Wind highways: from Macquarie Island to Tierra de Fuego


I am stunned by the work “Wind as a Long-Distance Dispersal Vehicle in the Southern Hemisphere” published at Science. It provides empirical evidence of a hypothesis from mid-19th century that postulated that the wind is an efficient agent of dispersion of plants in long distances, even more so than spatial vicinity, for many plants.

stereographic map wind southern hemisphere

Source: Science

While widely used to explain similarities of species between remote islands, the hypothesis wasn’t accepted for big landmasses like continents. Whenever an species was found in Africa and in America (Southern hemisphere), it was said to have been present in both regions before their break apart, 80 million years ago. In other words, the species hadn’t evolved or diverged since the separation of the continents.

The work about wind highways is a milestone is scientific terms since its authors (*) found a stronger correlation of floristic similarities with wind connectivity than with geographic proximity, which supports the idea that wind is a dispersal vehicle more determinant than distance in Botanical and Bio-geographical terms.

The input data was daily measurements of wind azimut and speed over the ocean surface. Distant locations connected by wind highways have similar plants (eg. Macquarie Island near New Zeland and Tierra de Fuego), while those close but poorly connected by wind have different flora (ge. Macquarie Island and Lord Howe Island).

The experimental plants included in the article are mosses, liverworts, lichens and pteridophytes.

(*) Jesús Muñoz, Ángel M. Felicísimo, Francisco Cabezas, Ana R. Burgaz and Isabel Martínez

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