Rain Forest Islands in the Chilean Semiarid Region: Fog-dependency, Ecosystem Persistence and Tree Regeneration

Abstract

Tree presence in semiarid ecosystems is generally constrained by insufficient annual rainfall. However, in semiarid Chile, rainforest patches dominated by Aextoxicon punctatum are unexpectedly found on coastal mountaintops (450–600 m) at 30°S, surrounded by a xerophytic vegetation matrix that receives only 147 mm of annual precipitation. It has been proposed that these forests persist as a result of fog-water inputs. If so, then because fog-water deposition is spatially heterogeneous and shows strong edge effects, the potential environmental gradient created by the direction of fog input should determine forest structure and tree regeneration patterns. To investigate this hypothesis, we measured fog inputs, forest structural attributes (age and size distribution, basal area, and coarse woody debris), and tree regeneration in three different habitats: the windward edges (WE), leeward edges (LE), and the interior (center) of rainforest patches varying in area from 0.2 to 22 ha. Mean fog-water input was estimated from passive collectors over 1 year in WE and LE of patches. Tree regeneration was greater in the WE and forest interior (FI) and decreased toward the LE of patches, following a marked pattern of decline in fog inputs. Older trees and coarse woody debris were concentrated in the FI and LE of patches. Tree regeneration and patch structure appear to be largely controlled by fog-input direction and edge effects. We propose that forest patches may be slowly growing toward the incoming fog edge, while dying at the opposite edge.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by Fondo de investigación Avanzada en Areas Prioritarias FONDAP – FONDECYT 1501-0001 Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Ecologia Biodiversidad (CASEB); the Biocores Project, funded by the European Community (EC) under the INCO IV program (contract ICA 4-CT-2001–10095); Centro Milenio para Estudios Avanzados en Ecología e Investigación en Biodiversidad (CMEB) (PO2-051-F, ICM); the National Science Foundation (International Americas Program, INT-0313927); and the Institute of Ecosystem Studies. The Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF, IV Región, Chile) kindly gave permission to work at Fray Jorge National Park. We thank J. Monardes, A. Abarzúa, M. Nuñez, D. Fernández, J. P. François, J. Valdez, J. M. Valenzuela, T. Catalán, N. Davis, and D. Gho for their help with field data collection, and N. Carrasco and A. Rivera for laboratory assistance. Pablo Necochea kindly drew the Fray Jorge map. Other than the first author, order of authorship is alphabetical. This is a contribution to the program of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

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del-Val, E., Armesto, J.J., Barbosa, O. et al. Rain Forest Islands in the Chilean Semiarid Region: Fog-dependency, Ecosystem Persistence and Tree Regeneration. Ecosystems 9, 598 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-006-0065-6

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Keywords

  • Aextoxicon punctatum
  • edge effects
  • forest structure
  • tree regeneration
  • mortality
  • water limitation
  • Chile