Project Summary:

Our project examines the impact of geological and climatic events on the evolutionary history of animal and plant species in Patagonia (southern South America). Unlike other parts of the world (e.g., North America and Europe) very little is known about the role of historical events such as glacial cycles, mountain building, and river captures on the speciation and demographic histories of Patagonian species. This intellectual void restricts our understanding of the processes responsible for generating biological diversity in temperate South America and limits current conservation efforts. What is needed is a broad survey of the evolutionary histories of several taxonomically distinct species (or species complexes) distributed across Patagonia, an effort that will require a strong international partnership.

Project Conclusion:

Our project was initiated in 2005 with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).  Funding from NSF for the project ended in 2010, with a no-cost extension granted to facilitate the publication of our findings and to share our results with parties interested in biodiversity conservation and management in Patagonia.  Our project focused on reconstructing phylogeographic histories of several distinct species (or species complexes) that occupy the Patagonian region of southern Argentina and Chile.  We used molecular markers (mtDNA and nuclear DNA sequences) and morphometric data to evaluate population histories of five freshwater fish species and one fish species complex, two large complexes of lizard species, two frog species, three freshwater crab species, and two plant species.  Our near-term goal is to evaluate these data in a comparative framework to better understand factors that have shaped biological diversity in this unique part of the world.  Our long-term goal is to address new research questions generated from our work, and to apply our results to help decision makers manage and conserve the remarkable biodiversity of Patagonia.