Monkey puzzle forest restoration in Chile

Conservation Problem

Populations of the monkey puzzle tree Araucaria araucana, native to south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, have been severely reduced by felling, fire, and conversion of native forest to grazing pasture and exotic pine plantations.

Project Goal

To restore monkey puzzle forest through involvement of the local community in Villa Las Araucarias, an important part of the species’ coastal range in Chile.

Why this species?

Large areas of habitat for southern Chile’s native trees, such as the monkey puzzle, have been lost to and fragmented by grazing and pine tree plantations. Monkey puzzles have disappeared from this landscape at a particularly high rate; their tall, straight trunks were once heavily targeted by the timber trade, although logging of the species has been banned since 1990. The species is now classified as Endangered in the Coastal Range and Vulnerable in the Andes according to Chilean legislation, and listed on Appendix I of CITES. It is also listed as a Natural Monument in Chile which gives it legal protection against logging.

Fire is another key threat; between 2001 and 2002 thousands of hectares of Araucaria forest were dramatically burnt in southern Chile. Excessive seed collecting is also limiting natural regeneration and reducing the overall viability of monkey puzzle forest.

In Chile, national parks and reserves that protect the species are concentrated in the Andes. However, the populations in the Cordillera de Nahuelbuta (Chilean Coastal Range) are generally found in privately owned forests and face significant threat. For instance, the Villa Las Araucarias population, in the south and lowest part of the Chilean range, is genetically distinct from all other Chilean populations, but is unprotected and highly threatened.

View of Araucaria tree and landscape. Credit: Cristian Echeverria

What did we do about it?

Between 2003 and 2007, the Global Trees Campaign worked with the University Austral of Valdivia to support restoration and in situ conservation activities of monkey puzzle at Villa Las Araucarias. The project worked with private landowners and the local community to map the distribution of monkey puzzle trees in the project area, grow seedlings in a project nursery, plant them out, and establish agreements to protect monkey puzzle habitat in the long-term. Local awareness-raising activities accompanied the restoration and the project was featured in the local media.

Young Araucaria for planting. Credit: Cristian Echeverria

Key achievements and future directions

The project has left a clear legacy at the site, with six landowners continuing sustainable management and restoration of their forests, in particular for monkey puzzle trees and other rare species. As long as these individuals remain in control of this land and committed to conservation objectives, the genetically distinct sub-population of monkey puzzle in this area has a small, but secure, stronghold. Full and lasting commitment from landowners and communities is vital to long-term success; selecting sites and situations where this seems likely is a key parameter for projects.

During the project, 38 local people including teachers, students, a local NGO, journalists and researchers were trained in propagation and planting techniques. Since then over 2,000 monkey puzzle seedlings have been planted out. The techniques used in the restoration were refined and planting success improved; seedling survival rate increased to 90% in 2013 (compared to 48% in 2004). Technical learning includes the conclusion that conditioning the plants to extreme weather while still in the nursery would improve survival rates when seedlings are planted out. Selection of fungal resistant genotypes would also improve in situ survival.

The project team leader formed a forest restoration team at the University Austral of Valdivia and has since moved onto to lead ecological restoration and conservation research in the University of Concepción where he created the Landscape Ecology Lab in 2008. He has been consulted by some of Chile’s largest forest logging and waterpower companies, Ministries of Environment and Agriculture and has shared knowledge internationally: founding two international networks on ecological restoration. Through this, the project has had a lasting impact on a wide range of policy and practice for the restoration and conservation of rare and threatened trees. Developing “champions” in the early stages of their career can facilitate their personal development into a leader in their field, reaping benefits well beyond the initial project-based investment.

Credit: Cristian Echeverria

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact globaltrees@fauna-flora.org

Did you know?

The loneliest palm, Hyophorbe amaricaulis, is one of the rarest trees in the world. Only one wild individual remains on the island of Mauritius.