The MYXOTROPIC research project aims to identify the species of Myxomycetes and Arcellinida that live in the Neotropics, and to further the understanding of their role in the ecosystem of the region. Data on these amoeboid protists from the area have been limited, and to redress this problem, the team has been studying and publishing information on these microorganisms from arid Neotropical zones. Some areas studied are warm deserts like the Chihuahua in Mexico, the Monte in Argentina, the Atacama in Chile, and the coastal desert of Peru, and some are cold deserts such as the Patagonia, the Andean altiplano of Peru and the Andean Valleys.
Both cold and warm arid ecosystems proved to be surprisingly rich in these microorganisms (see publications). In the current phase of the Project, a study of the Andean salt flats in Bolivia, Argentina and Chile is underway. This will allow a study of the biodiversity, ecology, process of adaptation of species and evolutionary hisotry to be carried out. In addition, it will provide data to evaluate any possible similarities between communities in different arid regions and how these living organisms are capable of successfully colonising such extreme environments.
The region selected is the Andean salt flats, occupying more than 30.000 km2, generally in valleys and depressions of the cordillera between 3.000 and 4.800 meters elevation. These salt flats have very high solar radiation and very little rainfall, are subject to wide daily temeprature fluctuation and have high concentrations of salts. In spite of these extreme conditions, they harbour a rich biodiversity, and we propose to reveal this in the case of the Myxomycetes and Arcellinida. Some of the salt flats to be studied are those of Uyuni and Coipasa in Bolivia, Arizaro, Antofalla, Cauchari, Hombre Muerto and Pocitos in Argentina, and those of Atacama, Huasco, Pajonales and Pedernales in Chile. There are various plant groups in this vast territory with the cold montane climate typical of the puna, such as scrublands with Stipa ichu and Festuca dolichophylla, areas dominated by columnar cacti (Trichocereus atacamensis), and vegetation associated with salt marshes like bogs of Distichia muscoides, “yaretales” (Azorella compacta), halophyllic vegetation, and shrubland of Polylepis, Baccharis, Adesmia, Astragalus, Parastrephia and Chuquiraga. Many of these plants are endemic, and some of them of particular floristic interest such as the bromeliad Puya raimondii. Over the course of the 3 years of the project (2019-2021) the first biodiversity inventory of Myxomycetes and Arcellinida from these Neotropical lands will be produced, and groups of species associated with the most characteristic or endemic plants will be identified. Specimens collected in the field or from laboratory culture will be deposited in the MA-Fungi herbarium of the Real Jardín Botánico (CSIC). The data generated and published throughout this project is stored in the GBIF database and is available to the scientific community on-line.