Biological and cultural conservation in the Archipelago forest ecosystems of southern Chile

Date of Completion

January 2002


Anthropology, Cultural|Biology, Ecology




Ecologists are challenged today by practical problems associated with the global environmental crisis. These involve ecological as well as social issues. At the same time, ecologists are faced with a kind of “Kuhnian scientific revolution”, i.e. new scientific paradigms that emphasize the importance of culture in formulating scientific explanations. It has become clearer that cultural and biological diversity are interrelated, and that both are endangered. In addition, traditional ecological knowledge has diversified the spectrum of ways to understand and integrate with nature. ^ This dissertation emphasizes the variety of perspectives required to understand biocultural diversity. I focus on four distinct cultural views at the austral extreme of the Americas: two indigenous, the Yahgan and the Mapuche; and two scientific, those of Darwin and contemporary conservation biologists. Field sites were located on Navarino Island (55°S) and at a complementary site on Peninsula Antonio Varas (52°S). ^ The dissertation is organized into three main parts. The first (Chapter 2) provides a synthesis of the biological and cultural diversity of the Magellanic Region, and its conservation approaches which has been based almost exclusively on large and remote protected areas that lack personnel and infrastructure. This suggests the need for a more proactive approach that builds on the conservation program initiated by the Omora Ethnobotanical Park at Puerto Williams. ^ The second part (Chapter 3) focuses the pollination ecology of the hummingbird (Sephanoides sephaniodes) in the sub-Antarctic forests of Chile, and three ornithophilous plant species: Embothrium coccineum (Proteaceae), Fuchsia magellanica (Onagraceae), Philesia magellanica (Philesiaceae). Nectar volumes and sugar concentrations were the highest values ever recorded for these species. However, volumes and concentration of nectar varied significantly among years and sampling method. Except for September and October at least one ornitophilous species flowers in the Magellanic forested region. Fruit sets of E. coccineum and F. magellanica were significantly dependent on hummingbird visits. Abundance and activity of S. sephaniodes, however, varied considerably both spatially and temporally, and were very low on Navarino Island. Two passerines, Elaenia albiceps and Phrygilus patagonicus visited the flowers of the ornitophilous species, but they acted more as “nectar robbers” than as effective pollinators. ^ The third part (Chapter 4) presents the recorded Yahgan and Mapuche traditional stories of forest birds. The interpretation of the stories is based on two evolutionary and ecologically appealing metaphors, which also convey ethical meanings: the tree of life (evolutionary sciences, and an ethical notion of intrinsic value based on kinship among living beings), and the web of life (ecological sciences, and an ethical notion of instrumental value). The analysis revealed similarities (and differences) among indigenous and scientific perspectives. In turn, this suggests a theoretical framework to promote the continuity of bioculturally diverse lives in the austral landscapes. ^