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Concept: Patagonia


We describe Sarmientosaurus musacchioi gen. et sp. nov., a titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian-Turonian) Lower Member of the Bajo Barreal Formation of southern Chubut Province in central Patagonia, Argentina. The holotypic and only known specimen consists of an articulated, virtually complete skull and part of the cranial and middle cervical series. Sarmientosaurus exhibits the following distinctive features that we interpret as autapomorphies: (1) maximum diameter of orbit nearly 40% rostrocaudal length of cranium; (2) complex maxilla-lacrimal articulation, in which the lacrimal clasps the ascending ramus of the maxilla; (3) medial edge of caudal sector of maxillary ascending ramus bordering bony nasal aperture with low but distinct ridge; (4) ‘tongue-like’ ventral process of quadratojugal that overlaps quadrate caudally; (5) separate foramina for all three branches of the trigeminal nerve; (6) absence of median venous canal connecting infundibular region to ventral part of brainstem; (7) subvertical premaxillary, procumbent maxillary, and recumbent dentary teeth; (8) cervical vertebrae with ‘strut-like’ centroprezygapophyseal laminae; (9) extremely elongate and slender ossified tendon positioned ventrolateral to cervical vertebrae and ribs. The cranial endocast of Sarmientosaurus preserves some of the most complete information obtained to date regarding the brain and sensory systems of sauropods. Phylogenetic analysis recovers the new taxon as a basal member of Lithostrotia, as the most plesiomorphic titanosaurian to be preserved with a complete skull. Sarmientosaurus provides a wealth of new cranial evidence that reaffirms the close relationship of titanosaurs to Brachiosauridae. Moreover, the presence of the relatively derived lithostrotian Tapuiasaurus in Aptian deposits indicates that the new Patagonian genus represents a ‘ghost lineage’ with a comparatively plesiomorphic craniodental form, the evolutionary history of which is missing for at least 13 million years of the Cretaceous. The skull anatomy of Sarmientosaurus suggests that multiple titanosaurian species with dissimilar cranial structures coexisted in the early Late Cretaceous of southern South America. Furthermore, the new taxon possesses a number of distinctive morphologies-such as the ossified cervical tendon, extremely pneumatized cervical vertebrae, and a habitually downward-facing snout-that have rarely, if ever, been documented in other titanosaurs, thus broadening our understanding of the anatomical diversity of this remarkable sauropod clade. The latter two features were convergently acquired by at least one penecontemporaneous diplodocoid, and may represent mutual specializations for consuming low-growing vegetation.

Concepts: Skull, Cranial nerves, Cretaceous, Patagonia, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Titanosaur, Maxillary nerve


WITH ANALYSES OF ENTIRE MITOGENOMES, STUDIES OF NATIVE AMERICAN MITOCHONDRIAL DNA (MTDNA) VARIATION HAVE ENTERED THE FINAL PHASE OF PHYLOGENETIC REFINEMENT: the dissection of the founding haplogroups into clades that arose in America during and after human arrival and spread. Ages and geographic distributions of these clades could provide novel clues on the colonization processes of the different regions of the double continent. As for the Southern Cone of South America, this approach has recently allowed the identification of two local clades (D1g and D1j) whose age estimates agree with the dating of the earliest archaeological sites in South America, indicating that Paleo-Indians might have reached that region from Beringia in less than 2000 years. In this study, we sequenced 46 mitogenomes belonging to two additional clades, termed B2i2 (former B2l) and C1b13, which were recently identified on the basis of mtDNA control-region data and whose geographical distributions appear to be restricted to Chile and Argentina. We confirm that their mutational motifs most likely arose in the Southern Cone region. However, the age estimate for B2i2 and C1b13 (11-13,000 years) appears to be younger than those of other local clades. The difference could reflect the different evolutionary origins of the distinct South American-specific sub-haplogroups, with some being already present, at different times and locations, at the very front of the expansion wave in South America, and others originating later in situ, when the tribalization process had already begun. A delayed origin of a few thousand years in one of the locally derived populations, possibly in the central part of Chile, would have limited the geographical and ethnic diffusion of B2i2 and explain the present-day occurrence that appears to be mainly confined to the Tehuelche and Araucanian-speaking groups.

Concepts: South America, Americas, Latin America, Chile, Patagonia, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Southern Cone, Operation Condor


The Arroyo Seco 2 site contains a rich archaeological record, exceptional for South America, to explain the expansion of Homo sapiens into the Americas and their interaction with extinct Pleistocene mammals. The following paper provides a detailed overview of material remains found in the earliest cultural episodes at this multi-component site, dated between ca. 12,170 14C yrs B.P. (ca. 14,064 cal yrs B.P.) and 11,180 14C yrs B.P. (ca. 13,068 cal yrs B.P.). Evidence of early occupations includes the presence of lithic tools, a concentration of Pleistocene species remains, human-induced fractured animal bones, and a selection of skeletal parts of extinct fauna. The occurrence of hunter-gatherers in the Southern Cone at ca. 14,000 cal yrs B.P. is added to the growing list of American sites that indicate a human occupation earlier than the Clovis dispersal episode, but posterior to the onset of the deglaciation of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) in the North America.

