|Let’s start with Hawaii|
There is a land with seashores where blue waves dance, with beaches where warm winds blows, and where people just enjoy life surfing and smiling. Who hasn’t dreamed with an almost paradise image like this of Hawaii?
|What does this idyllic place have to do with the Southern Beech Forests in Argentina and Chile?
Let’s see. The first Hawaiian Islands emerged in the immense Pacific Ocean at least 30 million years ago. They are at a distance of 3,500 km from the closest continent, being the extreme geographical isolation in the world.
The Southern Beech Forests in Argentina and Chile may be considered a green archipelago, and it has been isolated from other forests since 10 million years. The closest grow at present in the Northwest of Argentina: those who travel from the Yungas subtropical cloud forest have experienced the distance of more than 1,200 km of arid and beautiful landscape (through Catamarca, La Rioja, San Juan, Mendoza and Neuquen provinces) including the Patagonian steppe, till they can exclaim: “Forest in sight”.
The point is that both environments, Hawaii and the Southern Beech Forests, share a clue concept: they are I-S-L-A-N-D-S, and in both cases isolated since a long time ago.
With the geographic isolation the forces of evolution may act faster and result more evident. It is considered that many of the ecological and evolutionary processes applicable to Hawaii, the Galapagos and other archipelagos are valid in most of the isolated terrestrial environments. This applies in our Southern Beech Forests, with obvious differences, but the concept is valid. One of the consequences of isolation is the high number of endemism (see page 00).
Which plants and animals species are there? Where did they originate? Why are some only found there and why not elsewhere?
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) dedicated their lives to find answers to the interrelation of the fascinating natural world. They spent years collecting data and samples, and observing live in continents and islands. With study and analysis as well as passion and imagination, they gave origin to theories.
After them (…and their theories), more discoveries followed, new connections and interpretations and more questions.
In the first steps of the XXI century we may conclude diverse balances of the world we live in. But we must consider it a privilege to exist in a time of knowledge. With this perspective, a trip to the Southern Beech Forests may be a fabulous adventure.
These pages give the chance of a practical use on the field itself, with many examples of plants and animals. So that they don’t remain isolated observations, the proposal is to try to fit the pieces of a dynamic and changing system together. To know the branches is undoubtedly attractive, but I think and feel that trying to see the “forest” is even more captivating and motivating.
The diversity of mammals in the Southern Beech Forests is low in relation to the temperate forests of North America. On the other hand, there are no large native mammals that may be compared to bears or elks. In relation to the closer rainforests (in the North West of Argentina) and considering mid-size to small mammals, in the Southern Forests there are neither monkeys nor squirrels, and the diversity of bats is low. Taking into account the small species, in the Southern Forests there are many endemic species.
The climatic and geological changes of the past may be responsible for the present low diversity in these forests. During the glaciations, for example, the scarce capacity of dispersion of the mammals may have limited their possibilities to adapt. The majority of them aren't good long distances travellers to spread from or to isolated environments. They don't resist much time without food and even less without water. Also the adult mammal needs a couple, and young needs a mother.
In the Patagonian forests the diversity and density of mammals in general decreases southwards, while towards the west crossing to Chile, there are less variations.
The Huemul is an endemic deer from the Andean-Patagonian forests. Distributed in restricted areas from Argentina and Chile, is an endangered species. In Argentina isolated populations can be found between Neuquén and Santa Cruz. It was declared National Natural Monument and Provincial Natural Monument in Santa Cruz, Chubut and Rio Negro provinces.
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