Chile is a biogeographic island isolated by the Pacific Ocean, the high Andean Cordillera and the Atacama Desert. Its length of 4329 kilometres extends through 36° of latitude with an altitudinal range from sea-level to over 5000 m.
Within Chile, the Central Valley separates the Andean Cordillera from the Coastal Cordillera, and a series of deep river valleys further diversify and fragment the landscape. Travelling from the north to the south, the Atacama Desert merges into a Mediterranean -type sclerophyllous forests and open shrublands in Central Chile. These merge into some of the world's largest remaining temperate rainforests, which in the extreme south become mixed with open Magellanic bog-lands in Tierra del Fuego.
Just over 5000 taxa are native to Chile of which 46% are endemic; this percentage is the highest for any South American country. Approximately 60% of the flora and the endemic species are concentrated in Central Chile, one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/150639/. Hotspots contain at least 1500 endemic species of vascular plants and have lost at least 70% of the original habitat. The total number of threatened species in Chile is uncertain as very few conservation assessments have been carried out - estimates range from as few as 700 (14%) to as many as 2000 (47%). It is thought that the true number is somewhere in between these two figures.
ICCP involvement with Chile
The ICCP has been working in Chile since its inception in 1991. Projects have included field surveys and inventories, the establishment of private protected areas, post graduate training in taxonomy and conservation genetics, undergraduate training in botanic garden practices and horticulture, and genetic analysis of threatened conifer and angiosperm species in the wild and in cultivation. Many of these projects have been undertaken in collaboration with the Faculd ad de Ciencias de Forestales at the Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) in Valdivia
Conserving threatened endemic plant species
From 2002 to 2005, the ICCP Darwin Initiative project 'An integrated conservation programme for threatened endemic forest species in Chile' concentrated on
- researching the distribution, conservation status, cultivation and genetic variation of threatened woody plants in southern and central Chile
- the establishment of agreements and the development of habitat management plans for those areas with owners of land containing threatened plants that are outside of the existing protected area
- developing aspects of the arboretum at UACh as an ex-situ conservation centre and the
- training of key horticultural and scientific personnel in ex-situ and in-situ conservation methodologies
Major outputs from the project have included
- agreements with management plans for 10 sites with populations of 7 threatened woody species. Restoration work has been initiated at three sites.
- inventories in 12 National Parks and 50 other localities
- Spanish and English versions of a 188 page book entitled 'Threatened Plants of Central and Southern Chile' which covers 46 threatened species. Copies of the English edition are available from http://www.rbge.org.uk/about-us/publications/publications-catalogue/botanical-publications/latin-america. The Spanish edition can be viewed here http://www.chilebosque.cl/amenazadas.html
- a biannual scholarship for training post-graduate students
For over 15 years the ICCP has been working in partnership with the UK-based Non-Governmental Organisation, Rainforest Concern http://www.rainforestconcern.org/ to help conserve key forest habitats in south and central Chile. For 10 years Martin Gardner has been on the advisory board of Rainforest Concern.
This reserve was first initiated by a group of 20 Chilean professionals and staff from the ICCP when they formed a small cooperative to purchase the initial 170 hectares of forest. Since 2003 the cooperative have been working with Rainforest Concern and the Universidad Austral de Valdivia (UACh) and further parcels of forest have been purchased – the Reserve is now in excess of 1000 hectares. This wilderness, which is in a remote and picturesque part of the Chilean Andes, is dominated by old-growth trees of Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle, pehuén). The objective of the reserve is to protect this threatened natural habitat and its remarkable biodiversity which includes the Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilius magellanicus), the Slender-billed Parakeet (Enicognathus leptorhynchos) and the Pudu (Pudu pudu) ; the latter is South America's smallest species of deer. The long-term plan is to purchase new parcels of neighbouring land in order to establish wildlife corridors to the nearby protected areas of Parque Nacional Huerquehue and Villarrica. For more details on this important project please see the latest issue of Rainforest Review http://www.rainforestconcern.org/files/Chile%20Nasampulli%202014.pdf
Corporación Bosques de Zapallar (CBZ)
This project is protecting an extremely rare example of relatively intact coastal forest, once widespread in central Chile. The corporation comprises a group of local private landowners with the aim of ensuring that the native forests above the resorts of Zapallar and Cachagua are protected from any further housing development and grazing livestock are excluded from the area and invasive non-native plants species are eradicated. The first piece of land to come under protection is a 75 hectare forest known as 'Parque El Boldo'. The project has made important progress in conserving this area and heightening awareness amongst the local community. In November 2015, a group of 27 Friends from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will visit the site with Martin Gardner and Sabina Knees in order to see this important example of community forest conservation. For more information reagrding this project please see http://www.rainforestconcern.org/projects/chile/