Spanning almost 2,700 miles north to south, Chile’s territory includes hot deserts, cold steppes, and tropical forests. The ecoregions of Chile are mostly unique to the South America’s ecosystem and stretch to Chile’s neighbors such as Bolivia and Argentina. The flora and fauna in this regions exhibit a high level of endemism, and most of the ecoregions have plants and animals only found in the region. The ecological regions of Chile, as per World Wide Fund for Nature classifications, are looked at below.
The Atacama Desert ecological region is classified under the Deserts and Xeric Shrublands Biome. The Atacama deserts stretch along the northwestern coast of the Pacific Ocean in Chile. In most parts of the desert, rainfall is yet to be recorded. The desert is characteristically arid and barren, with a stony terrain, sand and salt lakes in most regions within the desert. The Andes ranges and Chilean Coast Range tower around the desert and intercept clouds going to the wilderness, a situation which subsequently prevents rainfall in the desert.
There exist small numbers of flora and fauna in the wilderness, with a relatively low level of biodiversity due to the extremely dry conditions. Flora such as cacti and mesquite occur in areas where water has accumulated. Animals in the region have adapted to the arid conditions and have developed a high level of endemism. Amphibians include species of lizards, mammals include species of mouse and fox, and bird species include Peruvian song-sparrow, Chilean woodstar, white-throated earth deeper, and the Pacific blue-black grassquit. Occasional rainfall promotes the growth of vegetation such as salt grass thyme, Ephedra breana, Oxalis gigantean, and Croton Chilensis.
The desert is home to deposits of minerals such as copper, and has had its environment significantly affected by mining activities. These minerals fueled the War of the Pacific in the 19th Century between Chile and Bolivia, over ownership of the desert. Environmental reserves in the region are La Chimba National Reserve, Pan de Azucar National Park, and Pampa del Tamarugal National Reserve.
Central Andean Dry Puna
This ecological region is classified in the Montane Grasslands and Shrublands Biome. The region is located in the high Southern Andes and stretches between Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. This ecoregion is home to snow-capped peaks, high plateaus, volcanoes and salt lakes. The region receives less than 400 millimeters of rainfall annually, and the flora and fauna found here exhibit a high level of endemism.
The flora of the Central Andean Dry Puna is characterized by tropical alpine herbs, shrubs, Yareta, and the notable Polylepsis species, a woody plant that is found in the world’s highest elevations. The region is home to numerous mammals such as the Andean mountain cat, Andean fox, cougar, vicuna, puma, IIamas, and quirquincho. Flamingo species in the region are James’s flamingo, Andean Flamingo, and Chilean Flamingo. Endemic bird to the region includes the royal cinclodes, Ash-breasted tit-tryant, and short-tailed finch. Most of these birds have been classified as endangered.
Deforestation, overgrazing by livestock, and land alterations by humans have rendered the ecoregion endangered. Reserves in the region include the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Faunal Reserve and the Sajama National Park, which were established to protect the fauna found in the area.
Valdivian Temperate Rain Forests
This ecological region is classified under the Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests Biome. The area is unique to South America, in Chile and Argentina. The Valdivian temperate rain forest resembles, in part, the Pacific Coast of North America. The region is characterized by broadleaf evergreen flowering trees. The area borders the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andean Cordillera to the east. Isolation of the region has led to a high level of endemism among its flora and fauna.
The endangered pudu, the world’s smallest deer, is found here alongside an arboreal marsupial known as the kodkod, and the Magellanic woodpecker. The dominant tree is the Antarctic breech alongside other trees such as the monkey puzzle tree, conifers, podocarps and the guaitecas cypress. Massive deforestation and land transformation into crop plantations have rendered the region critically endangered biodiversity. Conservation efforts in the region have been made through reserves such as Valdivia National Park, Puyehue National Park, and Alerce Costero National Park.
Southern Andean Steppe
The Southern Andean Steppe ecological region is classified under the Montane Grasslands and Shrublands Biome. The ecoregion is situated in the high elevations of the Andes ranges and stretches along the border of Argentina and Chile. The area is mainly dry, with a cold desert climate. The region is characterized by shrubs, deciduous thicket, and grassland. Plants in this region have a high level of endemism such as flowers to attract pollinators. Animal species in the area include the puma, Andean fox, guanaco, and the vicuna. The ecoregion has not been subjected to environmental degradation, mainly because it is not suitable for farming. Most of the ecoregion is also preserved in parks and reserves. A marked increase in ecotourism, especially in the region’s mountains, has continued to threaten environmental sustainability in the region
Other ecological regions present in Chile include the Arid Puna, Atacama-Sechura Desert Complex, the Bolivian High Andean Complex, the Chilean Matorral, Chiloe Island, Chonos Archipelago, Juan Fernandez Islands, Juan Fernandez Islands Temperate Forests, Magallanes-Ultima Esperanza Complex, Magellanic Subpolar Forests, North Mediterranean Chile, Pacific Coastal Deserts, Patagonian Grasslands, Patagonian Steppe, Rapa Nui and Sala-y-Gomez Subtropical Broadleaf Forests, San Felix-San Ambrosio Islands Temperate Forests, Sechura Desert, South Mediterranean Chile, the Tierra del Fuego-Rio Grande Complex, and the Valdivian.