Anticipated Future Research

This project will lead to a better description, record, and understanding of the poorly known flora and fauna of Sakhalin Island, 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 Russian Far East 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., Salix, Rhodiola, Campanula, Solidago, Calamagrostis, Deschampsia, Poa, and Carex, to name only a few).

Among the most valuable 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 Sakhalin and islands of the Kuril Archipelago. If sequencing reveals sufficient inter-island differentiation among resident species (plants, relatively immobile invertebrates, and narrowly ranging vertebrates), it may be possible to develop inter-population phylogenies that are well enough refined to yield biogeographic hypotheses of colonization of the islands. Currently nothing is known about the origin of any Sakhalin Island species. The extent to which the island duplicates the biota of the mainland, levels of endemism, its relationship to Hokkaido, and its role in the colonization of the Kurils are 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 (e.g., Leopold and MacGinitie, 1972), insect (e.g., Lindsey, 1963), and especially arachnid genera (e.g., Nelson and Platnick, 1981: 534-535). Some authors (e.g., Nur and Ben-Avraham, 1981: 354-357) have attributed these trans-Pacific links to pure vicariance, via the breakup and dispersal of a lost “Pacifica” continent; others (e.g., Hopkins, 1967: 451-484; Coyle, 1971: 395-396) have assumed dispersal across an Eocene or Miocene Bering land bridge. Collections from Sakhalin 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 islands of the Far East region. It is conceivable that relict species, now extinct on neighboring mainland areas, may have survived on Sakhalin. 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—combined with the huge amount of biotic information acquired through our seven years of collecting in the Kurils—perhaps a new synthesis of trans-Pacific biogeography may emerge. (Space limitations prevent an analysis of the important implications this work has on questions related to Australasian and Pacific island biogeography; see Keast and Miller, 1996.)

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