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 (the ‘Chilean Winter Rainfall – Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot’). 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 Faculdad de Ciencias de Forestales at the Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) in Valdivia
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. Spanish copies are available from the Proflora website and English language copies will be available from this site soon
- a biannual scholarship for training post-graduate students
At the end of the project, a monitoring centre was established at UACh with funding from the Bromley Trust. More information about the work of the centre can be found on the ProFlora website