Chile’s temperate forests are largely located between 35°S and 55°S. These forests are classed as temperate forests because of their geographical location outside the tropics, and because they experience high rainfall and low temperatures in winter. As one moves south, one can find Chile’s temperate rainforests, adapted to wetter and cooler climates. Chile’s temperate rainforests are found primarily in Regions IX, X, and south along the coast to Region XI (Donoso, 1979).
Among them are the Chilean palm forests (Jubaea chilensis) of north-central Chile, which contain the southernmost palms in the world; the Nothofagus forests of central and southern Chile, which include a variety of commercially important species for wood and fiber production as well as highly endangered species, like the ruil; the prehistoric araucaria forests (Araucaria araucana), an endemic species that can live as long as 1,500 years; and the alerce forests, also an endemic species of impressive height, diameter, and longevity.Similar forests are found in Tasmania, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest in North America. Chile’s temperate rainforests represent about one-quarter of the global total (Wilcox, 1996). Further north, above 37°S, and in the northern reaches of the temperate forests range, one finds Chile’s Sclerophyllous forests, which are composed of different tree species adapted to drier climates. Chile has some of the most impressive forests in the world.
One of the largest trees found in the Southern Hemisphere, the alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) has the second longest lifespan in the world, with some trees living more than 3,620 years (Lara and Villalba, 1993). Chile also contains the world’s second-largest remaining area of coastal temperate rainforest after the Pacific Northwest coastal rainforest that extends from Northern California to Southeast Alaska (Wilcox, 1996). Experts estimate that the original global extent of these forests was in the order of 30 to 40 million hectares (Weigand et al., 1992).
The total area of remaining coastal temperate rainforest is unknown, but researchers believe that, as of 1992, 56 percent had been logged or converted to other land uses (Weigand et al., 1992).However, Chile’s rich vegetation and complex biological communities are traditionally categorized into eight vegetative zones and 21 sub-zones (Gajardo, 1983,). To provide readers with a general overview of the richness of species and biological communities throughout the country, we include a brief description of Chile’s eight vegetative zones As mentioned earlier, Chile’s forest types are rich and varied in species composition.
If these forest types are classified according to its structure and the dominant species present, one can differentiate 13 forest types, as defined by Donoso (1981). This forest type classification has been incorporated into Chile’s national forest legislation, and was the basis for the land register analysis carried out for CONAF (CONAF et al., 1999). This forest classification is presented in Box 3. Because forest ecosystems grow and develop in contiguous stands along climatic, latitudinal, and altitudinal gradients, boundaries and transition zones between forest types are not clear-cut, resulting in overlapping forest types in some areas (Donoso, 1981). Ideally the frontier forest analysis carried out in this report would have been done by forest type instead of administrative region; however, the existing data, budget and timeline of the project did not permit this sort of analysis. GFW-Chile hopes to expand the analysis to look at frontier forests by forest type in its continuing program of work.