Cryptobiology Effort at a Sky Island: Sierra San Pedro de Martír.
I’ve always been interested in biological research, although most of the efforts my wife and I have been involved in were marine-biology related.
However, the logistics of a serious marine collecting expedition are such that one needs lots of money -- in addition to expertise in both marine
taxonomy and underwater activities -- to even attempt to find hitherto-undocumented organisms. In our case, we simply can’t do any serious benthic
collecting activities, since most of our effort is taken up with monitoring our location, depth, bottom time, remaining tank pressure, nitrogen
loading, and so on.
A land effort makes more sense, and the next consideration would be: where to go with the best chance of finding undocumented life? To me , starting
our search criteria with a sky island seems to make the most sense.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with biota-collecting expeditions, a ‘sky island’ is simply a mountain or small mountain range surrounded
on all sides by land impassable to endemic (meaning, in this case, limited to one area) life forms. For example, a squirrel which has evolved to live
and prosper in a Ponderosa pine forest at an altitude of 3500 m will not survive crossing a swamp or lowland desert; as a result, such an animal will
not interbreed with others and has a better chance of evolving, over time and isolation, into a new species. Here in Arizona, Mount Graham in the
southeast area of the state is a 3000-meter mountain surrounded by Sonoran desert, and has been biologically isolated since early Cenozoic times. As
a result, there are several endemic species there, including the somewhat well-known Mt. Graham Red Squirrel -- which has played an important part in
the delays of construction of the astronomical observatory on the summit there.
The problem with a sky island in Arizona is that it’s a magnet for biological investigators, since Arizona is a well-settled state with three
outstanding research universities. Finding an undocumented endemic organism requires both the biological isolation for speciation, and to be
somewhere where not much research has been done.
I believe I have found such a place, and hope to undertake a preliminary expedition there between December 26 2005 and January 2, 2006.
San Pedro de Martír is a 3000-meter mountain surrounded by extremely inhospitable desert in the state of Baja California Norte, Mexico. It is part
of the Parque Nacional (national park) system of Mexico; but, except for a small astronomical observatory on the peak, has little or no park
infrastructure, no improved camping, few if any park rangers, and almost no visitors. In short, this is a place where it is entirely possible that
there are endemic biota which have never been described in the scientific literature.
Of course, there have been expeditions to the area; one in particular, a 1997 therevidae collecting expedition, was documented
(www.inhs.uiuc.edu... ); and I was fortunate to meet with one of the principal investigators last week when I was on a
diving vacation in Baja California del Sur.
Unfortunately, being an amateur, I don’t have access to Centro de Investigacion Cientifica y de Educacion Superior de Ensenada like Drs. Irwin,
Weigman and Yeates; but I am hoping that this winter’s trip (which will include a two-day drive each way and three days in situ, will enable
me to at least meet with some of the Mexican scientists there.
Needless to say, I do not expect to find anything of interest to the lay-person my first trip there; it will be primarily to get the ‘lay of the
land’. And I very seriously doubt that, if I do come across undocumented biota, that it will be anything on the order of the mythical Bigfoot or
‘chupacabra’ (although I did see many chuparosas and cabras when I was last there LOL!).
But even if I come across a previously unknown annelid and can determine its taxon, I would be happy!
Anyway, I’m not sure if anyone here is even interested in such an effort. It’s certainly not as ‘sexy’ as searching for the Abominable
Snowman or the Long-Lost Dinosaur World; it’s not even in the same category of the re-discovery of the coelacanth back in the 1930’s. But if
anyone’s interested in such things, let me know, and I will post my progress from time to time.
OTS, that sounds fascinating, definitly post any results and take lots of pics. We might be able to pool all our resources together and ID some of the
animals there. Would be an intersting exercise if nothing else.
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