Diversity and growth patterns of woody species in the Mediterranean Coastal range of Chile: A case study in Altos de Cantillana

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Stephanie Gibson-Carpintero
Anahi Ocampo-Melgar
Alejandro Venegas-González


biodiversity hotspot, biogeorgraphic gradient, dendroecology, forest inventory, megadrought, seedling density


Background: The Altos de Cantillana mountain range (ACMR) in central Chile is composed of different vegetation communities, and is currently a priority site for conservation, due to its high endemism, high anthropogenic pressure and vulnerability to climate change. Research on biodiversity and carbon stocks in ACMR is essential to comprehend the resilience of these forests and to define conservation strategies. This study examines the spatial variability of biodiversity and tree biomass patterns along the entire altitudinal gradient of the ACMR.

Methods: Six tree species communities were studied in Altos de Cantillana Nature Sanctuary, along an altitudinal gradient ranging from 415 to 2010 m. Woody species regeneration and inventory plots, as well as dendrochronological sampling in ~150 trees were carried out. Diversity patterns were analyzed using the Jaccard index and alpha index. Growth patterns of dominant trees species were analyzed by ring-width and trunk biomass chronologies, focusing on the recent megadrought period since 2010.

Results: The forest inventory revealed a notable decline in alfa diversity patterns with increasing elevation. The moist sclerophyllous forest exhibited the highest diversity. However, we did not find a pattern between elevation and diversity (and abundance) at the seed regeneration inventory level. Additionally, we identified three clusters of woody species similarity: (i) sclerophyllous, shrubs and hygrophilous forest (<1,000 m.a.s.l.); (ii) high-elevation sclerophyllous forest (>1,500 m.a.s.l); and (iii) deciduous forests (~ 2,000 m.a.s.l). Furthermore, declining growth rates were observed in all communities studied beginning in the 1980s, with even a stronger reduction in radial growth (35% on average) and biomass accumulation (56% on average) when comparing the megadrought with six decades earlier.

Conclusions: We concluded that there is a negative correlation between woody species diversity and elevation. However, there are no altitudinal patterns in seedling regeneration diversity and abundance, which puts the natural succession in ACMR at risk. Additionally, we have determined that the accumulation of trunk biomass in dominant woody species has been significantly impacted by the recent megadrought period. This has affected the sink capacity of forest communities in ACMR. Therefore, our findings can significantly contribute to more efficient and timely decision-making processes regarding the conservation and restoration of this globally unique ecosystem.

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