© Nick Hall for The Nature Conservancy
Learning and understanding: tools for improved management
The research and monitoring program identifies, fosters and facilitates the key indicators for the research necessary to improve the management of the conservation area and, consequently, the preservation of its biodiversity and ecological processes.
Other, more specific lines of biological monitoring, together with the analysis of present threats, will also be implemented to improve management of the Reserve.
Below we summarize the most relevant recent studies.
The effects of the presence of sediments and residues in river beds: research on rivers with gravel beds
Andres Iroume Arrau
Status: In progress
The objective of the study is to establish the distinctive features that move sediment and large wood pieces or wood residue present at the bottom and in the watercourse of the Vuelta de Zorra stream.
The presence of wood residue affects the force of the current and the accumulation volume on the river bottom of other sediments, such as stones, rocks or other materials. We will also study in which condition these deposited woody debris find themselves, and how they relate to the previously mentioned points.
Samples of the material found at the bottom of the river and suspended materials in the flow from the Coastal Range (Cordillera de la Costa) is analyzed, allowing researchers to establish the factors that affect sediment transport.
Until a few years ago, organic waste was perceived as an obstacle to navigation and a risk during the rising and flooding of rivers, the latter due to the potential damage it may cause to structures and bridges, and also because increased water density significantly affects the drainage of canal networks, which is directly related to a raise in the frequency and duration of floods.
Nonetheless, ecologists and biologists have insisted for some time now that “A good river for humans is not a good river for fish”, and demonstrated that the presence of wood residue is crucial to the ecology of rivers.
This evidence has led, at least in certain countries, to abrupt change, passing from the removal of wood residue to its incorporation into to river streams (for example by reforesting river banks) in order to improve the ecological- and habitat conditions that could promote the increase in fish populations.
In the more developed countries, these residues have entirely disappeared from river streams because of the massive deforestation in the lower parts of their basins, a situation which is now being replicated in developing countries.
In both, many winding, multiple channel rivers have been regulated, channeled and maintained wood residue free for years, while the forests that previously covered the surrounding plains have been eliminated.
The positive ecological effects caused by the presence of wood residue in river beds is largely due to the changes it produces in the shape of the stream bed.
The structures created by wood residue (such as steps, rapids, pools, dams, or trunk accumulations, among others) retain sediments, increase the variety of bed depth, water height and the size of the particles the stream transports, as well as reducing sediment transport in general, since the presence of large pieces of wood restricts the free displacement of other types of residue in the current.
The structures made out of this organic debris decrease the probability of bottom trawling during floods while also reducing the transport rate of particles from the riverbed.
Woody residue, as individual elements or forming accumulations, create specific sites or conditions to promote the adhesion of water transported residue to the bedding, which may achieve the storage of 10 to 15 times the normal volume of annual sedimentation in some basins.
However, their presence is also considered a problem, not only for communities but also for the authorities which study this type of water resources, because, given their potential to block flood flows, residues may also obstruct bridges and/or other hydraulic works, increase the destructive power of floods and mudflows, and can cause “dam break” type events.
Chile has areas with natural forests where one can observe different types of forestation, from pristine to partially intervened, to areas where the conditions have been changed entirely.
There are also forest plantations under management schemes that are completely different from those that occur in native forests, both in the Andes and the Coastal Range, where it is possible to find exactly those streams that allow the study of the effect of wood residue in rivers, because they include rivers that flow through forest-covered basins and thus, exposed to the main source of woody residue.
Monitoring native forest degradation. Implementation of a regional recovery strategy
Status: In progress
A terrain analysis study with the objective to develop and evaluate a methodology for estimating and monitoring change in degraded native forest areas in the Los Rios Region, in order to provide data to support territorial recovery planning.
It aims to define and assess the level of degradation and analyze trends of biomass accumulation in native forests in terms of time and space and on a regional scale, as well as identify priority areas for the recovery of degraded forests within these areas.
The Los Rios Region has been selected for case study because it provides exceptional opportunities due the representativeness of its forests in the country –with 9 representative forest types contained within the region– their, in a global context, unique features and the high levels of native forest degradation that have occurred in the past 100 years.