Concepts: Human, North America, South America, Americas, Latin America, Pleistocene, Patagonia, Southern Cone


Spondylolysis is a fracture of the pars interarticularis, the portion of the neural arch that lies between the superior articular facets and the inferior articular facets. Clinical evidence has suggested repetitive trauma to be the most probable cause, even though morphological weakness of the vertebra is probably also involved. Prevalence is between 3% and 8% in modern populations, while in archaeological samples it varies from 0% to 71.4%. Considering that very little data about this condition is available in past populations from the southern extreme of South America, the aim of this paper is to analyze the spondylolysis in a human skeletal sample from Southern Patagonia and, at the same time, to explore the prevalence of spondylolysis in archaeological contexts around the world to gain a better understanding of the results presented here. The Southern Patagonian skeletal series analyzed here showed a prevalence of 20%, with lower prevalence in the pre contact sample (11.1%) than in the contact period (23.1%). Skeletons from the Salesian Mission “Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria” showed a higher prevalence (25%) than the sample of skeletal remains recovered from outside the mission (20%), suggesting that changes in lifestyle of hunter-gatherers during contact could be implicated in the development of spondylolysis in this sample. A worldwide survey displays a wide range of prevalence figures in American and Asian samples and low diversity between African and European populations. Hunter-gatherers from Southern Patagonia showed similar values to those observed in other American samples.

Concepts: Sample, Skeletal system, Vertebra, South America, Human skeleton, Spondylolysis, Patagonia, Pars interarticularis


Large freshwater lakes formed in North America and Europe during deglaciation following the Last Glacial Maximum. Rapid drainage of these lakes into the Oceans resulted in abrupt perturbations in climate, including the Younger Dryas and 8.2 kyr cooling events. In the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere major glacial lakes also formed and drained during deglaciation but little is known about the magnitude, organization and timing of these drainage events and their effect on regional climate. We use 16 new single-grain optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates to define three stages of rapid glacial lake drainage in the Lago General Carrera/Lago Buenos Aires and Lago Cohrane/Pueyrredón basins of Patagonia and provide the first assessment of the effects of lake drainage on the Pacific Ocean. Lake drainage occurred between 13 and 8 kyr ago and was initially gradual eastward into the Atlantic, then subsequently reorganized westward into the Pacific as new drainage routes opened up during Patagonian Ice Sheet deglaciation. Coupled ocean-atmosphere model experiments using HadCM3 with an imposed freshwater surface “hosing” to simulate glacial lake drainage suggest that a negative salinity anomaly was advected south around Cape Horn, resulting in brief but significant impacts on coastal ocean vertical mixing and regional climate.

Concepts: Lake, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Antarctica, Pleistocene, Patagonia, Glaciology


Penguins are major consumers in the southern oceans although quantification of this has been problematic. One suggestion proposes the use of points of inflection in diving profiles (‘wiggles’) for this, a method that has been validated for the estimation of prey consumption by Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) by Simeone and Wilson (2003). Following them, we used wiggles from 31 depth logger-equipped Magellanic penguins foraging from four Patagonian colonies; Punta Norte (PN), Bahía Bustamente (BB), Puerto Deseado (PD) and Puerto San Julián (PSJ), all located in Argentina between 42-49° S, to estimate the prey captured and calculate the catch per unit time (CPUT) for birds foraging during the early chick-rearing period. Numbers of prey caught and CPUT were significantly different between colonies. Birds from PD caught the highest number of prey per foraging trip, with CPUT values of 68±19 prey per hour underwater (almost two times greater than for the three remaining colonies). We modeled consumption from these data and calculate that the world Magellanic penguin population consumes about 2 million tons of prey per year. Possible errors in this calculation are discussed. Despite this, the analysis of wiggles seems a powerful and simple tool to begin to quantify prey consumption by Magellanic penguins, allowing comparison between different breeding sites. The total number of wiggles and/or CPUT do not reflect, by themselves, the availability of food for each colony, as the number of prey consumed by foraging trip is strongly associated with the energy content and wet mass of each colony-specific ‘prey type’. Individuals consuming more profitable prey could be optimizing the time spent underwater, thereby optimizing the energy expenditure associated with the dives.

Concepts: Mathematics, Penguin, Patagonia, Penguins, Magellanic Penguin, Falkland Islands, Humboldt Penguin, Spheniscus


Vegetation structure is a key determinant of ecosystems and ecosystem function, but paleoecological techniques to quantify it are lacking. We present a method for reconstructing leaf area index (LAI) based on light-dependent morphology of leaf epidermal cells and phytoliths derived from them. Using this proxy, we reconstruct LAI for the Cenozoic (49 million to 11 million years ago) of middle-latitude Patagonia. Our record shows that dense forests opened up by the late Eocene; open forests and shrubland habitats then fluctuated, with a brief middle-Miocene regreening period. Furthermore, endemic herbivorous mammals show accelerated tooth crown height evolution during open, yet relatively grass-free, shrubland habitat intervals. Our Patagonian LAI record provides a high-resolution, sensitive tool with which to dissect terrestrial ecosystem response to changing Southern Ocean conditions during the Cenozoic.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecosystem, Landscape ecology, Biome, Patagonia, Leaf Area Index, Eocene, Ecological succession


