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Endemism

Endemism in Chile

What I appreciate most about the biodiversity of Chile, is the great wealth of endemic species that the country is home to. There has often been debate over whether endemism or biodiversity should be used as a measure of conservation, but I propose that the two go hand-in-hand. For a country such as Chile, the overlap between biodiversity and endemism is much easier to appreciate.  Though Chile as a whole does not contain a vast number of species, it has the largest percentage of endemic species in the world. About 50% of all species are endemic. For vascular plants alone, 2,698 species are endemic to Chile. I would challenge anyone who dismisses these 3,000 species of regional importance as not representing the country’s impressive biodiversity.

In fact, there are complete plant families that are endemic to Chile. This uniqueness only attests to the importance of endemism for biodiversity, and conservation as a whole. There are three families endemic to Chile. The Lactoridaceae is a family of flowering shrubs endemic to a specific forest on Robinson Crusoe Island, of the Juan Fernandez Islands. The Thyrsopteridaceae family is also found in the Juan Fernandez Islands. This tree fern family, however, has given rise to a only one species – Thyrsopteris elegans (shown below). The Gomortegaceae family is endemic to the coastal  region of central Chile. Also producing only a single species, Gomortega keule, this tree is facing threat of extinction due to over-harvesting and deforestation. The tree produces an edible fruit, that is rather sweet and commonly used to make a kind of marmalade (also pictured below).

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Images of Thyrsopteris elegans

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The fruit of Gomortega keule

 

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