The researcher, Álvaro Gutiérrez, will gather the required information through state-of-the-art technology, efficient automated computer calculations, and high-tech systems, after which he will propose definitions and then evaluate the degree of native forest degradation on a regional scale.
The study is based on the native forest successional theory, which suggests the existence of a substitution process, where, at the same location and over a given period of time, certain plant groups are displaced by others.
Thus, through geospatial analysis, consulting experts and various sector stakeholders, Gutiérrez will propose the defintion of priority areas in degraded native forests and evaluate potential strategies for their recovery on a regional scale.
With the obtained information, possible activities and programs for the recovery of degraded native forests in priority areas of the region will be proposed and evaluated, territorial planning guidelines discussed and improvements to forest recovery policy proposed.
Is human intervention harmful to the natural environment?
Evaluation of the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (IVF) and the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), related with the increase of infections in Kodkods, due to their interaction with domestic cats.
Status: In progress
A recent study detected infection with the feline immunodeficiency virus (IVF) and the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) in both Kodkods (Güiña cat - Leopardus guigna) and domestic cats (Felis catus).
The analyzed genetic sequences of the FIV and the FeLV in domestic cats and Kodkods have revealed a high degree of similarity, suggesting a possible transmission between the two species.
The objective of this study is to improve the understanding of the transmission process of infections and diseases –such as FIV and FeLV– between domestic animals and local wild fauna.
It will examine if human intervention in natural environments facilitates an increased probability of contact and transmission of this type of viruses between domestic cats and Kodkods.
The latter have their habitat in a highly disturbed environment in the north of Chiloé island and human environmental disturbance plays a crucial role in terms of the increase in the frequency of contact between the two species, facilitating the transmission of diseases from domestic- to Güiña cats.
FIV and FeLV are the two most common viruses affecting domestic cats and an important cause of sickness, health deterioration and, ultimately, mortality.
However, it is yet unknown if these viruses are causing similar illness or mortality in Kodkods, catalogued as endangered, nor what their impact in the conservation of their populations might be in the long term.
The results of this study will help to clarify if the FIV and the FeLV are indeed causing illness or mortality in Kodkod populations, identify the risk factors associated with both viral infections in this species, facilitating control and the development of supervision measures.
The idea is to prevent the transmission of these pathogens, especially in areas where infected domestic cats live in close proximity with wild feline populations.
Moreover, in the current global scenario of increasing human-induced land use change, urban expansion and climate change, this research will contribute to advance knowledge about the transmission of pathogens between domestic animals and local wildlife.
Comparative study between the Chilean coastal Larch and the Pacific red cedar
Camila Tejo and investigators from the Oregon State University, USA
Status: In progress
This postdoctoral study by Camila Tejo, together with researchers from Oregon State University will conducted a comparison between the Chilean coastal Larch (Alerce - Fitzroya cupressoides), and the Pacific red cedar (Thuja plicata) in the United States.
The project “Ecosystems in the sky: the dynamic growth process of long-lived treetops in Chile and the Pacific Northwest” is the result of a collaboration between the Universidad Austral de Chile and Oregon State University (OSU).
During the study, the investigators will analyze Larches present in the Alerce Costero National Park and in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, a private protected area managed by The Nature Conservancy and supported by BHP Billiton.
The objective is to compare the canopy, i.e., the tree tops the Larch and Red cedar, which are phylogenetically related species that both integrate the temperate forest.
The climate within the treetops will be analyzed, as well as how the canopy influences the capture and retention of water reaching the forest, among others.
This study is related with Camila Tejo’s FONDECYT Postdoctoral project “Ecological relevance of the giant Larch (Fitzroya cupressoides) canopy and its implications for management and conservation”.
In the latter, research focuses exclusively on the Larch.
The idea is to install moisture- and soil temperature sensors and make measurements during the next two and a half years, to establish how the abiotic environment of the trees functions.
The interest in studying long-lived species, such as the Larch, lies in the fact that they accumulate epiphytes –material like vines, climbing plants and moss– which creates a different substrate than found on the forest floor.
The objetive is to improve the understanding on how this material affects the functioning of the tree and other organisms and, therefore, the forest in general.
