destroyed ecosystem Aysen
burned lengua tree
result of fires, XX century, Aysen

Destruction of the ecosystem

Pichimahuida:


  1. Objectives

  2. Location

  3. Access Leones

  4. Collaboration

  5. Friends



Degradation: 


  1. Fires

  2. Soil

  3. Invasives

  4. Livestock

  5. Publications

The modern history of the area where the PPAP is located is the history

of anthropogenic stresses and destructions,

of a large silenced ecological disaster at the scale of a geographical region,

one of the largest in the XX century globally

Fifth law of ecology: “Truth cleanses”.

The PPAP:

The land is extremely degraded, the original, mainly ancient forest, ecosystem is destroyed. In some parts the original ecosystem has been degraded beyond repair, it crossed biotic and abiotic thresholds. In other places it has not reached the point of no-return. In both cases a novel ecosystem is being created. That’s the reason for establishing a nature protected area there.


The extreme degradation of land and the destruction of the original forest ecosystem is the result of recent (first part of XX century) colonisation, introduced by this recent colonisation (1930s-1940s in the valley) non-original practices of land management and agriculture, subsequent deliberate fires of the mid XX century, followed by overgrazing by sheep and cattle and extensive hunting of native wildlife. There is heavy erosion in some areas, and acute soil loss in some of the higher areas and slopes. Invasive species such as Rosa mosqueta, calafate and other woody shrubs are present mainly in areas where cattle and sheep were previously grazing.


    Previously in the PPAP :


    1920s-1930s – part of a large sheep station

    1939-1955 – deliberate clearing fires of the ancient forest (almost all burned)

    1940s-2000s – intensive and uncontrolled cattle grazing (less than region average)

    2000s – pine plantations

 

Subsequent wash off and acute loss of soil;

Erosion, land slides, impoverishment of soil;

Invasion by neophytes (rosa rubiginosa (mosqueta), pinus contorta, European hare, etc.);

Little ecological memory in the ecosystem due to abrupt biological annihilation, absence of natural regrowth;

Rampant and acid desertification;

Original ecosystem on the verge of collapse;

Creation of a novel ecosystem.

Some parts of the regional ecosystem are probably in positive feedback, it is not the case of the PPAP.

To have an idea of the ecosystem of the valley before the deliberate fires of 1930s-1940s you have to imagine the landscapes below with a 2 m additional fertile soil covering the rocks on hills, on which grows an ancient forest of the type of trees on the photos below and wildlife in it we can not imagine as virtually no information on it was collected before the disaster :

The PPAP avoided  extensive pampanisation (= rampant desertification), which is not the case of some other parts of the region.  The PPAP area has experienced limited number of cattle. Some very small pockets of original forest remain, some wetlands remained untouched.


Pine plantations (neophytes from Northern hemisphere) constitute approx. 450 ha in the PPAP, including the very invasive Pinus contorta. These added to the destruction of the original forest ecosystem, produced acidification of soil (acid desertification) and monoculture (≠ biodiversity).


The region:


More or less the same situation is found in all region XI (Aysén):

Nature and land of the region are severely degraded by the

deliberate fires of the first half of the last (XX) century, subsequent impact of

agriculture, mainly cattle, intensive hunting (of carnivores and herbivores)

and intensive forestry exploitation, resulting in ecosystem degradation

at large scale and visible collapse in some areas. The speed of the ecological

disaster did not allow to preserve ecological memory or

potential for recovery.


The recently (last 80 years) imported culture of cattle management,

irresponsible towards the land and brutal to

the farm and wild animals, has been one of the main causes of

reaching the irreversible devastation of the nature of the region.


The picture you see on the slopes in the region

or of open areas (= pampanisation) is a result of these processes


The remains of the local wildlife, like huemules and pumas,

were hunted almost to extinction. The introduction of salmonidae

in the lakes has altered the food chain of the local otters

(Lontra provocax) and other wildlife.


Read more on page Publications.

“Because Patagonia has so many recent immigrants, people are often undereducated about the wildlife and indifferent to its existence. There is little indigenous culture left (in the case of the PPAP - none), no gift of traditional ecological knowledge learned through experience by people who have lived there for centuries. Loyalty to the native wildlife and ecosystems is not common in the Southern Cone”. “Act III in Patagonia, People and Wildlife”, William Conway.

The PPAP - current anthropogenic threats for the protective status of the PPAP:


I. Third-party productive projects:

Tourism: local pattern of small scale tourism development = lack of control and responsibility, opportunistic, source of pollution, severe impact on the glaciers, changes in consumption models involving use of imported junk-food products, important increase of wastes. Increase of visitors (tourists) in SNASPE (Sistema Nacional de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas del Estado) leads to serious stress for other protected areas;

Cattle: local cattle management practices → physical destruction

of the reforested areas, spreading of the invasive rosa mosqueta,

chemical water pollution, chemical soil pollution and

soil microbes deterioration;

Fish farming - chemical water pollution, denatured salmon

escaping into the natural waterflows → contamination of water

and disappearance of local water species.


II. Regional:

1. Subsidies for:

  1. -firewood - firewood heating and cooking in the area is one of the

main sources of atmospheric pollution in the region, the capital

Coyhaique at times in winter is identified as the worst polluted

town in the world of the day;

- wetlands draining, applied to watershed shared with the PPAP.

  1. 2.Absence of waste management in the region → soil and atmospheric pollution.

  2. 3.Absence of management plan of the neighbouring biosphere reserve - national park Laguna San Rafael.

4. Illegal logging.


III. Climate alterations:

Climate change and the anthropogenic destruction of the ecosystem work in positive feedback in the area, heavily influenced by the fast changing glaciers. Glacier Leones, at the end of the valley where the PPAP is located, is melting at hight speed: the ground around it is rising very fast - 19.4 mm per year (data 2017), this rapid rise is due to ice loss.


Examples of climate change influence in the PPAP:

- Collapse of a lake moraine in 2001 in the valley: Photos.

- Increase of the CO2 in atmosphere → the grass-dominated peatbog in the PPAP is invaded by trees.

Reading: research that shows that ecosystems move 20 cm per hour North and South, and in altitude, due to climate change - Rapid Range Shifts of Species.pdf.


  1. IV.Speed and constant acceleration of climate and human social structure changes.


4th law of ecology: “There is no such a thing as free lunch”.

Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

burned trees, Aysen
devastastated ecosystem Leones

Lengua tree burned in the 1940s

Lengua (Nothofagus pumilio) burned in the 1940s with→ approximate level of soil cover prior to the fire (black line) 

Hunting huemules

Remains of the ancient forest burned in the first part of the XX century in Aysén

Synthetic fish
Hunting huemules

Huemules hunt, Baker river

November 2018