Laguna del Laja

This is the second post in a series of stories from our ongoing fieldtrip to South America. Check out the first one <–

Our first day of fieldwork in the Chilean Andes brought us to Laguna del Laja, a national park at the foot of the Antuco-volcano. There, in a desolated landscape of rocks and gravelly slopes, we would survey our first South American mountain road.

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A mountain road through a desolated landscape

In that alien world, we would study the interactions between different plants, and between plants and the belowground world along mountain roads, in order to understand better how climate and human land use together shape the mountain vegetation.

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A lonely patch of Rumex acetosella in a volcanic wasteland

At high elevations, there does not seem to be much to interact with, though, as plants are far apart in the volcanic wasteland. Yet that first view is deceiving: a lot is happening below the soil surface, where mycorrhizae (root fungi) dictate the crucial nutrient uptake of most plants. We are sampling these roots, and will use DNA-analyses to get an idea of the diversity of mycorrhizae in the system.

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A Senecio-species braving the harsh conditions of the high Andes

Roads will be drastically changing all these interactions, both above ànd below the soil surface. How that exactly works, that is still a mistery, but the data of this fieldtrip, combined with data from several other collaborating MIREN-regions, will hopefully shed light on that in the near future!

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Cytisus scoparius, a common European invader in South America. In the background: the peak of the Antuco-volcano

Very important in that regard is the role of roads as highways for non-native plant species, rapidly funneling new intruders upwards towards higher elevations. These non-native species are bound to mess up the established interaction-network. At the same time, the present interactions will be crucial to define the faith of the invaders.

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A native cushion-forming cactus (Maihuenia) between the volcanic rocks

The Chilean Andes have very high amounts of non-native species, especially compared to some of our other study regions in northern Scandinavia. That is another reason why we are here: to compare the effect of invaders on the vegetation in high versus low-impacted regions.

For now, it is the sampling that needs to be done, the questions will be answered later (after hard work in the field, in the lab and behind the computer). More on all that to follow!

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