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Recent Changes in the Flora of the Juan Fernandez Islands, Chile

Author(s): Roger W. Sanders, Tod F. Stuessy and Clodomiro Marticorena

Source: Taxon, Vol. 31, No. 2 (May, 1982), pp. 284-289
Published by: International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1219993 .
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TAXON 31(2):284-289. MAY 1982



Roger W. Sanders,1'2 Tod F. Stuessy,1 and Clodomiro Marticorena3


During the recent Universidad de Concepci6n-Ohio State University expeditions to the Juan
Fernandez Islands, observations were made concerning recent changes in the composition and
extent of the native flora. In comparison with the data of Skottsberg from 1916-17, many of
the endemic species have become much rarer, and some perhaps extinct. Several especially
aggressive introduced species, e.g., Acaena argentea, Aristotelia chilensis, and Rubus ulmi-
folius, continue to invade and replace the native vegetation. Increasing areas of dry habitats
and increasing proportions of xeromorphic or lithophilic plants now characterize the total
vegetation. The total area of native vegetation is now restricted to the central ridges and cliffs.
The major causes for the floristic degradation appear to be the introduced animals which have
overgrazed and trampled the plants as well as compacted the soil. This has lead to erosion and
further loss or degradation of the plant cover.

The Juan Fernandez Islands, 600 kilometers off the coast of Chile, contain one
of the world's unique floras, with over 68% endemic species (Skottsberg, 1956).
During 1980 two major collecting expeditions were conducted jointly by the Uni-
versidad de Concepci6n and The Ohio State University. The first expedition was
from 22 January-23 February and included the following personnel (specialties
shown in parentheses): J. Arriagada (angiosperms), C. Marticorena (angiosperms
and ferns), O. Parra (algae and bryophytes), R. Rodriguez (ferns), R. Sanders (an-
giosperms), T. Stuessy (angiosperms), and E. Ugarte (ecology and vascular plants).
Most of the collecting was done on the larger island, Masatierra (including Santa
Clara) with only four days on the smaller and more remote island, Masafuera. The
second expedition was from 18 November to 2 December and included: 0. Matthei
(vascular plants, especially grasses), R. Sanders (angiosperms), T. Stuessy (angio-
sperms), and H. Valdebenito (phytochemistry). All of this collecting was done on
Masatierra. The historical details of both expeditions are being published elsewhere
(Marticorena et al., in press).
The major objectives of the two expeditions were to: (1) obtain new collections
for the herbaria of the Universidad de Concepci6n and Ohio State University for
continued studies on the flora of Chile; (2) determine the patterns of evolution of
the tree-Compositae and other genera in different families which have speciated
most extensively on the islands (e.g., Blechnum, Gunnera, Peperomia, Wahlenber-
gia, etc.); (3) examine the phytochemical resources of the entire flora with special
emphasis on the evolution of chemical systems in the tree-Compositae; and (4)
reevaluate the phytogeography of the entire flora (presented earlier by Skottsberg,

1 Departmentof Botany, The Ohio State University, Columbus,OH 43210, U.S.A.

2 Present address: FairchildTropical Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Road, Miami, FL 33156,
Departamentode Botanica, Universidadde Concepcion,Concepci6n,Chile.


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1956). These efforts are in progress and preliminary reports are now available (Parra,
Gonzalez and Koch, 1980; Sanders and Stuessy, 1980).
Although not directly relating to these above studies, our observations and col-
lections during the two expeditions showed clearly that considerable changes had
taken place in the composition of the flora of the two islands of the archipelago since
the latest survey by Skottsberg in 1916-17 (published in 1922, 1953a; also Christensen
and Skottsberg, 1920). Because no detailed vegetational analyses are being carried
out by us or anyone else at this time, we believe it helpful to present our data on the
changes in the flora during the past 60 years that have occurred. This is especially
timely because of increased international concern over endangered floras in a general
sense (e.g., Prance and Elias, 1977; Hedberg, 1979), and because of the recent
specific interest in Chile [through the Corporaci6n Nacional Forestal (CONAF)] to
take steps to preserve the native taxa (Anonymous, 1976). Our conclusions are based
only on our collections and observations of the flora in particular localities, but we
do believe that the general changes documented are real.

