracting reliable paleo-denudation rates from Ma-old archives can be limited by the target nuclide’s half-life and by exposure to cosmic radiations after deposition. Slowly eroding landscapes, however, are characterized by the highest cosmogenic radionuclide concentrations; a condition that potentially allows pushing the method’s limits further back in time, provided that independent constraints on the geological evolution are available. Here, we report 13-10 million-year-old paleo-denudation rates from northernmost Chile, the oldest 10Be-inferred rates ever reported. We find that at 13-10 Ma the western Andean Altiplano has been eroding at 1-10 m/Ma, consistent with modern paces in the same setting, and it experienced a period with rates above 10 m/Ma at ~11 Ma. We suggest that the background tectono-geomorphic state of the western margin of the Altiplano has remained stable since the mid-Miocene, whereas intensified runoff since ~11 Ma might explain the transient increase in denudation.

Concepts: Erosion, Geology, Isotope, Bolivia, Andes, Geomorphology, Altiplano, The Western


Azorella compacta (llareta; Apiaceae) forms dense, woody, cushions and characterizes the high elevation rocky slopes of the central Andean Altiplano. Field studies of an elevational gradient of A. compacta within Lauca National Park in northern Chile found a reverse J-shape distribution of size classes of individuals with abundant small plants at all elevations. A new elevational limit for A. compacta was established at 5,250 m. A series of cushions marked 14 years earlier showed either slight shrinkage or small degrees of growth up to 2.2 cm yr(-1). Despite their irregularity in growth, cushions of A. compacta show a strong orientation, centered on a north-facing aspect and angle of about 20° from horizontal. This exposure to maximize solar irradiance closely matches previous observations of a population favoring north-facing slopes at a similar angle. Populations of A. compacta appear to be stable, or even expanding, with young plants abundant.

Concepts: Bolivia, Slope, Andes, Elevation, Social class, Geodesy, Altiplano, Arica and Parinacota Region


The Bolivian northern Altiplano is characterized by a high prevalence of Fasciola hepatica infection. In order to assess the feasibility, safety and efficacy of large-scale administration of triclabendazole as an appropriate public health measure to control morbidity associated with fascioliasis, a pilot intervention was implemented in 2008.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Control, Fasciola hepatica, Veterinary helminthology, Altiplano


The Atacama Desert, the driest of its kind on Earth, hosts a number of unique geological and geochemical features that make it unlike any other environment on the planet. Considering its location on the western border of South America, between 17 and 28 °S, its climate has been characterized as arid to hyperarid for at least the past 10 million years. Notably dry climatic conditions of the Atacama Desert have been related to uplift of the Andes and are believed to have played an important role in the development of the most distinctive features of this desert, including: (i) nitrates and iodine deposits in the Central Depression, (ii) secondary enrichment in porphyry copper deposits in the Precordillera, (iii) Li enrichment in salt flats of the Altiplano, and (iv) life in extreme habitats. The geology and physiography of the Atacama Desert have been largely shaped by the convergent margin present since the Mesozoic era. The geochemistry of surface materials is related to rock geochemistry (Co, Cr, Fe, Mn, V, and Zn), salt flats, and evaporite compositions in endorheic basins (As, B, and Li), in addition to anthropogenic activities (Cu, Mo, and Pb). The composition of surface water is highly variable, nonetheless in general it presents a circumneutral pH with higher conductivity and total dissolved solids in brines. Major water constituents, with the exception of HCO3-, are generally related to the increase of salinity, and despite the fact that trace elements are not well-documented, surface waters of the Atacama Desert are enriched in As, B, and Li when compared to the average respective concentrations in rivers worldwide.

Concepts: Water, Chemistry, South America, Andes, Total dissolved solids, Atacama Desert, Desert, Altiplano


We describe a new species of direct-developing frog of the genus Microkayla from the Cordillera Real of the Bolivian Andes, in the Department of La Paz. The new species, Microkayla huayna sp. nov., is closely related to M. teqta and can be distinguished from other species of the genus by its brown dorsal skin and the presence of a large dark brown vocal sac in males. This is the second species of Microkayla known from the Zongo Valley, and the ninth in the Cordillera Real, contributing to a total of 22 described species in Bolivia. Given its small distribution range, we recommend to considering it as Vulnerable according to IUCN criteria.

Concepts: Bolivia, Andes, Amphibian, Frog, La Paz, Bogotá, Santiago, Chile, Altiplano