THE ARGENTINA PROJECT: PRESERVING WILDLIFE AND ECOSYSTEMS
The Patagonia region in Argentina and Chile remains one of the most remarkable landscapes on earth. From its vast and diminishing ice fields to the wildlife-rich coastal environments, it represents an area that contains pristine wilderness areas juxtaposed with anthropogenically altered landscapes. In this program, team members will take part in unique firsthand investigations of Patagonia's diverse ecosystems and wildlife populations. We will look at how these landscapes and its wildlife have been shaped by historical and present-day climate change and the role humans have played in wildlife and ecosystem conservation, alteration, and extirpation. We will explore and familiarize ourselves with the various ecosystems present in this region, from the coastal region and Patagonian steppe on the eastern side of the Southern Andes, to the temperate rainforest and ice fields present on the continental divide and western side of the Andes. Key wildlife in the region include whales, penguins, sea lions, elephant seals, rheas (an ostrich-like bird) , guanacos (a wild llama), and huemuls (Andean deer) and hundreds of species of birds. We will investigate conservation and management strategies utilized to protect these populations of native animals and look at the effect of introduced wildlife on native ecosystems and wildlife. Together, through discussions, careful observation, and field studies we will gain an understanding of the complex relationships among people, wildlife, and the ecosystems they inhabit in Argentina and Chile.
Team members will have opportunities for hands-on investigations of the wildlife and various ecosystems present in Patagonia. Our first goal is to gain an understanding of the physical and ecological setting, familiarizing ourselves with the climate and geography as well as the plant communities present and the wildlife that use them, both native and introduced. We will have the opportunity to study various ecosystems including the coastal region, which supports diverse marine wildlife populations and the Patagonian grassland steppe, home to the guanacos and rheas and an area that has been heavily influenced by cattle grazing and introduced species. We will also spend a considerable amount of time in the Southern Andes themselves, in both Argentina and Chile, examining the temperate rainforest, which due to its geographical isolation is home to a plethora of endemic species. Finally, we hope to also gain an understanding of the importance of the Patagonian icefields and glaciers, the rivers that arise from them, the water they contain, and the wildlife and people they support.
During a visit to Peninsula Valdes on the Argentine coast, a Unesco World Heritage site and Reserva Faunistica, purportedly one of South America's finest wildlife reserves, we will focus our observations and studies on the diverse and numerous marine mammals and birds present in the region, including penguins, dolphins, whales, sea lions and elephant seals. Next we will travel across the grassland steppe to the Andean regions where we will spend time conducting our field studies in some of Argentina's National Parks. Finally, we will travel across the border into Chile focusing on the Aysen region, a truly wild area that contains much of Patagonia's ice fields, dramatic fjords, and extensive rainforest. In addition, the Aysen region is the site of a heated, ongoing battle over the construction of hydropower dams in a pristine wilderness setting. Our travels to these regions will give us first-hand experience understanding and analyzing the interactions among humans, wildlife, and the environment in a region which contains immense wilderness yet faces the pressure of a growing economy, development, and the associated increased energy and natural resource demands.
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