Post de Experiment (3): Biodiversity of central Chile

Este post apareció originalmente en el sitio de crowdfunding Experiment, October 30, 2013.

Today I wanted to give some background on the diversity of habitats and species where this project is taking place.
Central Chile, the mediterranean-climate zone of South America (one of 5 in the world), has a high diversity of endemic plant and animal species. Like other mediterranean-climate zones, it has experienced a lot of human disturbance in the form of resource extraction, conversion to agriculture, fragmentation of natural habitats, urbanization, and so on. Nevertheless, in many rural areas it is quite pretty. With the Andes on one side, the coastal mountain range and then the Pacific, all in a very small space, there is also a lot of natural landscape variability.

There are few big species left in central Chile, but there are many small, rare, and charming species that I have been lucky enough to get to know, through my fieldwork during my PhD and my subsequent post-doctoral research:
The male “iguana chilena” has a very bright orange stomach. This is the largest lizard in Chile, 12.5-16.5 cm long. If you are very lucky you can see him starting in November. 
This is a wasp which has paralyzed the tarantula and is pulling it to its nest, where it will leave it to feed the larva when they hatch. All the male tarantulas (who are not dangerous) appear around October, running anxiously across the grass trying to find females. At this time of year they are easy to find and fun to play with, as they are completely distracted and let you handle them while checking to see if there is a female up your sleeve…

Alstroemeria flowers, which are sold at florists shops around the world, are native to central Chile.

Degus and a mustached turca. The two little mammals are “degus”, a social species related to chinchillas, that make extensive colonies of burrows, all connected overground by runways. They come out to forage near their runways during the day, and you can see them bounding around and sniffing one another. The turca is a rather humorous bird who mainly runs rather than flying. Turcas also make their nests in burrows, often degu burrows. Sometimes you can see a turca run inside a degu burrow and pop out of another one several meters away. The turca’s descending-scale whistle is typical of the hillsides.

Culpeo fox. This one was hunting a degu. 

Loica, or long-tailed meadowlark. These live in central and southern Chile.
The espino, my personal favorite tree, is a spiny tree that arrived in Chile at least 1000 years ago, crossing the Andes from the Grand Chaco of Argentina. The seeds were probably brought by guanacos who had eaten them, but they might also have been carried across by indigenous traders. Espinos have nice yellow flowers in spring, and big seedpods, called quirinca or vaina, that develop later…

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