Cape-Horn: Sub-Antarctic Science Centre

Research opportunities at the new Cape Horn sub-Antarctic science centre

A Seminar by Dr Shaun Russell from the Treborth Botanical Garden, North Wales, U.K. (Bangor University)

Situated in South Chile, a new research centre is being built with the aim to open in late 2017. The Cape-Horn research centre is going to be the main hub for environmental and ecological sciences in Southern South America. The area boasts the lowest nitrite concentration in rainfall making it a perfect environment for delicate plants and the ecosystems they create.

A new research centre will allow environmental scientists to study plants and animals in their natural environments more easily and improve accessibility.

Why is this Important?

The answer is simple: Biodiversity increases from equator to pole, and thus there is more biodiversity in places like Chile, South Africa, Australia, North America and Europe.

1280px-Chile_in_the_world_(de-facto)_(W3).svg
Chile on the World Map

For example, in the region Patagonia there are lots of bird species including owls, birds of prey and hummingbirds, you can find more information here. Along birds, there are all sorts of  mammals and marine organisms like:

  • Armadillo
  • Pudú (and other deer)
  • Whales
  • Dolphins
  • Elephant seals
  • Sea Otters
  • Molluscs (including cephalopods)
  • Giant abyssal sponges
  • Many other invertebrates!
squid
Humboldt Squid (Dosidicus gigas) a species found in the Peru-Chile Trench. Modified image from flickr

Promoting Ecotourism

To encourage tourists; airports and docks are being expanded, thus they can run more field trips and training courses on the vegetation and animals. In turn these will create jobs, successful moss gardens and nature reserves which involve local communities. In the bigger picture, there’s hope to create biosphere reserves around the region. Environmental studies will benefit from biosphere reserves as they are protected areas for conservation and sustainability.

In the deep ocean trenches in the South Pacific and Southern Ocean there are giant abyssal sponges.

Antarctic sponges are long-lived, and sensitive to environmental changes due to the specificity of the symbiotic microbial communities within them. As a result, they function as indicators of environmental health.

–  Nicole Webster, Australian Institute of Marine Science and University of Canterbury.

Miniature Forests Create a Foothold for Ecological Research

A team of botanists from Bangor University have been able to promote the local fauna and flora to the general public of the area. Providing information and generating interest to build more successful public conservation efforts will help to protect the surrounding environment.

What are Miniature Forests?

Miniature forests is a term used to describe the small ecosystems which incorporate lichens, mosses, liverworts and hornworts.

cape-horn8
Cape-Horn Research Centre

Dr Russel’s research focuses on miniature forests and as south Chile holds 5% of the world’s non-vascular flora diversity, the new research centre will be key for studying these tiny ecosystems.

Cape-Horn is a hotspot for miniature forests and simple plants. The team from Treborth Botanical Gardens have been able to research these plants, educate others and create public interest.

So far, the Treborth team have been successful and have opened a park for the miniature forest of mosses and lichens with the aid of the Chilean President.

How this Affects Me:

This seminar was both interesting and engaging, I would love to be able to become part of a research team down in Chile and study sea-bird migration and behaviour. I hope that one day I will be able to travel around the world whilst studying bird behaviour through field work. The talk has given me more ideas about finding research abroad with research centres and projects that need working on.

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