Post de Experiment (1): How Proyecto REGenera got started

Este es uno de varios posts que aparecieron originalmente en el sitio de crowdfunding Experiment (antiguamente “Microryza”).  Buscaba (con éxito) fondos adicionales para poder construir una reja en el sitio experimental para el Proyecto REGenera.  Transfiero todos los posts a este sitio para que se puede leer.

October 26, 2013

I thought I would take a couple of posts to tell you about how this project got started. 


In January 2013 I was doing fieldwork on ecosystem functions in espinal at the agronomical research station of the Universidad de Chile, known as La Rinconada. I was marking a plot when an unknown truck drove up. Two guys got out. “Who are you?” one asked, rather suspiciously. “I work here, who are you?” I said, also rather suspiciously. “The new Director of Research” the other said. Thus a productive and exciting collaboration was initiated. 


Through Dr. Cristian Araneda, the current Director of Research for La Rinconada, I was introduced to Dr. Alfredo Olivares, who has researched management of the espinal for many years. Through him I learned about the compensatory growth of espino, and we agreed that this must be an adaptation to guanaco browsing. Then I contacted Dr. Cristian Bonacic, a camelid expert, who promptly told me that he had six guanacos I could use. So then we just needed a site to test whether guanacos could be used as a restoration tool. 


First we wanted to put the guanacos at La Rinconada, but after a few months we heard that the university wants to rent out a large part of the land for irrigated farming, the sad fate of much espinal. This made La Rinconada too uncertain to use it as a site. So when I got back to Chile from Oxford in June 2013, it was time to look for a new site. Fortunately I had some help in the form of Adrien Lindon, an Oxford MSc student who was doing his dissertation on attitudes towards guanaco reintroduction in central Chile. 
There were 3 alternatives sites with espinal where we thought we could work: a fundo (large farm) that used to be a research site of the Universidad Católica, but which had recently been sold to a private owner; Altos de Cantillana, a private nature reserve about an hour south of Santiago; and Reserva Nacional Río Clarillo, a national reserve about an hour east of Santiago, in the foothills of the Andes. 
We set up meetings with the co-owner of Altos de Cantillana, an artist named Joaquín Solo de Zaldivar, and with CONAF, the people in charge of protected areas in Chile. (A colleague was in contact with the new owners of the fundo, but this never came to anything.) Joaquín was very excited about having guanacos in Altos de Cantillana, as this had always been his dream. CONAF also warmed to our project when we told them that traditional silvopastoral systems were the cutting edge in cultural landscape conservation in Europe. So we organized trips to both sites. 


Altos de Cantillana had a number of habitats with espino (see pictures in the second post). However, when we got to Río Clarillo an enthousiastic park employee named Carlos Peña immediately told us that there is no more espinal there: after excluding people and livestock for many years, the espinal has been re-invaded by sclerophyllous forest. This was funny to discover because this is not supposed to happen: the myth is that espinal is a degraded and degrading habitat that eats native forest. Sr. Peña was very eager to point out that they needed a research project on this phenomenon in order to support their bid to upgrade to National Park status…but that is another fortuitous encounter, and another project…

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