Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Matorral

The habitat I work in is called the "matorral." Similar to the chaparral of Southern California, the matorral is characterized by a Mediterranean climate (meaning, wet winters and hot, dry summers). The field site that I work in used to be an experimental agricultural station owned by the Universidad de Chile. Now, the site is used by sheep, cows, a variety of different biological researchers.

View of my field site on a clear day (you can see the Andes in the background).

The exact type of matorral habitat at my field site is called "Bosque Espino," which is Spanish for "spiny forest." It certainly is a spiny forest, mostly because of the prevalence of acacia trees called "espinos." Espinos are actually thought to be relatively new to Chile; legend has it that Inca traders brought the espino seeds into Chile only a few hundred years ago. When the Spanish first arrived in Chile espinos were not very abundant, but by clearing land for farming and introducing cattle (which spread espino seeds during grazing), the advent of agriculture has helped the spread of the espino. Spiky, spiny and stunted, espinos are ugly and a pain to work around. However, I grudgingly appreciate the espinos when spring comes and they blanket the entire landscape with their delicate, yellow-green leaves and golden blossoms.

An espino beginning to leaf out
Up-close picture of an espino, the spines are hard to see, but believe me; they're there.
While the matorral is not exactly a biodiversity hotspot, I've still found my field site to contain an amazing number of animals. At my field site I have seen 34 different species of birds, 7 different species of mammals, and 4 different species of reptiles. The wildlife guide I've been using doesn't have a great plant or insect section, so I haven't been able to keep a good checklist for those organisms.

I've recently been reading Charles Darwin's "Voyage of the Beagle" so I can compare Darwin's perceptions of central Chile's fauna with my own. Unfortunately, Darwin didn't write much about central Chile, probably because he was more smitten with the flora and fauna of Southern Chile, the occurrence of a large earthquake while he was on the coast, and the geology of Northern Chile. However, I did enjoy this quote concerning my favorite bird, the Moustached Turca:

"Of birds... the Turco is not uncommon...with its tail erect, and stilt-like legs, it may be seen every now and then popping from one bush to another with uncommon quickness. It really requires little imagination to believe that the bird is ashamed of itself, and is aware of its most ridiculous figure. On first seeing it, one is tempted to exclaim 'A vilely stuffed specimen has escaped from some museum, and has come to life again!'" (pg. 287)

Darwin's description is pretty true, although I highly doubt that turcas are ashamed of their themselves. Here's a picture of a moustached turca that I caught in one of my degu traps:

I actually catch quite a few birds in my traps, here are a few more pictures:

Common diuca-finch, known as "Diuca"

Chilean mockingbird, known as "Tenca"

Long-tailed meadowlark, known as "Loica"

Rufous-collared sparrow, known as "Chincol"

I hope to use my new videocamera to film some of the different animals at my field site, so check my future posts for some cool video clips!

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