San Guillermo Biosphere Reserve
In remote areas of the high Andes and the Patagonian steppe, large herds of grazing mammals congregate. Condors circle overhead as pumas silently stalk their prey – vicuñas and guanacos – through expansive plains, grassy meadows, and rocky canyons. Yet unlike another area where we work, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, scientists and the public still know relatively little about the puma-dominated food webs of southern South America. Currently, our primary research site in this region is the 3,800-square-mile San Guillermo Biosphere Reserve (SGBR), located in western Argentina and comprised of a national park and a provincial reserve. SGBR is one of the last wild places in southern South America where native wildlife interactions remain relatively undisrupted. Recently, however, large-scale gold mining and exploration have been expanding in the area, and the vicuña population has experienced a mange epidemic of unknown origin. In addition to SGBR’s extreme remoteness, high elevations, and harsh climate, government safety rules prohibit the public from visiting and experiencing large areas of this landscape – which could soon undergo rapid transformation due to mega-mining operations and the consequences of steeply declining camelid numbers. We plan to initiate new research in several areas of the Patagonian steppe in coming years.