Magellanic Subpolar Forests Ecoregion (South America)
The Magellanic subpolar forests are a terrestrial ecoregion of southernmost South America, covering parts of southern Chile and Argentina. Lying west of the Andes Mountains, this temperate broadleaf and mixed forests ecoregion is the world's southernmost forest.
Magellanic Subpolar Forests
The Magellanic subpolar forests are a terrestrial ecoregion of southernmost South America, covering parts of southern Chile and Argentina, and are part of the Neotropic ecozone. It is a temperate broadleaf and mixed forests ecoregion and contains the world's southernmost forests.
The Magellanic subpolar forests ecoregion lies west of the Andes Mountains, which run north-south for most of their length but curve eastward near the southern tip of South America, terminating at the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.
Glaciers covered the Magellanic ecoregion during the last ice age. The landscape is deeply dissected by fjords, with numerous islands, inlets, and channels, including the Strait of Magellan, which separates Tierra del Fuego from the South American mainland and is the route taken by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan from the South Atlantic to the South Pacific.
North of roughly 48° south latitude lies the Valdivian temperate rain forests ecoregion, which shares many affinities with the Magellanic ecoregion in plant and animal life. To the east lie the drier temperate grasslands and shrublands ecoregions of Patagonia, which are in the rain shadow of the Fuegian and Patagonian Andes.
The Andean and Fuegan mountains intercept moisture-laden westerly winds, creating temperate rainforest conditions. In addition, the cold oceanic Humboldt Current, which runs up the west coast of South America and the cold Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which runs from west to east through the Southern Ocean, keep the Magellanic ecoregion cool and wet.
The strong oceanic influence moderates seasonal temperature extremes. Average annual temperatures vary from 6 °C (42.8 °F) in the north to 3 °C (37.4 °F) in the south, and yearly rainfall from 4,000 mm (157 in) in the west to 450 mm (17.7 in) in the east.
Snowfalls can occur even in summer. Fog is persistent. Powerful winds whip the region, and these compel trees to grow in twisted and bent shapes fighting against the wind, and people sometimes call them "flag trees."
Flora and Fauna
The vegetation shows principally two types of forest: evergreen Magellan's beech forests to the west and deciduous lenga beech and Ñire forests towards the east extending into Argentina.
In the cold and high rainfall areas of the westernmost and southernmost parts of the ecoregion, characteristic vegetation, specially termed Magellanic moorland, extends through the Chilean archipelago.
This tundra is characterized by prostrate dwarf shrubs, cushion plants, grass-like plants and bryophytes on water-logged terrain that, in different combinations, form vegetation of scrub or bogs.
Most endemic vegetation in the ecoregion is found in alpine regions above the forest. They include grasses of the genus Poe and herbs of the genera Ourisia, Senecio, Viola, and Abrotanella.
Most bird species in the ecoregion are not endemic, and their ranges extend north into the Valdivian forests. Some near-endemic species include the kelp goose, ruddy-headed goose, blackish cinclodes, black-throated finch, and striated caracara.
Characteristic native mammals include Chilean guemal, pudú, river otter, puma, South American gray fox, and Andean fox.
The only near-endemic mammals include Markham's grass and woolly grass mice. Endemic amphibians include the Puerto Eden frog and Nibaldo's wood frog.
The Magellanic Subpolar Forests are threatened by habitat conversion. In addition, the region has been affected by extensive burning and logging.
Key protected areas from north to south in Chile and Argentina include:
Chile also has several national reserves, forest reserves, and national monuments of environmental importance.
Map depicting the location of the Magellanic subpolar forests (in purple)