Patagonia Biodiversity

Research Project

  “Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE) - Collaborative Research: Establishing Sustainable International Collaborations in Evolution, Ecology, and Conservation Biology”: J. Johnson, PI; Co-PIs: K.A. Crandall, L.A. Johnson, J.W. Sites, Jr. (BYU), and G. Orti (Univ. NE). For more information see:
   The Patagonian region on which the PIRE group is focused is unique in a number of respects: (1) it includes a substantial part of the Andean Cordillera, which is by far the longest and one of the youngest on earth, and thus provides a huge range of possible refugia and environmental gradients; and (2) it differs dramatically from the better studied temperate regions of Europe and North America; for example, cycles of glacial advance/retreat moved along the spine of the dominant N-S mountain axis in Patagonia, whereas in Europe the ice moved perpendicular to an E-W mountain axis, so here the geological stories are very different. The N-S axes of glacial movement are more similar between North & South America (with respect to the orientation of the dominant mountain ranges on both continents), but these regions differ hugely in other factors that regulate biodiversity, including: (1) available land area (much higher across the E-W breadth of N. America vs the tapered “cone” shape of Patagonia); (2) effective isolation of these northern/southern temperate regions by intervening tropical zones; and (3) historical constraints - the North American montane vertebrate fauna is dominated by endotherms (birds, mammals), whereas the South American montane fauna shows high levels of endemism in ectotherms. Beyond the Andes themselves, the Patagonian sampling area also includes: (1) the Valdivian Forest along the coast of southern Chile, a South American analog of the North American temperate coastal rainforests; and (2) the Monte Desert and Steppe regions that cover an extensive area of Argentina east of the Andes, an approximate ecological analog to the arid Great Basin region of western North America. Here too there are striking contrasts: many plant genera are shared between North America, eastern Asia, & Europe due to recent land bridge connections, while multiple examples of North America-South America disjunct distributions within several temperate plant genera appear to have originated via bird-mediated long-distance dispersal. These are but a few of many examples; take home point is that Patagonia is sufficiently different from other temperature regions to merit further study, and the PIRE project is establishing the baseline for launching such an endeavor.
   The PIRE “Speciation in Patagonia” project integrates a group of 19 investigators representing nine institutions in four countries, over a 5-yr period (01/06 – 12/10), in support of landscape scale comparative phylogeography studies, with the ultimate goal of developing new sustainable international research groups ( The immediate goals of this project are to: (1) assist young scientists in all participating countries; (2) support joint field expeditions; (3) support annual meetings (progress reports, planning, etc.); and (4) cooperate in training of post-docs, graduate & undergraduate students. Extensive field work has been carried out for all taxonomic groups (co-distributed freshwater fishes and crustaceans, and flowering plants, frogs, & lizards), student and faculty exchanges have been implemented and are ongoing, papers are being published or are in preparation, and plans are being made for a “Comparative Phylogeography” symposium for the 2010 SSB/SSE meeting. The conceptual focus centers on testing for patterns of co-divergence in these freshwater and terrestrial groups, and the field work to date represents a first iteration of sampling across the wide ranges of the target groups, but at the cost of a high density of sampling points within any group. The data analyses, as written into the proposal, focus almost entirely on hypothesis–generating methods, and for most groups alpha taxonomic work is necessary in parallel to bring knowledge of species boundaries/distributions to a sufficient baseline level of understanding to provide context for further study.