Research highlights the role of the monito del monte in forest conservation
Written by Daniela Contreras
Friday, 20 February 2015 10:03
Research carried out by a Universidad de Chile researcher in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, a private protected area managed by The Nature Conservancy in the borough of Corral, established the importance of this marsupial in the regeneration of native forests in the south of Chile.
The proliferation of quintrales –a native parasitic plant– in eucalyptus plantations permitted to establish the importance of the monito del monte as an agent of forest regeneration thanks to the research led by Dr. Francisco Fontúrbel, postdoctoral researcher associated with the department of Ecological Sciences of Universidad de Chile who spent more than 4 years studying to this marsupial.
This research was carried out in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve (VCR), a private protected area managed by The Nature Conservancy and supported by BHP Billiton (Minera Escondida), specifically in the areas in which forest works had formerly taken place.
“After analyzing the behavior of the monito del monte in the VCR, we realized that although the quintrales that grow on other plants –hence the name of the parasitic plant– are very important in the forests because they provide food to many animals in times of scarcity, principally to the hummingbirds in winter, which makes them very important to the ecosystem”, Dr. Fontúrbel explained.
“The results of this research led by Francisco and supported by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the team of VCR rangers makes clear the importance of scientific research applied to practical needs which, in our case, will translate into improving the management of such areas with the presence of this important species, including the areas with plantations where, until now, we had no information that the monito del monte occupied with so much success. TNC is proud to actively participate in this type of studies that help to improve the knowledge about our species and the ecosystems”, Alfredo Almonacid, the VCR Coordinator and Manager said.
The Universidad de Chile researcher emphasized how these results show that without the presence of the monito del monte there would be a much more simple forest. “A previous study discovered that the monito del monte is more tolerant to the disruptions that human beings cause in its environment, although there are no protection policies that would keep it safe”, Francisco Fontúrbel said. “Thanks to said research it was possible to verify its presence in eucalyptus plantations and how its presence was affecting the recovery of native species in a plantation”, Fontúrbel added.
He explained that the monito del monte feeds, among others, on a native plant called quintral, and that it is the only disperser of its seeds. “We used to think that this marsupial only lived in native forests but when we found the presence of quintral in eucalyptus plantations we realized that it could also live in this type of environment without changing its behavior. This shows us that this species is in an important factor of forest regeneration in the south of our country, thanks to its feeding cycle”, the researcher indicated.
The monito del monte or Dromiciops gliroides in Latin, is a night-time marsupial quite unknown in the country and characterized by its paws, hands, and tail that resemble those of a primate. It lives mainly in moderate climate forests in the south and it is the only surviving animal of the Microbiotheria order, an ancient group that dates back to approximately 65 millions years ago, when part of the super-continent Gondwana still existed, of which current Australia, Antarctica and South America were part.
BHP Billiton and The Nature Conservancy work together in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve with BHP Billiton providing the funds to guarantee the permanent conservation of these lands and their management and The Nature Conservancy being responsible for implementing the actions required to guarantee the management and conservation of this area.