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Home » Projects » Conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services at Altos de Chicauma, central Chile

Conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services at Altos de Chicauma, central Chile

  • L. Urbina, G. Martinez

  • 2007

In the past 50 years, humans have dramatically altered the natural landscape, causing the irreversible loss of biodiversity worldwide. This has been true for the densely population central region of Chile, which has been declared one of the 25 global biodiversity conservation hotspots. The El Roble region in central Chile has been designated by the federal government as a priority biodiversity conservation zone and represents a remnant ‘island’ of high species richness and a region that provides considerable ecosystem services to locals in the community of La Lampa. Despite this designation and local importance, there are no active conservation plans for the region. In 2004, a 50 km2 area of El Roble, Altos de Chicauma (Chicauma), was purchased by a company interested in developing the area for ecotourism. The research team approached the owners and gained support for developing a comprehensive conservation plan for Chicauma to inform development decisions.

The researchers surveyed Chicauma and used satellite imagery to characterize topography, soil types, degree of and potential for erosion, local hydrology, vegetation cover and presence/absence of wildlife species. Interviews were also conducted with locals to characterize human use of the region for activities such as firewood and water collection, hunting, and recreation. Based on these environmental characteristics and ecosystem services, the area was divided into a series of ecological ‘zones.’ Each category of zone was then evaluated to determine the opportunities for and threats to conservation, including the federal, regional and local legal framework.

Once Chicauma was classified into regions of high, medium and low conservation potential, the research team engaged various players – including local community members and groups, local and regional agencies, a panel of ‘experts’ from the nearest university, and the land owners – in a participatory process to discuss the classifications. This engagement included discussions of the players’ particular value structures regarding the region and outreach about unrecognized ecosystem services (such as the role of vegetation in preventing erosion and maintaining water quality). Alterations of the high, medium and low conservation potential classifications were made based on these discussions, and a final Altos de Chicauma comprehensive conservation plan was developed, including detail of all of the aspects included in the study for each conservation category. A final workshop was conducted in the local community to present and explain the final plan.

This project, one of CREO’s first grants, was a phenomenal amount of effort, in terms of both research and community engagement effort. With a small amount of initial funding, the team leveraged a tremendous amount of time and expertise to gather extensive natural and cultural information about the region, and carried the project through a two-year timeline. At present, the lead researcher continues to work closely with the owners of the property and local natural resource agencies to integrate the conservation plan into the region’s development decisions.