New discoveries and substantial collections were made in Chile by tree experts from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), Benmore Botanic Garden, and the Perthshire Conifer Conservation Programme.

The team headed to Chile to make research and conservation observations and collections of Chilean conifers and their associated species in their natural habitats.

Tom Christian measuring a Chilean Plum Yew © Martin Gardner

They were successful in making significant seed collections from a range of conifer species, including Chilean Plum Yew (Prumnopitys andina) and discovered two previously unknown populations of this threatened species – one in the Andes and one in the central depression.

As many of the valleys where this species grows have been flooded for hydroelectric schemes, the global population is in decline, so finding the new pockets of the trees gives hope that there may be further as-yet undiscovered populations in isolated areas.

The team comprised Martin Gardner (Co-ordinator of the International Conifer Conservation Programme at RGBE), Peter Baxter (curator at Benmore Botanic Garden), Mauricio Cano (a Chilean PhD student at RBGE) and Tom Christian (Project Officer of Perthshire’s Conifer Conservation Programme).

The seeds will now be grown on in specialist facilities at the RGBE, during which time their population genetics will be studied by Mauricio for his PhD.

Tom said:

Once they are large enough the resulting young plants will be distributed around the network of International Conifer Conservation Programme (ICCP) safe sites, including a significant portion to sites in Perthshire’s Conifer Conservation Programme and National Tree Collections of Scotland (NTCS) networks, where they will be grown on in perpetuity as part of our ex-situ conservation resource. We were very surprised and excited to find the new populations of the Chilean Plum Yew. The one in the central depression is particularly significant as it is the only one in that area of Chile – all the others are confined to Andean valleys and just one in the coastal cordillera.

Monkey Puzzle © Martin Gardner

The team also visited two private reserves of Monkey puzzle, including a community owned biological corridor and the privately owned Nassampulli reserve. Tom continued:

These private reserves probably offer more effective protection for these iconic trees than national parks – there is less of a human impact on them because visitor numbers are strictly controlled.

The team was also able to observe the ongoing impact of dam-building in the Chilean Andes, which is part of a drive to supply clean, more affordable energy. Tom concluded:

Unfortunately these dams are coming catastrophic environmental cost. They are continuing to be built at an alarming rate, in the face of local opposition and significant conservation designations that are supposed to protect these amazing valleys. It is a sad irony given the recent good conservation PR Chile has enjoyed due to the Tompkins land donations, and Tompkins was of course instrumental in preventing many such dams being built in Patagonia.
San Fabian Valley is due to be flooded © Martin GardnerNasampulli Monkey Puzzle Reserve © Martin GardnerFundo Lenca is a remarkable Fitzroya forest © Martin Gardner