HISTORIC LAND COVER CHANGE ASSESSMENT OF CHILEAN MEDITERRANEAN COAST: DID FOREST PLANTATIONS REALLY CAUSED FRAGMENTATION?
Keywords: wheat, gold rush, modelling, forest plantation, fragmentation, native forest
Abstract. Currently, the Mediterranean coast of Chile has large areas of commercial pine and eucalyptus plantations. Several authors have reported habitat loss and fragmentation of the original “Maulino” native forest due to the expansion of plantations. However, in the Maule coast took place a previous process that affected the native forest. This is the extensive use of forestlands with a moderate slope for the cultivation of wheat. The peak of this process occurred in the second half of the 19th century and meant a great degradation of the soil in the area. In this work, we first look for whether the overexploitation of wheat is the primary cause of the fragmentation of the Maulino forest in the study area. Secondly, we wanted to determine what proportion of the area currently occupied by plantations was previously used for growing wheat. First, using the community of Constitución as a representative area of the central coast we use Species Distribution Modelling to identify the potential original extent of the Maulino forest. Secondly, we created a spatial model to estimate the extension of wheat production using historical data. Finally, we used Landsat-8 images to assess the actual extension of forest plantation. By comparing the three former results, we were able to quantify the effects of wheat production and forest plantation separately, for the first time. The results indicate that 41% of the original native forest was first affected by wheat production and that only 34 % was later replaced by forest plantations. Therefore, the rest of the plantations were installed in places where the forest had previously been cut down for use in wheat production. The main cause of deforestation and forest fragmentation in this landscape was originally the wheat extensive production boosted by the gold rush in California and Australia. Forest commercial plantations further augmented the Maulino forest fragmentation process by significantly reducing its mean patch size and increasing the number of patches.