Flora and Fauna of the USA (18436-1)

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Flora and Fauna of the USA.

To begin the conversation about animals and pland word of North America is better to start with explanation of climate conditions and gografical situation of the region, in order to clear understanding of such a wide diversity of spices.

USA encompasses about 21.5 million km², between latitudes 26° and 85° N, and longitudes 15° W and 173° E, and it stretches from the Florida Keys northward to Ellesmere Island, and from Greenland westward to Attu Island in the Aleutian Archipelago. Widest in the north, the continent narrows sharply at the Gulf of Mexico. South of the United States border with Mexico, it tapers gradually to the Isthmus of Panama. It is surrounded by three oceans---the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic, respectively to the north, west, and east---and by the Gulf of Mexico to the south. It is separated from northeast Asia by the Pacific Ocean, and by the epicontinental Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea, and the connecting Bering Strait. The Greenland and Norwegian seas, as well as the North Atlantic Ocean, separate North America from Europe and link the Atlantic to the Arctic Ocean; the Denmark Strait divides Greenland from Iceland. The Strait of Florida divides North America from the West Indies (Cuba).

Climate, physiography, and geology play major roles in determining the distributions of present-day soil classes, vegetation types, floras, and faunas. Biogeographers agree that climate is the primary factor in the control of these distributions. Climate determines the erosional and soil-forming processes that occur, and the life forms that are able to survive at a given locale, all of which may be affected secondarily by the types of bedrock and surficial deposits encountered in the area. In turn, relief influences climatic patterns through elevation above sea level and its effects on wind patterns and rainfall.

Geoclimatic changes that occurred throughout Earth history have affected the distribution of biotas through time. Climate has changed under cosmic influences, such as the Milankovitch cycles. The climate has also been affected by the relative position of the drifting continents, because drift implies latitudinal shifts, changes in the distribution of landmasses relative to oceans and oceanic currents, and modifications in the position of mountain ranges relative to airflow patterns. For instance, the Tertiary opening of the Atlantic onto the Arctic Ocean, and the establishment of the circumantarctic current with the opening of the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica, played a significant role in subsequent climatic cooling.

The deep oceanic conveyor belt (a bottom sea current that links all the oceans) was presumably modified by changes in continental distribution and may have affected climate. W.F. Ruddiman and J.E. Kutzbach (1991) proposed that the 3-km uplift of the high plateaus in Tibet and in western North America in the Pliocene-Pleistocene were instrumental in provoking the late Tertiary trend of climatic cooling. Finally, the pathways by which biotas have been able to spread between continents were also affected by the existence of bridges. Such dynamic factors influenced the evolution of life on the North American continent.

First we take a look about the plant word and we begine by examining the history of North America vegetation. A discussion of the history of the vegetation of North America most logically begins with the events of the late Upper Cretaceous epoch, 70--60 Ma (million years ago). By then, the angiosperms and other major present-day groups were clearly established as dominant in the world's terrestrial flora. The continents were closer together than they are at present, and indeed, Eurasia and North America were still conjoined across the northern Atlantic. The plate tectonic forces that have placed the continents in their present configurations, however, were already in motion.

Our knowledge of the botanical events of the past rests on an interpretation of the fossil record, which for vascular plants occurs in two forms. Macrofossils are structures such as leaves, stems, fruits, seeds, wood, and flowers, whereas plant microfossils representing terrestrial or freshwater aquatic macrophytic vegetation include pollen grains, spores, and phytoliths (crystals formed within living plants). Paleobotany (including specialized approaches such as dendrochronology and analysis of pack-rat middens) has come to imply the study of plant macrofossils, and paleopalynology designates studies concerned with plant microfossils.

Experience has shown that most elements comprising a fossil assemblage are broadly consistent in terms of habitat preference, or they can be sorted into subsets reflecting habitat diversity (viz., elevational gradients). This organization gives rise to the concept of paleocommunities from which it is possible to deduce past climates, paleophysiography, and biogeographic patterns. Such reconstructions are based on a direct comparison and presumed general equivalency of most members of a fossil flora with modern analogs (composition of the flora), on the observation that present-day plants with certain morphological attributes (e.g., leaf physiognomy) are found in certain habitats, and on the assumption that most fossil plants with similar morphological attributes occurred in comparable habitats. For example, modern plant assemblages containing many large-leaved, entire-margined species with drip-tips typically occur in humid tropical habitats; therefore, a fossil flora with many similar leaf types is taken to indicate a humid tropical paleoenvironment. The composition of a fossil flora, based on the combined inventories provided by macro- and microfossil remains, leaf physiognomy, and dendrochronology, are all valuable methods for studying vegetational history and reconstructing the environments that influenced the development of North American vegetation through time.

The modern history of systematic botany and floristics in North America began when the first Europeans landed on these shores and began to collect objects of curiosity. It is imperative to use the term "modern," for long before colonization of the New World by Europeans, the Native Americans, who had arrived millennia earlier, had developed their own systems of classification, means of identification, and associated nomenclature. Unlike that of their European counterparts, their knowledge was transferred by the spoken rather than the printed word and was mostly lost as their civilizations fell to the invaders. To a great degree, it was not until the twentieth century that Native Americans were recognized as knowledgeable about their plants. By then, European thought dominated botany, and the Native American's botanical understanding was passed on only in an occasional native name retained in a Latinized form.

It was not until Columbus's second voyage, in 1493, that New World plants and animals were taken across the Atlantic. For the European scientific community, the unfamiliar specimens were a source both of great intellectual curiosity and of philosophical concern. The curiosities were clearly different from their Old World counterparts, and in some instances they were entirely novel. The likes and near-likes could be associated, but the distinctly different were philosophically troublesome.

The Spanish of the early sixteenth century were the first to describe the flora of the New World. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdes (1478--1557) visited several of the Caribbean islands and portions of Central America, trying to fit the tropical vegetation he observed into a classification scheme that recognized only six species of trees with persistent green leaves. Oviedo had become acquainted with native New World plants of equal or even greater value than those introduced to the New World by the Spanish, and he urged their use. He was ignored.

Nicolas Bautista Monardes (1493--1578) never saw the New World. His interests were the new medicines and new remedies he felt certain existed. He classified plants according to their medicinal properties, and for the American ones he often retained the native names. He accepted treatments recommended by the Amerinds, but as a firm believer in the Doctrine of Signatures, he occasionally modified them.

The missionary Jose d'Acosta (1539--1600) spent 20 years in Peru, returning to Spain in 1588 to publish various works on the New World. He urged scholars to regard the majority of living things in the New World as unique and not to assign them established European names. He described numerous native economic and medicinal plants and commented on the diversity of potatoes, tomatoes, and chili peppers he had found in the market; he also mentioned cacao and coca.

During this period, intellectual thought often was dominated by religious dogma. Scholarly investigations in the natural sciences began primarily in northwestern Europe. The first naturalists often had to flee the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation and, as a result, many traveled widely and learned from others. In this way, a more unified system of classification and nomenclature began to develop.

Herbals, those great tomes illustrated with woodcuts, were the primary botanical publications of the age. At first they were little more than restatements of Dioscorides or other classical authors, but as the herbals were developed over the next two centuries, new species and remedies were incorporated, including the wonders of the New World. Of equal importance was the development of botanic gardens, first established in Pisa in 1543. These soon became centers of scientific importance because not only could plants of faraway places be seen, but their medicinal properties could be determined also.

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