Exploring Forest Gardens in Chile – Successional Aikedo

Vero and I have been exploring the south of Chile over the past week on our way to the Bio-construction conference and get together in Argentina. We’ve been having a great time around Valdivia where Vero’s former housemate live. He works at the Uni for the Forestry department as is a professor in regenerative forest ecology so I’ve been picking his brain about the processes that occur in the Chilean forest as it undergoes succession.

Arayyan. Relative to Tea Tree

Arayyan. Relative to Tea Tree

Rafa has some really interesting ongoing projects in the Valvidan rainforest. For some background on this ecosystem type check out the encyclopedia. One of Rafa’s sites occurs on a hill side near the city of Valdiva. 50yrs ago this old-growth forest was cleared and felled to provide fuel for a steel works that was located down the coast. Trees were removed in massive numbers to stoke the fires. Today, Rafa and his team are working with the process of succession to develop structural diversity in the forest and speed up the growth of canopy species.

Rafa working thinning pioneer trees

Rafa working thinning pioneer trees

After a forest has been clearcut, a whole range of species regenerate at the same time. Over time, the structure of the forest will diversify but we can speed up this process by thinning out the pioneer species and giving the long lived, enduring species space to grow. Rafa and his team are doing this in this portion of regrowth forest, thinning out many of the Proteaceae plants and leaving the nothofagus species to grow large. The cut down wood then provides homes for forest invertebrates and fuel for the soil food web.

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Stacking fallen wood for habitat value

This type of sucessional aikedo speeds up the progression of the regrowth forest towards the type of structure that you might find in an old growth forest. It is applicable in Forest Gardens that have been planted an in regrowth forests that require active management and ecological thinning. Rafa has also done work with the cultivation of native species so that they are available for regeneration work. Shrub and herb species that have been grown in the nursery could be incorporated in the gaps and clearings created in his forest site.

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Rafa in the greenhouse

Chilean forests have a wealth of natural products that could be harvested and used to generate income. In the past they were viewed as worthless and too much of the chilean forest was cut down to make way for Eucalyptus globulus and Pinus radiata. This has lead to a lowering of water catchments for rural communities and a high incidence of bushfires in the plantations. As the country moves back to its native forests, these regeneration strategies will be required to harvest the monoculture plantations and establish native forests. The native forests can supply timber, medicine, habitat and much more.

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Notro fiddleback grain, ideal for making guitars

Hopefully soon, I will be undertaking some projects that look at removing plantations and reestablishing native forests in Chile. Watch this space. Until then, try to imagine how amazing the Chilean native rainforest is with this helpful cartoon. It is an excellent cartoon as is shows that the forest is more than just the trees. It is the plants, animals, birds and insects that create a forest

Happy Forest Gardening

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