Most often known for the delicious fruits, vegetables, olive oils and wines they produce, Mediterranean habitats across the world are also home to tens of thousands of plant and animal species found in no other habitat type on Earth.
Extremely rare, Mediterranean habitats can only be found in five places around the world — Australia, California, South Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, and central Chile.
Chile’s Mediterranean habitat stretches 350 miles north to south in a 60-mile-wide slice between the wild Pacific Ocean and the rugged Andes Mountains. Chile’s capital, Santiago, as well as many of Chile’s other major urban centers, can be found within the Mediterranean region.
Full of hardwood trees, wild grasses, cactuses and flowering shrubs, the thick vegetation and shore-to-mountain landscape often reminds visitors to Mediterranean Chile of central California’s own Mediterranean woodlands. Nearly 1,500 plant species within Chile’s Mediterranean region cannot be found anywhere else in the world, while others are very similar to plants found in other Mediterranean climes.
- The Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) is perfectly adapted to the hot, dry summers and wet, mild winters of the Mediterranean climate, but the species is threatened due to its limited range and disappearing habitat.
Mediterranean fauna all over the world are specially adapted to their unique habitat. Many of Mediterranean Chile’s animals cannot be found anywhere else on Earth — making them extremely rare and dependent upon protected areas for their survival. Such species include:
- The kodkod (Oncifelis guigna), the smallest wild cat in the Americas, weighing less than the typical domesticated house cat. Rare and reclusive, kodkod are little understood and considered to be a vulnerable species because development and farming have severely limited their habitat.
- The yaca, or fat-tailed mouse opossum (Thylamys elegans), which has a tail slightly longer than its body. Also scarcely understood due to its limited habitat in Chile’s Mediterranean scrublands, this marsupial is very small, but carnivorous.
- The moustached turca (Pteroptochos megapodius megapodius), a bird found only in Chile’s Mediterranean woodlands. So named for the white, downward-sloping marks resembling a moustache drooping down its cheeks, the mustached turca makes long, low hooting calls.
View a slideshow of Mediterranean plants and animals around the world.
Why the Conservancy works here
Like their California counterpart, the Mediterranean forests of central Chile are being cleared for the production of expensive exports like olive oil avocados and wine. Mining also poses serious threats.
Less than 1 percent of Chile’s Mediterranean habitat is officially protected, yet this unique landscape and the plants and animals it hosts are remarkably understudied and not well understood. Despite the rarity of Mediterranean habitats in the world, few conservation groups have made their protection a priority. In the case of central Chile, the Conservancy wasn’t even sure there was enough Mediterranean habitat worth saving until we did an ecological assessment. It turned out there is enough—but just barely, and there’s not a moment to lose.
What the Conservancy is doing
Chile’s Mediterranean habitat is 90 percent privately owned. The most effective way to protect and restore Mediterranean woodlands, plants, and animal communities there is by working with private landowners to engage them in conservation.
The Conservancy is supporting new national policies to allow and encourage private land conservation in Chile such as the Derecho Real de Conservación (similar to conservation easement legislation) and financial incentives for private landowners to conserve natural areas on their properties. We are reaching out to the wine, avocado and timber industries to find solutions that are good for both business and Mediterranean woodlands. We are complementing our work with landowners by collaborating with Chilean agencies to establish new public protected areas for all to enjoy.
Learn more about Chile’s Mediterranean habitat in The Nature Conservancy magazine.