Large-scale ungulate migrations result in changes in prey availability for top predators and, as a consequence, can alter predator behavior. Migration may include entire populations of prey species, but often prey populations exhibit partial migration with some individuals remaining resident and others migrating. Interactions of migratory prey and predators have been documented in North America and some other parts of the world, but are poorly studied in South America. We examined the response of pumas (Puma concolor) to seasonal migration of guanacos (Lama guanicoe) in La Payunia Reserve in northern Patagonia Argentina, which is the site of the longest known ungulate migration in South America. More than 15,000 guanacos migrate seasonally in this landscape, and some guanacos also are resident year-round. We hypothesized that pumas would respond to the guanaco migration by consuming more alternative prey rather than migrating with guanacos because of the territoriality of pumas and availability of alternative prey throughout the year at this site. To determine whether pumas moved seasonally with the guanacos, we conducted camera trapping in the summer and winter range of guanacos across both seasons and estimated density of pumas with spatial mark-resight (SMR) models. Also, we analyzed puma scats to assess changes in prey consumption in response to guanaco migration. Density estimates of pumas did not change significantly in the winter and summer range of guanacos when guanacos migrated to and from these areas, indicating that pumas do not follow the migration of guanacos. Pumas also did not consume more alternative native prey or livestock when guanaco availability was lower, but rather fed primarily on guanacos and some alternative prey during all seasons. Alternative prey were most common in the diet during summer when guanacos also were abundant on the summer range. The response of pumas to the migration of guanacos differs from sites in the western North America where entire prey populations migrate and pumas migrate with their prey or switch to more abundant prey when their primary prey migrates.

Concepts: Predation, Human migration, North America, South America, Argentina, Chile, Llama, Patagonia


We evaluated if two sigmodontine rodent taxa (Abrothrix olivacea and Phyllotis darwini) from the Andes and Coastal mountaintops of central Chile, experienced distributional shifts due to altitudinal movements of habitat and climate change during and after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). We tested the hypothesis that during LGM populations of both species experienced altitudinal shifts from the Andes to the lowlands and the coastal Cordillera, and then range retractions during interglacial towards higher elevations in the Andes. These distributional shifts may have left remnants populations on the mountaintops. We evaluated the occurrence of intraspecific lineages for each species, to construct distribution models at LGM and at present, as extreme climatic conditions for each lineage. Differences in distribution between extreme climatic conditions were interpreted as post-glacial distributional shifts. Abrothrix olivacea displayed a lineage with shared sequences between both mountain systems, whereas a second lineage was restricted to the Andes. A similar scenario of panmictic unit in the past was recovered for A. olivacea in the Andes, along with an additional unit that included localities from the rest of its distribution. For P. darwini, both lineages recovered were distributed in coastal and Andean mountain ranges at present as well, and structuring analyses for this species recovered coastal and Andean localities as panmictic units in the past. Niche modeling depicted differential postglacial expansions in the recovered lineages. Results suggest that historical events such as LGM triggered the descending of populations to Andean refuge areas (one of the A. olivacea’s lineages), to the lowlands, and to the coastal Cordillera. Backward movements of populations after glacial retreats may have left isolates on mountaintops of the coastal Cordillera, suggesting that current species distribution would be the outcome of climate change and habitat reconfiguration after LGM.

Concepts: Climate, Climate change, Chile, Andes, Ice age, Patagonia, Glacial period, Mountain range


Wildlife reintroduction is an increasingly used strategy to reverse anthropocene defaunation. For the purpose of ecosystem restoration, in 2007 the guanaco (Lama guanicoe) was reintroduced to the Quebrada del Condorito National Park, situated in the mountains of central Argentina. With the aim of developing management recommendations, the project included permanently monitoring the population to evaluate its dynamics and the ecological response of the individuals released into the area. Nine years later and after two releases of guanacos (113 individuals in 2007 without and 25 in 2011 with a pre-adaptation period), only 24 individuals, which conform three reproductive groups, and one group of solitary males were settled in the Park. Here I modeled a population viability analysis to evaluate extinction risk, using VORTEX software. Initial population structure, specified age distribution, mortality and reproductive rates, and mate monopolization recorded during field work were used in the model, whereas the remaining used demographic parameters, such as age of first offspring, maximum number of broods per year, mean foaling rate, and length of fecundity period, were taken from the literature. Each of the three different scenarios (without supplementation of individuals, and with a realistic and optimistic supplementation) and two possible catastrophic events (fires and food shortage) covering 100 years was repeated 1000 times. Even though the guanaco reintroduction project can be considered to have been partially successful since its start, the model predicts that the current reintroduced population could be extinct in the next few decades if no reinforcements occur, and that only a continuous supplementation can reach the probability that the population survives over the next 100 years. I conclude that, so far, the current population is at a high risk of extinction if further supplementation of individuals is discontinued.

Concepts: Ecology, Argentina, Llama, Patagonia, Camelid, Reintroduction, Guanaco, Vicuña