Animal Forests in the Chilean Fjords: Discoveries, Perspectives and Threats in Shallow and Deep Waters

  • Günter Försterra
  • Verena Häussermann
  • Jürgen Laudien
Living reference work entry


The Chilean fjord region, situated between 42 and 56° S, forms one of the most ragged shorelines and belongs to the ecologically and biogeographically least understood marine regions of the world. A labyrinth of fjords, channels, and islands extends over 240,000 km2 and creates a coastline of more than 80,000 km. Due to strong abiotic gradients, numerous habitats are created, which are further diversified by temporal dynamics (tidal cycle, seasonal changes in precipitation, temperature, radiation, etc.). The region is a biodiversity hotspot hosting unique and fragile ecosystems. Among the species living here, several are species forming habitats in the ecosystem. These organisms can reach high densities conforming the so-called marine animal forests. Examples are marine animal forests dominated by cold-water stony corals, gorgonians, hydrocorals, brachiopods, polychaetes, giant barnacles, sponges, and ascidians. Many of these communities have been discovered only recently. There is also a singular characteristic in this area: exceptionally low pH levels of the waters of Patagonian fjords provide the opportunity to study calcifying organisms in an environment with pH conditions in the same range as the ones predicted by the IPCC for the world oceans in 2100. Despite the scarce ecological and biogeographical knowledge of this area, it encounters an unparalleled economic development including high-impact industry-scale salmonid farming, ambitious infrastructure and industrialization projects, and increasing extractive activities. Baseline research on the abiotic and biotic environment of the region is needed to reach sustainability in the use of the marine resources. Management plans including the establishment of marine protected areas to preserve benthic diversity and ecosystem services are urgently needed.


Cold-water scleractinian coral bank Hydrocoral reef Mytilid bank Brachiopod bank Gorgonian forest Polychaete forest Giant barnacle forest Deepwater emergence Low pH Aquaculture Marine protected areas 



Our deepest thanks are expressed to all the assistants of the Huinay Scientific Field Station for their support along all these years during fieldwork and especially during the expeditions to explore the most remote sites of Chilean Patagonia. We also thank all the captains who were shipping us to dive sites in Comau Fjord, as well as throughout the Chilean fjord region, and all supporting crew members. We are grateful for all the help we received from the administrative staff of the Huinay Scientific Field Station and the staff from the Añihue Reserve. We are also very grateful for the scuba diving assistance from many scientific divers who came to Huinay from AWI or as interns. We also want to thank all our cooperating taxonomists without whom we could not have named all the mentioned species. Many thanks to Ulrich Pörschmann for designeing the maps (Figs. 2, 3) and to Francine Beaujot for English editing. David Bellhoff is acknowledged for compiling Fig. 15. Thanks to the reviewers and editors who helped to considerably improve the manuscript. This is publication no. 129 of the Huinay Scientific Field Station. Funding to VH was provided through Fondecyt project No. 1131039 and No. 1161699 and to GF through Fondecyt project No. 1150843.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Günter Försterra
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  • Verena Häussermann
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jürgen Laudien
    • 3
  1. 1.Facultad de Recursos NaturalesEscuela de Ciencias del Mar, Universidad Católica de ValparaísoValparaísoChile
  2. 2.Huinay Scientific Field StationPuerto MonttChile
  3. 3.Alfred Wegener InstituteHelmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine ResearchBremerhavenGermany
  4. 4.Zoologische StaatssammlungMünchenGermany
  5. 5.Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, BiocenterDepartment Biologie IIMünchenGermany
  6. 6.GeobioCenterLMUMünchenGermany

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