South American ecosystems host astonishing biodiversity, with potentially great richness in viruses. However, these ecosystems have not yet been the source of any widespread, epidemic viruses. Here we explore a set of putative causes that may explain this apparent paradox. We discuss that human presence in South America is recent, beginning around 14,000 years ago; that few domestications of native species have occurred; and that successive immigration events associated with Old World virus introductions reduced the likelihood of spillovers and adaptation of local viruses into humans. Also, the diversity and ecological characteristics of vertebrate hosts might serve as protective factors. Moreover, although forest areas remained well preserved until recently, current brutal, sudden, and large-scale clear cuts through the forest have resulted in nearly no ecotones, which are essential for creating an adaptive gradient of microbes, hosts, and vectors. This may be temporarily preventing virus emergence. Nevertheless, the mid-term effect of such drastic changes in habitats and landscapes, coupled with explosive urbanization and climate changes, must not be overlooked by health authorities.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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