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Fitzroya forests in Chile

Fitzroya cupressoides ((Molina) Johnston) or Alerce is one of the most outstanding species of the temperate rainforests of southern South America, because of its beauty, scientific, cultural and historical relevance. Fitzroya is an endangered species, endemic to these rainforests and one of the longest-lived trees in the world (with a lifespan of more than 3600 years). Alerce has suffered a long history of exploitation since European colonization began in the sixteenth century, and is currently listed as endangered in the IUCN Red list of threatened species and enjoys national legal protection. Despite its protection, Alerce remains threatened by illegal logging and intentional fires. In addition, we have an extremely limited comprehension of these forests's condition and their vulnerability to anticipated climate change because of gaps in ecological knowledge.

This project is an extremely important first step to the initiation of long-term ecological research in Alerce forests growing in the Andes and in its northern distribution in the Coastal Range. This study is establishing both the first permanent plots assessing productivity and the first meteorological stations at the altitude of the study areas.

We are curently running four plots (0,6 ha) in these forests. Two of them are located in the Alerce Costero National Park (Coastal Range) at 850 m a.s.l. This Park is in Los Rios Region, 46 km from La Union city. The other two were installed in the Alerce Andino National Park (Andes) at 780 m a.s.l. This Park is located in Los Lagos Region, 50 km from Puerto Montt (Chilean Patagonia).

The following measurements are currently taking place since Austral winter-spring 2011: leaf, branch, woody and fine roots productivity. Radial growth is being monitored in some trees using automatic dendrometers. In addition, we are assessing soil, roots and stem respiration in these study sites.

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