The impact of group fissions on genetic structure in Native South America and implications for human evolution



In a series of publications beginning in the 1960s, Neel and colleagues suggested that genetically nonrandom, or “lineal”, population fissions contributed to genetic structure in ancient human groups. The authors reached this conclusion by studying the genetic consequences of village fissions among the Yanomamo, a Native South American group thought to have been relatively unaffected by European contact and, therefore, representative of the human past. On the basis of ethnographic accounts and pedigree data, they further concluded that patrilineal relationships were particularly important in shaping the genetic structure of villages following fissions. This study reexamines the genetic consequences of village fissions using autosomal STRs, Y-chromosome STRs, and mitochondrial DNA sequences collected from large samples of individuals from multiple Yanomamo villages. Our analyses of the autosomal STRs replicate the previous finding that village fissions have produced substantial genetic structure among the Yanomamo. However, our analyses of Y-chromosome STRs and mtDNA d-loop polymorphisms suggest that other population processes, including village movements, inter-village migration, and polygynous marriage, affect genetic structure in ways not predicted by a simple model of patrilineal fissions. We discuss the broader implications of population fissions for human evolution and the suitability of using the Yanomamo as a model for the human past. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.