Demographic expansions in South America: Enlightening a complex scenario with genetic and linguistic data

Virginia Ramallo, Rafael Bisso-Machado, Claudio Bravi, Michael D. Coble, Francisco M. Salzano, Tábita Hünemeier, Maria Cátira Bortolini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Native Americans are characterized by specific and unique patterns of genetic and cultural/linguistic diversities, and this information has been used to understand patterns of geographic dispersion, and the relationship between these peoples. Particularly interesting are the Tupi and Je speaker dispersions. At present, a large number of individuals speak languages of these two stocks; for instance, Tupi-Guarani is one of the official languages in Paraguay, Bolivia, and the Mercosul economic block. Although the Tupi expansion can be compared in importance to the Bantu migration in Africa, little is known about this event relative to others. Equal and even deeper gaps exist concerning the Je-speakers' expansion. This study aims to elucidate some aspects of these successful expansions. To meet this purpose, we analyzed Native American mtDNA complete control region from nine different populations and included HVS-I sequences available in the literature, resulting in a total of 1,176 samples investigated. Evolutionary relationships were explored through median-joining networks and genetic/geographic/linguistic correlations with Mantel tests and spatial autocorrelation analyses. Both Tupi and Je showed general traces of ancient or more recent fission-fusion processes, but a very different pattern of demographic expansion. Tupi populations displayed a classical isolation-by-distance pattern, while Je groups presented an intricate and nonlinear mode of dispersion. We suggest that the collective memory and other cultural processes could be important factors influencing the fission-fusion events, which likely contributed to the genetic structure, evolution, and dispersion of Native American populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-463
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • HVS I-II mtDNA sequences
  • Native Americans
  • fission-fusion process
  • genetic-linguistic comparisons


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