Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Chile: ECIM Las Cruces, Santiago, Valparaiso… and now Easter Island! (30/04/2014 - Frithjof)

Once more, I am writing the Algaegroup blog in flight to a very remote island – I am typing these lines on the plane from Santiago de Chile to Easter Island. We had a very successful 2 ½ weeks at the Estacion Costiera de Investigaciones Marinas (ECIM) at Las Cruces with 2 stints to the Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile (PUC) in Santiago. 

Our team has been investigating iodine uptake and efflux in 3 ecologically very important brown seaweeds of the Southern Hemisphere – Macrocystis pyrifera, Lessonia trabeculata and Durvillaea antarctica. We were able to show that all of them take up iodide at rates comparable to the North Atlantic kelp Laminaria digitata, and also that they efflux iodine upon oxidative stress. Quite a novelty for understanding the seaweed ecosystems of this part of the world.

In parallel, my new Chilean graduate student Pedro Murua-Andrade designed a setup for deploying traps with kelp gametophytes in the kelp forest. While there is a reasonable amount of understanding about the diseases of kelp sporophytes, hardly anything is known about gametophytes in this regard – but any pathogens affecting the microscopic gametophytes may potentially be impacting the recruitment of kelp forests. Teresa and I managed to deploy 2 such traps (images below) by scuba diving despite considerable swell, and when Melina and I recovered them 5 days later, they were still in good shape and hopefully harboured some of the sought-after pathogens. 

I would very much like to thank my enthusiastic and tireless team who have made this happen, together with the local ECIM staff (in particular, Randy, Ricardo, Antonio and Glenda).
We were definitely impressed by the high quality of research facilities at ECIM and PUC. The trip also gave us a good opportunity to explore the country’s capital, Santiago, and the beautiful historic port city of Valparaiso (part of which had sadly suffered from a massive fire 2 weeks ago, leaving hundreds of families homeless). A happy coincidence enabled by electronic media in the global village was the reunion with my Chilean friend Jenny Llanos, now a professor in Valparaiso – we had been graduate students together at the Station Biologique de Roscoff in the late 1990s.

We are excited about visiting and exploring Easter Island. I had long wanted to visit this mythical island, one of the remotest on Planet Earth. On the way here, I read the two chapters about Easter Island and its western neighbours of Henderson, Pitcairn and Mangareva in Jared Diamont’s book COLLAPSE (highly recommendable!). Being one of the latest settlements of the Polynesian expansion, this subtropical island was home to a highly-developed Polynesian society erecting the famous Moai statues. However, the unsustainable ecosystem use of this society (in a vulnerable island ecosystem) gradually led to deterioration of Easter’s environment, ultimately resulting in the collapse of this society. Easter was stripped of most of its native vegetation and native animals (with many species gone extinct), depriving its human inhabitants of essential raw materials and food sources. In the end, Easter’s population had to put up with a much-impoverished diet (turning to rats and cannibalism as a last resort), increased warfare and restricted mobility (with most trees gone, there was no means to build ocean-going canoes or rafts anymore), disabling them to go fishing offshore and to leave the island. This tiny island in the middle of a vast ocean has become quite a symbol for our Home Planet. Will mankind be able to manage Earth’s resources more sustainably and with more wisdom than Easter’s Polynesian society? When things deteriorated in Easter Island, the inhabitants could not leave for a better, new home. A gloomy thought – is something like this the fate of mankind too? I am sure hoping to get some first-hand inspiration for my lectures on island biogeography and conservation which I teach at Aberdeen.

For concluding on a positive note, I am very excited and nostalgic about my new trip to Polynesia. My first trip to this part of the world was in April-May 1998, as a 1st year PhD student at Roscoff, accompanying the marine natural products expedition of Laurent Meijer (CNRS Roscoff, France) and George R. Pettit (ASU, Tempe AZ, USA) – both of whom have become lifelong friends.

Before the deployment of Pedros gametophyte pathogen trap

Greek Easter in Santiago

morning lecture at ECIM Las Cruces

Teresa diving at Punta del Tralca 

Pedro has cooked dinner for us in Las Cruces

Pedros gametophyte pathogen trap deployed on the seabed at Punta del Tralca

signpost to ECIM in the streets of Las Cruces

sunset seen from ECIM Las Cruces

 Teresa and Melina creeping ashore at Puntta del Tralca

Teresa and Melina doing iodine uptake and efflux experiments with Chilean seaweeds

Teresa and Melina having lunch in Santiago

Teresa and Melina in the ICP MS lab at PUC Santiago

visit to Pontificia Universidad Catolica Santiago

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