Man´s activities have led to a noteworthy degradation and loss of habitat in several parts of the planet, damaging the functioning of the ecosystem and reducing the value of ecosystem services. In this sense, environments such as the temperate grassland of Argentina and the coastal and oceanic environments of northern Patagonia represent areas of the region which have suffered a significant impact. Despite the noticeable progress achieved in the knowledge of basic aspects of vertebrate ecology in the Pampas and its marine coast, the need to continue inquiring in this line and turning the generated information into conservation and management tools remains imperative. Considering the intensity and magnitude of urban development on ecosystems, the approach to analyze the responses needs to be conducted from a regional perspective. The Grupo Vertebrados (Vertebrates’ Group) has aimed the results of its research to governmental agencies and decision makers responsible for developing and implementing conservation plans regarding the management of natural resources. General objectives of this group are: 1) to study the structure and functioning of vertebrate populations and assemblages in natural environments with varying degrees of human impact, 2) to analyze biological and ecological features of species with particular interest, and 3) to provide critical information to agencies and decision makers so as to promote the development and improvement of management and conservation plans in the target area.

The current project “Ecology and Behavior of Vertebrates in Marine-coastal Environments” includes the following lines of research:

(1) Ecology and conservation of seabirds (responsible Dr. Marco Favero)
Our interest lies in the study of different aspects of the biology and ecology (spatial, trophic, behavioral and population) of species of seabirds and coastal birds with different conservation status. We seek to address the problems faced by seabirds in relation to the effect of environmental variability and anthropogenic activities through an inclusive process that includes the academy, government agencies and NGOs for the generation of knowledge and development of regulations and their implementation. The group is currently working on the following topics: 1) evaluation of the effect of environmental variability (productivity, fronts, climate change) and anthropogenic activities (commercial fisheries, tourism) on the movement, population and trophic ecology of marine pelagic and coastal species; 2) analysis of the behavioral response of birds according to social context, environmental heterogeneity and anthropogenic activities; 3) identification of priority areas for the conservation of seabirds, and 4) generation of basic information for the improvement of the conservation status of marine species.

(2) The role of anthropic disturbance in the ecology and conservation of grassland birds (responsible Dr. Juan Pablo Isacch)
Natural environments are changing as a result of anthropogenic activities at an extremely high rate and scale. Many animals have been subject to environmental disturbances during their evolutionary histories, but the speed and magnitude of human-induced changes represent an unprecedented challenge for many species. In this context, our objective is to understand the role of anthropogenic disturbance on the diversity, species composition, life history traits and behavior of birds in the Pampas region, in order to contribute to ecological knowledge and to make recommendations from a conservation point of view. For this, we focus on common disturbances in our study region (East of Buenos Aires province, Argentina), such as urbanization, grazing on natural grasslands, fragmentation and invasion of plant species. Different questions arise in relation to these cases and we approach them from current theoretical frameworks. (1) We focus on trying to understand the role of urbanization on biodiversity and behavioral responses of species that inhabit this habitat. (2) In relation to grazing, we focus on determine grazing management that are compatible with native biodiversity. (3) We study the effect of habitat fragmentation by assessing the reproductive performance of birds breeding in fragments and whether they are capable to sustain viable populations. (4) Invasions by plant species are generating new environments, and our concern is to understand how birds respond to these new environments in terms of diversity and reproductive performance. We hope that our results improve management decisions on conservation of biodiversity and the ecosystem services associated.

(3) Ecology and conservation of raptors (responsible Lic. María Susana Bó)
We study the effect of habitat characteristics on reproductive parameters and breeding behavior of Falconiformes and Strigiformes species in modified and native habitats. We also focus on trophic and foraging ecology of raptor assemblages and the interaction among species. Finally we are interested in the study of raptors behavioral and cognitive traits (neophobia, learning capacity, memory and behavioral flexibility) that influence their ability to colonize and establishment in modified and novel habitats.

4) Herpetology (responsible Dra. Laura Vega)

We analyze the spatial patterns of the distribution, genetic structure and population persistence of sand lizards belonging to the genus Liolaemus in the coastal dunes of Buenos Aires. The effect of landscape composition and configuration on the current distribution, connectivity and viability of natural populations in reptile species is studied, by means of using ecological modelling, Geographic Information Systems and molecular markers as tools. Concomitantly we evaluate the physiological-functional performance and life history attributes of different lizard populations of the L. wiegmannii clade along their latitudinal range of distribution, also identifying the effect of environmental and intrinsic factors of individuals and their implications in an ecological-evolutionary framework. We particularly compare ecological and ecophysiological parameters between lizard populations from natural grassland environments and modified grasslands with exotic forestation, and inquire into the herpetological assemblages of coastal environments with varying degrees of natural and anthropogenic disturbances.
5) Invasive plant species (responsible Dr. Viviana Comparatore)

Our aim is to manage a reserve and to control its area of invasive plant species. We also plan to design and generate management guidelines for a publicly accessible nature reserve area in the eastern Tandilia mountain system (Paititi Natural Reserve, General Pueyrredón, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina). We conduct floristic surveys in relation to geomorphology, which together with the faunistic survey will be used to zonify the above mentioned reserve so as to assign different uses to these areas including conservation, research, recreation, and education. We assist in establishing priority criteria regarding the need to intervene in areas with different levels of vulnerability in relation to endemic, threatened or invasive species. We also evaluate the effect of combined physical and chemical methods in the control of Black Acacia (Acacia melanoxylon) invasion in these reserve mountains, included the impact of the latter treatments on plant communities. Other goal is to start the operation of an interpretation center in this reserve.

Director
Dra. Laura Estela Vega
Professor
Researchers
Dr. Marco Favero
Researcher CONICET
Dr. Juan Pablo Isacch
Researcher CONICET
Lic. María Susana Bó
Professor
Dra. Viviana Comparatore
 
Professor
Lic. Enrique Alberto Madrid
Professor
Dra. María Paula Berón
Researcher CONICET
Dr. Daniel Augusto Cardoni
Researcher CONICET
Dra. Sofía Copello
    CV-SIGEVA
Researcher CONICET
Dra. Rocío Mariano-Jelicich
Researcher CONICET
Dr. Germán García
    CV-SIGEVA
Reseacher CONICET
Dr. Baladrón Félix
Alejandro Víctor
Researcher CONICET
Dra. Laura M. Biondi
    CV-SIGEVA
Researcher CONICET
Dr. Juan Pablo Seco Pon
Researcher CONICET
Dr. Walter Svagelj
    CV-SIGEVA
Researcher CONICET
Lic. Carla Paterlini
Researcher
Dra. Carolina Block
    CV-SIGEVA
Researcher CONICET
Dr. Oscar Aníbal Stellatelli
Researcher CONICET
Graduate Students
Dr. Matías Guillermo Pretelli
Posdoctoral Fellow
Lic. Matilde Cavalli
Doctoral Fellow
Lic. Nicolás Mariano Chiaradia
Doctoral Fellow
Lic. Natalia Martínez Curci
Posdoctoral Fellow
Lic. Jesica Paz
Doctoral Fellow