Floristic Changes

The flora of the Juan Fernandez Islands has been changing rapidly from the time
of the earliest colonists. Two previous studies (Johow, 1896; Skottsberg, 1953b)
documented the earlier changes which included the introduction of ruderals that
compete with the native plants and the removal, and in some cases extinction, of
important native species for economic exploitation. Within the last 27 years, con-
tinued deterioration of already restricted native habitats through overgrazing by the
introduced animals and through excessive competition of aggressive woody weeds
threatens with extinction many of the scientifically valuable endemic species.
We report these changes by comparing the floristic status in Skottsberg's report
(1953b) with those observations made by the joint Universidad de Concepcion-Ohio
State University expedition from January 22 to February 23, 1980. Several localities
(Fig. 1) where chosen, which were sampled both by Skottsberg and by the recent
expedition. The data are compared in Table 1.
Two important changes are apparent. First, many of the plants which occurred
infrequently in the early 20th century have become much rarer, such that we were
unable to find them in many localities. Juania australis becomes more rare because
of continued illegal exploitation of its attractive wood (CONAF, however, has re-
cently stopped this practice). Other species, especially many of the rosette Com-
positae, are disappearing seemingly because seedlings are not becoming established
to replace the senescing plants. Most of these oddities appear to be adapted to
specific habitats and do not compete well for growing space as the vegetation around
them changes. Perhaps one exception to this is Robinsonia gayana which is well
adapted to a range of habitats, several of which are physically too severe for even
many of the invading weeds. Especially noteworthy is the increased rarity of Lac-
toris fernandeziana, Selkirkia berteroi, Dendroseris berteriana, Dendroseris ma-
crantha, Robinsonia macrocephala, Rhetinodendron berteri, and Centaurodendron
spp. The reduction in abundance of these species is generally reflected by the 9-67%
decrease of native species in the seven localities (Table 1; Fig. 1). The localities on
Masafuera have suffered the most with an average 50% loss in comparison to the
20% decline on Santa Clara and the average 17% loss on Masatierra. The greater
reduction of native species on Masafuera probably relates to the excessive number
of goats on that island (to be discussed later).
The second major change is the invasion of aggressively superior weeds into the
habitat of the endemic species (Table 1). No increase of introduced species has
occurred on Santa Clara or Masafuera in the seven localities, but large increases
(average 250%) have occurred on Masatierra. In particular, in all localities Aristo-

MAY 1982 285


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Table 1. Comparison of the numbers of native species of vascular plants in 1917 and 1980 in
seven localities on the Juan Fernandez Islands, Chile.

Nu s of increase
Numbers of Numbers
dec e of
native introduced
of dintro-
species species native duced
Locality 1917 1980 1917 1980 species species
Portezuelo, Cumberland side (1)* 39 30 1 5 23 400
Portezuelo, Villagra side (2) 32 29 0 2 9 c. 200
Salsipuedes (3) 18 16 2 4 11 100
Damajuana (4) 16 12 0 3 25 c. 300
Santa Clara
Morro Spartan (5) 5 4 5 5 20 0
Quebrada Casas (6) 30 20 0 0 33 0
Quebrada Vacas (7) 6 2 2 2 67 0
Specific localities are: (1) along steep rock face between flank of El Piramide and Mirador
de Selkirk, 560-590 m; (2) rich woods below Mirador de Selkirk, 510 m; (3) along upper ridge,
620 m; (4) along main ridge E side of Damajuana, 520 m; (5) top of flat rock surface, 10 m; (6)
bottom and lower slopes, 1-2 km from entrance, 200 m; (7) entrance to quebrada, 10 m. See
Fig. 1.

telia chilensis, Ugni molinae, Rubus ulmifolius, and Anthoxanthum odoratum occur
more frequently than in Skottsberg's study. Throughout the island, expansive thick-
ets of Aristotelia occupy the more humid areas where lumbering has opened con-
tinuous tracts. From there it has spread into forest openings and windfall areas up
the steep wooded slopes to just below the exposed ridges. Once gaining a foothold,
it gradually replaces Myrceugenia fernandeziana and Drimys confertifolia. Rubus
ulmifolius was not introduced on Masatierra until 1935, after Skottsberg's study.
Already it has formed an impenetrable undergrowth in all fallow areas on the island
from the ridge top of Cord6n Centinela to the ridges above Puerto Ingl6s. It is
especially noxious because it spreads so rapidly by vegetative encroachment, as well
as by bird-dispersed fruits. Ugni molinae was thought by Skottsberg to have eco-
logical requirements complementary to the native Ugni selkirkii. He found the in-
troduced U. molinae only in the Cumberland area below 200 m with only two small
plants by the Selkirk memorial at the Mirador de Selkirk. Ugni selkirkii, on the other
hand, was a co-dominant with Pernettya rigida and Escallonia callcottiae on the
exposed rocky ridgetops. However, U. molinae has now succeeded in moving up
the slope to the major ridgetops and in nearly replacing the native species. The main
Cord6n southeast of Damajuana is about 50% U. selkirkii and 50% U. molinae; at
Portezuelo (Villagra side) and on Salsipuedes U. molinae has replaced 80%-90% of
the U. selkirkii. On the drier lower slopes and ridgetops Anthoxanthum odoratum
has increased in frequency apparently replacing Stipa spp. and Megalachne berter-
oniana and becoming co-dominant with Ugni molinae.
Another noteworthy change is the general drying of the habitats of all three islands
and the increase of barren ground and xerophytes relative to mesophytes. There is
a greater frequency of the lithophilic plants including Pernettya rigida, Escallonia
callcottiae, Ugni molinae, Haloragis masatierrana, Blechnum cycadifolium and
Anthoxanthum odoratum into the mountain forests. The west end of Masatierra,


