Cua­tro Cienegas

Cua­tro Ciéne­gas Basin, Coahuila.

Cua­tro Ciéne­gas Basin (CCB) is located in the Chi­huahuan Desert of Coahuila in north cen­tral Mex­ico. Within the basin, a large num­ber of highly diverse springs (>300), spring-​fed streams and ter­mi­nal evap­or­itic ponds form an inverse arch­i­pel­ago, in which aquatic sys­tems are sep­a­rated by sparse desert veg­e­ta­tion, micro­bial crusts and salty soils. Stud­ies indi­cate that much like the finches, tor­toises and other mac­ro­biota of the Gala­pa­gos Islands, a rich and diverse web of unique local diver­sity is weav­ing in response to the par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances of this desert val­ley (Souza et al., 2008).

The rel­e­vance of CCB for Astro­bi­ol­ogy is that it may be a proxy for the late Pre­cam­brian when eukary­otic organ­isms diver­sify and became more com­plex. CCB could rep­re­sent an extant eco­log­i­cal “time machine” sug­ges­tive of ear­lier times in Earth’s his­tory and by exten­sion, other sim­i­lar extrater­res­trial planet bod­ies dur­ing their pale­oe­co­log­i­cal past (Souza et al., 2011). It is expected that CCB har­bors biosig­na­tures of past and present life that can be used in our search for extrater­res­trial life (Siefert, 2011). More­over, CCB has been sug­gested as the most anal­o­gous tar­get to Gale crater from the MSL/​Mars 2018 mis­sion (Souza et al., 2011). A spe­cial issue about this site is presently in press in Astro­bi­ol­ogy (Vale­ria Souza, per­sonal communication).

Cua­tro Ciéne­gas Basin research is presently led by Dr. Vale­ria Souza (Insti­tuto de Ecología, UNAM) who closely col­lab­o­rates with the Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity NAI team and the Vir­tual Plan­e­tary Laboratory.

Ref­er­ences:
Ramírez E., Siefert J. and Souza V. 2008. Bacil­lus coahuilen­sis sp. nov., a mod­er­ately halophilic species from a des­ic­ca­tion lagoon in the Cua­tro Ciene­gas Val­ley in Coahuila, Mex­ico. Int. Jour. of Syst. and Evol. Micro. 58: 919923.

Siefert, J. 2011. How a real house­wife became an astro­bi­ol­o­gist. Astro­bi­ol­ogy 11: 193195.

Souza, V., Eguiarte, L. E., Siefert J. and Elser, J. J. 2008. Micro­bial endemism: does phos­pho­rus lim­i­ta­tion enhance spe­ci­a­tion? Nature Reviews. 6: 559564

Souza V., Siefert J., Elser J. J. and Eguiarte L. E.. 2011. The Cua­tro Ciene­gas Basin in Coahuila, Mex­ico: An Astro­bi­o­log­i­cal Pre­cam­brian Park and Mars Ana­logue. Ana­logue Sites for Mars Mis­sions: MSL and Beyond. Held at 56 March 2011, in The Wood­lands, Texas, p.6007.

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