For 2011 Fulbright awardee James Elser, Argentina's soaring, glacier-laden peaks, ancient cultures, and criollo horses offer a spectacular backdrop for this region's biggest draw: access to the "last unpolluted aquatic ecosystems on Earth."
An ecologist with Arizona State University, Elser and colleague Esteban Balseiro of the Universidad Nacional del Comahue will partner and study 30 to 50 alpine lakes close to San Carlos de Barliloche in Argentinian Patagonia. Climbing 3,000 to more than 10,000 feet, the duo will characterize regional lake nutrient chemistry and examine the lakes' planktonic inhabitants.
"Esteban Balseiro has been performing some of the first comprehensive studies of this kind in this region and together we will extend his excellent work," says Elser. "Studying nutrient limitation and plankton in lakes that are not yet influenced by human activities, even in their airsheds, makes Patagonia likely the best place in the world to establish a baseline for understanding lake nutrient supplies in as close to 'ancestral,' pre-development conditions as possible."
Elser has pioneered the study of ecological stoichiometry, the examination of the balance of energy and chemical elements most especially carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in ecosystems. Stoichiometric theory is becoming increasingly important in light of the multiple, and disproportionate, ways that humans are altering Earth's biogeochemical cycles, Elser says.
For example, a study by Elser and his colleagues, published in the journal Science in 2009, showed that reactive nitrogen in the air stream, elevated by urbanization and agricultural intensification, literally rains down on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems thought outside the touch of humans. The impacts his team documented were much greater than previously recognized, shifting the fundamental ecology of alpine lakes in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and in seemingly pristine watersheds in No
|Contact: Margaret Coulombe|
Arizona State University