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/// t

6 2 SATCINAR <A 21

M o t p l
lan o t Ja Aoa s g te

Fig. 1. Map of the principalislandsof the JuanFernandezArchipelagoshowingthe seven

localities comparedfor floristicchanges. See Table 1.

which formerly supported a diverse cover of weeds, introduced grasses, and Sali-
cornia, is more depauperate now. The causes of this continual drying appear to be
related to overgrazing and trampling with the result that the plant cover and soil are
able to retain less of the available rain water.
The general trends of greater increase of introduced species on Masatierra and
greater decrease of native species on Masafuera are consistent with general facts
about the archipelago. Traffic by air and water from the Chilean mainland comes
always first to Masatierra and people stay in the only settlement, San Juan Bautista,
at Cumberland Bay (just E of localities 1-3 in Fig. 1). This is the site of continual
introduction of new immigrant taxa. Traffic to Santa Clara and Masafuera, however,
is limited and occurs primarily during the eight months of the lobster fishing season
(Oct-May; Hernandez and Monleon, 1975), and it comes directly from Cumberland
Bay on Masatierra. The greater decrease of native species on Masafuera is due to
the large numbers of goats (3000-5000) which scour the island and browse the native
flora in all but the most inaccessible places. There are only about 85 goats on Mas-
atierra and none left on Santa Clara (B. Ackermann, pers. comm.).

Causes for Changes in the Flora

Much of the original damage to the Juan Fernandez flora is a result of logging
(Skottsberg, 1922) which has now ceased. Thus, another cause must be found for
the more recent and continuing deterioration of the native flora. Our observations
suggest that overgrazing and trampling of the native vegetation by the introduced
mammals is the greatest threat to the unique flora of Juan Fernandez.
Feral and domestic animals.-Goats. CONAF estimates the presence of
3000-5000 goats on Masafuera (B. Ackermann, pers. comm.). We encountered sev-
eral wild goat herds on the Anthoxanthum-covered upland slopes of Masafuera,
even at the highest elevations. Their destructive evidence on Masafuera is seen in
the loss of Stipa and the reticulum of goat trails covering all but the most precipitous
slopes. Goats are currently a less destructive force on Masatierra than on Masafuera,
making up a fairly small percentage of the introduced fauna. However, Santa Clara,
once called "Goat Island" now has lost all its native vegetation. Only on Morro
Spartan and Morro Juanango (large off-shore rocks) to where these mammals cannot
cross have the littoral plants survived.
Sheep and cattle.-The limited numbers of cattle on Masafuera appear to occupy
only the lower reaches of the largest quebradas; we observed no sheep there. The

MAY 1982 287

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situation on Masatierra is different, however. Herds of sheep and cattle, many of
which are semiferal, roam the lower slopes of all the ridges. Many of these areas
are marked by reticulate trails which cross every meter in distance up the slopes
and which retain little vegetation or only the hardy weeds Acaena argentea or
Anthoxanthum odoratum. The lower slopes from Rabanal to Puerto Frances have
been denuded of essentially all vegetation.
Coatis.-As nocturnal foragers, coatis are not as conspicuous as the ungulates
but are as destructive in many ways. They inhabit the upper grasslands as well as
the mountain forests. On the several occasions when we camped in the heights in
various localities (especially at the Portezuelo, locality #2), we were always aware
of coatis searching these areas and calling to one another. Even so, during the day
one encounters throughout the forest the burrows and rooting sites, where the soil
and areas near the rosette Compositae have been disturbed.
Rabbits.-Rabbits are perhaps the worst enemies of the Masatierran flora, espe-
cially on the western end of the island. Their burrows occur only meters apart in
the drier habitats and many tens to several hundreds of these animals may be easily
seen in an excursion of a few hours. An estimated 5000 rabbits occur on Masatierra
(B. Ackermann, pers. comm.). They, in addition to the sheep, have contributed to
the loss of plant cover in the Puerto Franc6s area.
Erosion.-The degradation of the flora by exploitation, overgrazing, trampling and
invasion of ruderals is complicated by another factor, erosion. A cycle of vegeta-
tional loss, which leads to erosion which leads to further loss of cover which leads
to even greater erosion has been set into motion. In the region of San Juan Bautista
the erosion is most severe on the cut-over lower slopes and in the cattle corrals. Re-
establishing forests on these slopes is proceeding slowly; in the meantime, the soil
from above slumps down the slopes, exposing more bedrock to premature degra-
dation. In the quebrada region from Rabanal to Puerto Franc6s, erosion is expanding
ridgeward unchecked. As noted above, large expanses totally lack cover; the soil
washes and blows away from beneath the scattered Myrceugenia trees, which rap-
idly die, topple, break apart and eventually wash downslope. "Forests" of skeletal
trees currently dot the slopes throughout the Franc6s basin.