A comparative study of two phylogenetically related species that grow in similar climates has not been realized before on this scale.
To accomplish their goal, the team selected larches in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve and the Alerce Costero National Park, all millenary trees of over 2 meters in diameter and a height of between 40 and 60 meters.
The recurrence of tsunamis in the Chilean center-south. Sediment investigation in coastal lakes
Status: in progress
This study focuses on the area affected by the largest ever earthquake in the recorded history of mankind – with a 9.5 magnitude on the Richter scale – and the following tsunami, which took place in Valdivia in 1960.
It consists in a sediment study of different coastal lakes in the Chilean center-south: Cucao, Huelde, Vichuquén, Budi and the Colún Twin Lakes in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve.
The frequency of recurrence of such giant earthquakes and tsunamis is yet unknown, because historical records are too short to capture seismic cycles in a reliable manner.
However, sedimentary records in coastal lakes can go back up to seven thousand years and may well contain indicators related to past tsunamis.
These energy-intense events erode the sand on beaches and dunes and deposit it in coastal lakes, where it is preserved in layers. Continuous lacustrine sedimentation allows to conduct a soil study which can be achived taking sediment samples.
The different deposit layers are then dated in order to obtain indicators for tsunami recurrence.
This study, conducted by geologist and geology PhD Jasper Moernaut, takes place within the cooperation framework between the Universidad Austral de Chile and the University of Ghant / Gent (Belgium).
The study pursues to estimate the recurrence of tsunamis in the Chilean center-south through sedimentary records in coastal lakes.
It will allow to establish the origin of the Twin Lakes in the Colún area, the origins of the valley’s formation and the construction of the dune barrier, characterize the morphology of the lake bottom texture, study the seismic formation of its subsoil as well as obtain sediment samples containing different layers related to past tsunamis.
It is expected that the study will provide geophysical data that would allow to better understand sedimentation processes and to evaluate the origin of coastal lakes to contribute knowledge about the physical geography of the country.
Study reveals impact of dogs on native fauna, provides several means for prevention
This study, by Dr. Maximiliano Sepúlveda, researcher of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the Center for Applied Ecology and Sustainability, demonstrates the importance of adequate domestic animal management, particularly dogs, to prevent the transmission of diseases like distemper to native fauna.
The research was conducted in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, a conservation area managed by The Nature Conservancy in the Los Rios Region, and habitat of endangered species such as Darwin’s Fox, the Southern river otter (Huillín) and the Lesser grison (Quique), among others.
The damage to native fauna inflicted by roaming domestic dogs without proper supervision is a permanent concern in various conservation areas in Chile.
According to different studies, domestic dogs are causing a considerable negative impact in the populations of Pudú, Huemul, Fox, Puma, Southern river otter and other native wildlife species throughout the country, not only through deadly attacks but also by the transmission of infectious diseases, such as distemper.
Dr. Sepúlveda followed a group of dogs provided with GPS collars during the period of one year, in order to study their behavior within the Valdivian Coastal Reserve.
The goal was to follow their movements, the distances that they travel within the native forest and other habitats of native wildlife.
Among the conclusions of the study, the researcher established that dogs have direct contact with other invasive exotic species, such as the Mink.
The latter, as it moves through both land- and water environments, can spread distemper to the Southern river otter, a species that could be severely affected by the disease.
Another relevant outcome of the study is that dogs do not easily transit throughout the native forest, because of the density of the vegetation.
To gain easier access, they use different existing tracks and roads within the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, which were previously used by forestry operations and are now abandoned.
To reduce the distemper transmission risk in wildlife, one of the evaluated options was to directly vaccinate the species at risk, such as, for example, Darwin’s Fox.
However, the final decision was to massively vaccinate rural dogs in the areas surrounding the Valdivian Coastal Reserve and the Alerce Costero National Park.
Not only are they the source of the problem, but their vaccination is also considerable more feasible than capturing and vaccinating Darwin’s foxes or other native fauna.
As far as minimizing the access and presence of dogs within the Reserve is concerned, one of the options that The Nature Conservancy is now executing is the closure of abandoned roads by restoring native vegetation, which ought to considerably decrease dog displacement toward the interior areas of the forest.
