The Chilean coastal range: a vanishing center of biodiversity and endemism in South American temperate rainforests
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- Smith-Ramírez, C. Biodiversity and Conservation (2004) 13: 373. doi:10.1023/B:BIOC.0000006505.67560.9f
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Temperate forests of southern South America are globally important because of their high level of endemism. I argue here that within southern South America, rainforests of the Chilean Coastal Range should be the primary target for new conservation efforts. Historically, most protected areas in southern South America have been designated to preserve forests above 600 m, mainly in the Andes. However, Coastal Range forests have higher species richness and are under greater threat than Andean forests at similar latitudes. Coastal forests are characterized by the presence of numerous narrow-range endemics, among them two monotypic plant families. The higher frequency of endemic species in Coastal Range forests is attributed to its more stable biogeographic history compared to the Andes, particularly during the glacial events of the Quaternary. Due to the extent of human impact, the remaining fragments of coastal forests are quite distant from one another, and are disconnected from the larger protected areas of Andean forests. Only 439000 ha of Valdivian coastal forest still remain, including some remnants of primary forest. New private or public reserves should be created to protect the last remnants of continuous forest remaining on the Coastal Range of the Valdivian region (40–42° S). A different conservation strategy should be applied north of 40° S, where protected areas are too small and fragments are too scattered to maintain viable populations of most vertebrates. In this latter area, I recommend expanding existing reserves, restoring native forests, and interconnecting remnant forests through a corridor network.