Bryophyta of the Cape Horn Archipelago

Bryophyta of the Cape Horn Archipelago

William R Buck
New York Botanical Gardens

Bernard Goffinet
University of Connecticut

John J Engel
The Field Museum, Chicago

Matt von Konrat
The Field Museum, Chicago

John Pickering
University of Georgia, Athens

Frullania pycnantha
Frullania pycnantha

Last updated: 1 June, 2006

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Collaborative Research on the Bryophytes of the Cape Horn Archipelago: Floristics, Phylogeography and Implications for Biodiversity Conservation: Bryophytes are critical components of many terrestrial ecosystems yet they often are understudied, especially in southern Chile. There are immense gaps in our knowledge regarding bryophyte taxonomy and biogeography in the south temperate zone of South America. This project seeks to complete a comprehensive treatment of the bryophytes (mosses, hepatics, anthocerotes) of Provincia Antártica Chilena, a physically and biogeographically distinct region of Chile known to be a center of biological richness and south temperate endemism for nonvascular cryptogams and diverse animal groups. Because of its biological diversity, the Cape Horn Archipelago is the subject of increasing conservation interest and activity. Organizations such as the Fundación Omora, in conjunction with UNESCO, are working to design and implement strategies aimed at sustainable conservation of the region's unique biodiversity. In order to efficiently and effectively accomplish this goal, accurate and detailed information for all groups of organisms is needed. Bryophytes were initially investigated because the local indigenous people of the region, the Yahgan (= Yamana), identified bryophytes and lichens as more diverse than vascular plants, and their observations have been verified by our field work. To date we have found numerous species new to the region, including disjuncts from the Northern Hemisphere and species previously thought to be Antarctic/subantarctic endemics. Several new species have already been definitely identified from our previous collections, and there are many tentative new species requiring additional study. The project is led by two taxonomists (Buck who has worked for the last four years in southern Chile on mosses and Engel who has spent his entire career working on south temperate and subantarctic hepatics) and a systematist (Goffinet) who will refine estimates of biodiversity by testing for the presence of endemic cryptic species. With combined bryological field experience of over 70 years, political and logistical support provided by authorities, institutions and organizations, including the prior funding of this project by multiple agencies, now is the critical time to carry out this project. The field work accomplished by the PIs, as well as the strong political and logistical support provided by the Chilean government and agencies, have created an opportunity to complete the inventory. The economic threats on the landscape define the urgency of providing a comprehensive treatment of the bryophytes, which represent the most diverse component of the flora of the Cape Horn region.

Intellectual merit.
Building on completed initial work, we will produce a comprehensive account of the diversity, taxonomy, and distribution of the region's bryoflora that will have major implications in understanding the phylogeny of these groups and will shed new light on the origins of the south temperate biota. This will result in several products: 1) the first large scale set of bryophyte specimens from the region and the most important ones made there in well over 100 years, including a set to be deposited at the Universidad de Magallanes; 2) publications of new moss, hepatic and anthocerote species; 3) a book that will make accessible for the first time information on all the bryophytes of the Cape Horn region; 4) a multifaceted web site providing keys and illustrations; 5) a phylogeographic analysis of critical disjunct taxa; and 6) a searchable, GIS-linked database of the major holdings of Cape Horn bryophyte collections housed at NY, F, CONN and H, along with other linked information.

Broader impacts.
The results of the proposed work will increase the awareness of this diverse component of the vegetation of the Cape Horn Archipelago and be directly relevant to ongoing conservation planning and implementation by multiple agencies and organizations, including the use of bryophytes for determining conservation priorities. It will provide educational opportunities for American and Chilean students in bryology. Most importantly it will help build the infrastructure at the Universidad de Magallanes in order for it to become a center for Chilean cryptogamy.

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