Study in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve establishes the relevance of the Colocolo opossum in native forest regeneration
The Colocolo opossum (Monito de monte - Dromiciops gliroides) is an elusive nocturnal marsupial, fairly unknown in Chile, that has very characteristic paws, feet and tail, resembling those of a primate.
It inhabits much of the temperate rainforest in the south of the country and is the only surviving representative of the ancient Microbiotheria order.
The order dates approximately 65 million years BP, when the area was still a part of the Gondwana supercontinent, which connected modern day Australia, Antarctica and South America.
The investigation was conducted in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve –a private protected area managed by The Nature Conservancy– by Dr. Francisco Fontúrbel, postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Universidad de Chile.
Dr. Fontúrbel studied the Colocolo opossum for over four years, focusing specifically on former forestry exploitation areas, thus establishing the importance of this nocturnal marsupial for native forest regeneration in the Chilean south.
The proliferation in eucalyptus plantations of a native hemi-parasitic plant called Quintrales, allowed to determine the role of the opossum as a forest regeneration agent.
After analyzing the behavior of the Colo colo opossum in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, the researcher determined that, although Quintrales grow on other plants –hence their classification as hemi-parasitic– they are essential in the forest as a food provider for animals in times of scarcity.
The investigation also revealed that without the presence of Dromiciops there would be a much simplified forest.
Simultaneously, the animal proved to be more tolerant to human disturbance in its environment –even though there are no protection policies in place– while also that its presence in eucalyptus plantations plays an important role in the recovery of native species within these exotic woodlands.
Although animals other than Dromiciops feed on Quintrales, it is the only disperser of its seeds.
The study –upon observing the presence of Quintral in eucalyptus plantations– demonstrated not only the presence of the marsupial in these forests, but also that it can survive in this type of exotic environments without changing its behavior.
Finally, it was shown that the species is an important actor in native forest regeneration due to its feeding cycle.
Tourism focused on the sighting of whales and other cetaceans in the Los Rios Region. Feasibility study
Dr. Rodrigo Hucke-Gaete
Status: in progress
Dr. Rodrigo Hucke-Gaete and his team of researchers at the Institute of Marine and Limnological Sciences of the Universidad Austral de Chile are developing this study that aims to evaluate the feasibility of developing whale-watching activities in the Los Rios Region.
For some years now, special-interest tourism (TIE) has been the focus of interest of operators, authorities and the general public. Many new ventures and tourism projects are incorporating such activities among their offer in the international markets.
However, whale and cetaceous watching activities are probably among the latest and least-known activities in the country.
Determining its potential as a tourism development resource has been identified as a viable strategy for the conservation of charismatic species, as well as the progress of coastal communities in developing countries.
Sighting records of whales and other cetaceans in the region of Los Rios in recent decades and the presence of an important associated marine biodiversity are considered to be an excellent opportunity for the development of productive alternatives related to special interest tourism, which is a strategic objective for the regional development of the Los Ríos Region.
The main challenge of this research is to assess the technical feasibility of marine-coastal TIE focused on whale-watching in the region.
The idea is to propose innovative solutions with high regional impact, by developing applied research in a topic with considerable degrees of uncertainty, but with a potential positive impact on the market in the medium- or long term.
The Colocolo opossum. Demystifying the low population of the species
Author: Francisco Fontúrbel.
The Cococolo opossum (Monito del monte - Dromiciops gliroides) is an endemic marsupial of the southwest of Argentina and the south of Chile.
It stands out because it is the only tree marsupial native of the temperate rain forest in South America and the only surviving representative of the ancient Microbiotheria order.
The objective of this research was to demonstrate that the reported scarcity of Dromiciops was due to inappropriate sampling methodologies, leading to bias.
The hypothesis was that previously used techniques did not adequately account for their behavior.
In this study, 16 different types of capture combinations were tested to establish the population of this marsupial, while also applying new protocols.
It was conducted in forest fragments of varying size to estimate abundances and densities, and included the following locations: Cascadas Sector (Osorno), Moncopulli (Chiloé island) and, in 2009, in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve.
This selection was made in order to have three different spatial points to allow proper comparison of Colocolo opossum populations in each of these areas.