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Geological processes and orchid biogeography with applications to southeast central America

January 14, 2007

This contribution owes its origins to a paper presentation by Dr. Calloway H. Dodson at the Second International Conference on Neotropical Orchidology held in San José, Costa Rica in May of2003 (Dodson 2003). Dr. Dodson outlined some ofthe reasons to suspect that regional geological fac-tors may play important roles in orchid speciation and biogeography and gave examples from the northwestern South America. He also suggested that evolutionary change in orchid might occur over fairly short time periods, perhaps even as short as decades, centuries or millennia (Dodson 2003, SHK lecture notes).

These ideas stimulated the author, a professional earth scientist, to begin thinking about how these exciting ideas could begin to be tested in Costa Rica neighboring and Central American countries, an area that has drawn him to return frequently over the last decade. The present contribution is a proposal for integrating geological observations, such as the chronology of arc volcanic activity in Nicaragua,Costa Rica, and Panama, in hypothesis forming and testing of the geographic distribution of orchids (and possibly other biota). I initially focus on comparisons between orchid inventories on the windward slopes of mountainous regions (elevation > 1000 m)with high rainfall (> 1-2 m) in tropical regions, the so-called tropical cloud forests. These regions represent the tropical pre-montane rain forestto lower montane tropical rain forest life zones of Holdridge(1967) and the montane vegetation zone applied to Costa Rica and Panama by Dressler (1993). An important message of this paper is that such tropical mountainous regions are not necessarily static, but may change in elevation over geologic time due to active tectonic deformation and uplift and that the presence of active volcanism in a mountain range may also introduce additional chemical factors, such as volcanic gases, acid rain, and volcanic soils, and also physical factors, such as interruption of gene flow by explosive eruptions and coverage by their air fall products such as ash (tephra), lava flows, and lahars (volcanic mudflows). Thus over a given geological time interval, forests may be slowly increasing in elevation by tectonic uplift or by the accumulation of volcanic products such as steep-sided strato volcanoes (built from both lavas and tephra), or by down-slope accumulations of lava flows or lahars. Mountains may also lose elevation by erosion or by tectonic subsidence. As we shall see, tropical Central America shows an extraordinarily high level of tectonic and volcanic history that has changed its geography and, by implication, climate, life zones,and likely orchid distribution. My working hypo thesis put forward for testing is that orchid adaptations to these changes may have led to the development of new species and endemism in this region.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2007
Title Geological processes and orchid biogeography with applications to southeast central America
DOI 10.15517/lank.v7i1-2.18436
Authors Stephen H. Kirby
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Lankesteriana
Index ID 70207818
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center

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