Alerce Andino National Park: Preserving Ancient Forests

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Alerce Andino National Park: Preserving Ancient Forests

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Alerce Andino National Park is located in the Andes, in the Los Lagos Region of southern Chile. The park contains ancient Alerce forests, some of which feature the oldest trees on Earth. It is part of the Bosques Templados Lluviosos de Los Andes Australes Biosphere Reserve and Chile's Route of Parks.

Alerce Andino National Park: A Sanctuary of Ancient Forests and Biodiversity

Alerce Andino National Park is situated in the Chilean Andes, part of the greater Andes Mountains system. Located in the Los Lagos Region of southern Chile, approximately one-half of the park is covered by ancient Alerce forests. These forests, featuring some of the oldest trees on Earth, thrive in a diverse landscape of granite walls, lagoons, and dense rainforests. As part of the Bosques Templados Lluviosos de Los Andes Australes Biosphere Reserve and Chile's Route of Parks, the park is a critical haven for unique biodiversity. It plays a significant role in global conservation efforts.

Geography and Landscape

Alerce Andino National Park is bounded by the Reloncaví Estuary on its east and south sides and by the Reloncaví Sound to the west, excluding a narrow coastal fringe. To the north lies Chapo Lake. The park's landscape is characterized by vertical granite walls that surround around fifty lagoons, creating a dramatic and picturesque environment. The park's topography includes rugged mountains, deep valleys, and numerous water bodies, contributing to its diverse habitats and stunning scenery.

Alerce Forests and Unique Ecosystem

The park is a significant part of the Bosques Templados Lluviosos de Los Andes Australes Biosphere Reserve. The centerpiece of this lush and mountainous protected area is the Fitzroya cupressoides, locally known as Alerce, forests. These forests consist of pure and mixed stands covering about 200 square kilometers (77 square miles). The regional ecosystem has remained isolated since the last glacial period, approximately 12,000 years ago, resulting in unique biodiversity where one in three species is not found anywhere else.

Alerce trees are remarkable for their longevity and resilience. These ancient trees grow at an incredibly slow rate of one centimeter every fifteen years but can surpass 50 meters (164 feet) in height and live over 4,000 years. Many botanists consider them the second-longest living trees on Earth, after the bristlecone pine of North America. The oldest known living specimen, named Gran Abuelo, is 3,646 years old. The dense, durable wood of Alerce trees has historically been highly valued, leading to significant logging. Today, these trees are protected, and their preservation is a primary focus of the park.

Route of Parks

Alerce Andino National Park is included in Chile's scenic 2,800-kilometer (1,700-mile) "Route of Parks," which stretches from Puerto Montt in the north to Cape Horn in the south. This route encompasses 17 national parks, protecting over 11.8 million hectares (28 million acres) and covering one-third of Chile. It is a significant conservation and sustainable tourism corridor, showcasing the country's natural beauty and ecological diversity. The Route of Parks promotes environmental awareness, education, and sustainable economic development through ecotourism.

Flora and Fauna

Flora

Beyond the iconic Alerce trees, the park is home to various other plant species. The dense, temperate rainforests include Olivillo, Ulmo, Tepú, Mañío, Canelo, Coigüe, and Lenga. These forests create a lush, green canopy that supports a diverse understory of ferns, mosses, and other plant species. The high humidity and relatively stable temperatures provide ideal growing conditions for these temperate rainforest species. The park's flora is vital for maintaining the ecological balance, providing habitat and food for numerous animal species.

Fauna

Alerce Andino National Park supports a rich diversity of wildlife. Mammals in the park include the Monito del Monte, a small marsupial considered a living fossil, and the Pudú Deer, one of the world's smallest deer species. Predators like the Güiña (Kodkod), the smallest wildcat in the Americas, and the Gray Fox roam the park. The Chingue (Molina's Hog-Nosed Skunk) is another notable resident.

Birdlife is abundant, with species such as the Black-Necked Swan, Coscoroba Swan, and Mallard frequenting the park's lakes. The park also hosts the Magellanic Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in South America, the Cachaña (Austral Parakeet), the Chucao, the Huet-huet, and the Cachudito (Tufted Tit-Tyrant). These birds contribute to the park's rich soundscape and play essential roles in seed dispersal and pest control.

The park's aquatic habitats, including its pristine lakes and streams, are home to various fish species like Perch Trout. The clear, clean waters are crucial for the survival of these fish and other aquatic organisms.

Conservation and Challenges

Alerce Andino National Park faces several conservation challenges. The primary threats include illegal logging, poaching, and the impacts of climate change. Efforts to combat these threats involve strict enforcement of protection laws, ecological research, and community engagement. Conservation initiatives focus on preserving the ancient Alerce trees, restoring damaged ecosystems, and promoting sustainable tourism practices.

The park's inclusion in the Bosques Templados Lluviosos de Los Andes Australes Biosphere Reserve and the Route of Parks enhances its conservation status. It provides additional resources and attention for its protection. Collaboration between government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local communities is essential for the long-term preservation of Alerce Andino National Park.

Conclusion

Alerce Andino National Park is a remarkable natural sanctuary that preserves ancient forests and diverse ecosystems. Its rich biodiversity, dominated by the millennia-old Alerce trees, highlights the ecological importance of this protected area. As part of the Route of Parks, Alerce Andino National Park conserves critical habitats and promotes sustainable tourism, allowing visitors to appreciate and learn about Chile's natural heritage. The park's unique landscape and invaluable flora and fauna underscore its significance in global conservation efforts.

Route of Parks map

Chile's Route of Parks map - Thompson Conservation