Anticipated Future Research

This project will lead to a better description, record, and understanding of the poorly known floras and faunas of the Kuril Islands, but beyond these advantages, the work described here will provide the basis for future research in systematics, biogeography, and ecology, as well as the means to manage and protect Kuril biotas in the future. Specific plans or directions for future research based on the new collections and inventories fall into a number of categories: alpha and higher-level systematics, comparisons of inter-island populations, comparisons of insular and mainland taxa, trans-Pacific biogeography, ecology, and conservation.

Among most of the invertebrate taxa collected (insects, spiders, and terrestrial and freshwater mollusks) there will be new species requiring description. For some of us (entomologists, arachnologists, and malacologists), long-term attention will be necessarily focused on this alpha-level work. Studies of population structure, intraspecific variation, and higher-level revisionary work will naturally follow. Botanists will use the plant collections and database for revisionary work on poorly known and taxonomically complex genera (e.g., Ranunculus, Sasa, Oxytropis, Cirsium, Minuartia, Taraxacum, Poa, and Scutellaria, to name only a few).

Perhaps the most valuable vertebrate materials to be collected during this survey will be the ethanol-fixed tissue samples. One of the most significant aspects of our future research will be the use of this material in analyses of genetic differentiation, molecular systematics, and molecular evidence of the history of colonization of the Kuril Archipelago. If sequencing reveals sufficient inter-island differentiation among resident species (plants, relatively immobile invertebrates, and narrowly ranging vertebrates, including highly resident birds), it may be possible to develop interpopulation phylogenies that are well enough refined to yield biogeographic hypotheses of colonization of the islands. Currently nothing is known about the origin of any Kuril Island species. The extent to which the islands were colonized from Kamchatka, from the Russian mainland, from Japan, or from some combination of these sources is unknown.

On a broader scale, among the most puzzling problems of global biogeography are the many trans-Pacific distributions displayed by closely related taxa, particularly among plant, insect, and especially arachnid genera (see Nelson and Platnick, 1981: 534-543). Some authors (e.g., Nur and Ben-Avraham, 1981) have attributed these trans-Pacific links to pure vicariance, via the breakup and dispersal of a lost "Pacifica" continent; others (e.g., Coyle, 1971: 395-396) have assumed dispersal across an Eocene or Miocene Bering land bridge. Collections from the Kurils would add significantly to our knowledge of trans-Pacific relatives of taxa of Western North America whose range of latitude corresponds closely to that of the Kuril Archipelago. It is conceivable that relict species, now extinct on neighboring mainland areas, may have survived on the islands. Data resulting from the work described here may make possible new and decisive tests of conflicting biogeographic hypotheses. Considering the multidisciplinary nature of the project, perhaps a new synthesis of trans-Pacific biogeography may emerge.

In addition to systematic and biogeographic questions, the herpetologists are particularly interested in the use of reptiles and amphibians (which seem to be more directly affected by environmental stress than other vertebrates) as environmental indicators of habitat change, both at the level of global change as well as for detection of local habitat deterioration. Central to the use of these animals as environmental indicators is a reliable and early baseline against which subsequent changes can be confidently compared. Therefore one central purpose of this study would be to establish baseline data on amphibians and reptiles to identify sites that can be used for long-term monitoring of environmental stress.

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