That many changes have occurred in the flora of the Juan Fernandez Islands in
recent years is obvious. The loss of plant cover, erosion, invasion and establishment
of introduced species, and loss of endemic species are easily recognized by even
casual observations. Many years ago Carl Skottsberg cautioned (1922, p. 212)
". .. I wish to draw attention to the fact that so many of the endemic types are very
scarce .... One or more of these will probably share the fate of Santalum fernan-
dezianum, which seems to be extinct. In one or two cases I could not secure as
much material as I wanted for fear of destroying the species altogether." These
words are even more pertinent today with greater danger to the unique flora. CONAF
is doing an excellent job with initial steps to minimize the disturbance of the people
and animals on the flora, but this effort is just beginning. Financial help from inter-
national sources will be needed for rapid and lasting measures for preservation of
the unique vascular flora.


Financial support for the two expeditions to the Juan Fernandez Islands was provided by
OAS, CONICITand the Vicerectoriade Investigacionesof the Universidadde Concepcionto
M. Silva and by the NSF (GrantNumber INT 77-21637)to T. Stuessy. We especially give

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thanks to Sr. Bernardo Ackermann of CONAF, chief of the islands national park, who was
most helpful in expediting our work. In fact, without his strong interest in providing work
space, lodging, guides and pack animals the expeditions would not have been successful. We
also thank the several guides who accompanied us on the collecting trips, mentioning partic-
ularly Oscar Chamorro, Alvis Gonzalez, Domingo Retamal, and Ram6n Schiller. We are most
appreciative of the help of our expedition colleagues (listed on the first page of the paper),
without which this study would have been impossible.

Literature Cited

Anonymous. 1976. Plan de Manejo, Parque Nacional Juan Fernandez. CONAF and FAO,
Christensen, C. and C. Skottsberg. 1920. The Pteridophyta of the Juan Fernandez Islands.
Nat. Hist. Juan Fernandez and Easter Is. 2: 1-46.
Hedberg, I. (ed.). 1979. Systematic Botany, Plant Utilization and Biosphere Conservation.
Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm.
Hernandez, R. and J. Monleon. 1975. La comunidad de pescadores de Juan Fernandez, pp.
137-153. In: M. Orellana R. et al. (eds.), Las Islas de Juan Fernandez. Dpto. Ciencias
Antropol6gicas y Arqueol6gicas, Univ. de Chile, Santiago.
Johow, F. 1896. Estudios sobre la Flora de las Islas de Juan Fernandez. Santiago, Chile.
Marticorena, C., R. W. Sanders, T. F. Stuessy and 0. Parra. In press. Resumen histdrico de
las dos expediciones chileno-norteamericanas en 1980 a las Islas de Juan Fernandez.
Parra, O., M. Gonzalez and P. E. Koch. 1980. Algas de aguas dulces del Archipelago de Juan
Fernandez, Chile. Tercera Reunion Nac. de Bot. Abstr. 29.
Prance, G. T. and T. S. Elias (eds.). 1977. Extinction is Forever. N.Y. Bot. Garden, Bronx,
Sanders, R. W. and T. F. Stuessy. 1980. Adaptive radiation of the Compositae of the Juan
Fernandez Islands: a progress report. Tercera Reuni6n Nac. de Bot. Abstr. 37.
Skottsberg, C. 1922. The Phanerogams of the Juan Fernandez Islands. Nat. Hist. Juan Fer-
nandez and Easter Is. 2: 95-240.
.1953a. A supplement to the Pteridophytes and Phanerogams of Juan Fernandez and
Easter Island. Nat. Hist. Juan Fernandez and Easter Is. 2: 763-792.
1953b. The vegetation of the Juan Fernandez Islands. Nat. Hist. Juan Fernandez and
Easter Is. 2: 793-960.
. 1956. Derivation of the flora and fauna of Juan Fernandez and Easter Island. Nat.
Hist. Juan Fernandez and Easter Is. 1: 193-438.

MAY 1982 289

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