This study examines a genome-wide dataset of 678 Short Tandem Repeat loci characterized in 444 individuals representing 29 Native American populations as well as the Tundra Netsi and Yakut populations from Siberia. Using these data, the study tests four current hypotheses regarding the hierarchical distribution of neutral genetic variation in native South American populations: (1) the western region of South America harbors more variation than the eastern region of South America, (2) Central American and western South American populations cluster exclusively, (3) populations speaking the Chibchan-Paezan and Equatorial-Tucanoan language stock emerge as a group within an otherwise South American clade, (4) Chibchan-Paezan populations in Central America emerge together at the tips of the Chibchan-Paezan cluster. This study finds that hierarchical models with the best fit place Central American populations, and populations speaking the Chibchan-Paezan language stock, at a basal position or separated from the South American group, which is more consistent with a serial founder effect into South America than that previously described. Western (Andean) South America is found to harbor similar levels of variation as eastern (Equatorial-Tucanoan and Ge-Pano-Carib) South America, which is inconsistent with an initial west coast migration into South America. Moreover, in all relevant models, the estimates of genetic diversity within geographic regions suggest a major bottleneck or founder effect occurring within the North American subcontinent, before the peopling of Central and South America.
2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.