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Juan Fernández Islands Conservancy

firecrown feeding leadimage peter hodum

Photo by Peter Hodum

Vision

Protect the long-term ecosystem functionality and vitality of the Juan Fernández Archipelago through a combination of basic research, applied conservation and environmental education in active collaboration with local residents

Project pages

Status of the Archipelago

juanfernandezisland_map

The Archipelago consists of three islands: Isla Robinson Crusoe (Más a Tierra, 48 km2), Isla Santa Clara (2.2 km2), Isla Alejandro Selkirk (Más Afuera, 50 km2)

The Juan Fernández Archipelago is located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, 670 km off the coast of central Chile. Frequently referred to as a temperate counterpart of the Galápagos Islands.

The Juan Fernández Islands have received national and international recognition for their biological uniqueness – designated a Chilean National Park in 1935 and an UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1977 and nominated for World Heritage status in 1995. Over 60% of the native plants are endemic to the archipelago, including 12 endemic genera and one endemic family (Lactoridaceae). Thirty-five of the 46 mollusks and more than 440 of the 660+ species of invertebrates are also endemic. There are no native amphibians or reptiles, and the only native mammal is the endemic Juan Fernández fur seal (Arctocephalus philippii). The Juan Fernández Islands are home to nine native terrestrial bird species, of which three are endemic species and an additional three are endemic subspecies (1 and 2). Six species of seabirds breed on the islands, of which two are endemic to the islands, and another two are endemic to Chile.

The plight of the archipelago’s endangered natural systems has also been recognized. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) identified the Juan Fernández Islands as one of the world’s 12 most threatened national parks, and in 1984 the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) designated the islands as one of the 10 highest priority regions for seabird research globally. In 1998, BirdLife International listed the islands as a Priority 1 (critical) Endemic Bird Area of the World. The Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) targeted the Juan Fernández Islands as a priority site in 2002, an area in most urgent need of conservation investment to prevent imminent species extinctions.

In 1997, the Dutch Cooperative – Juan Fernández Project began engaging the local community in a variety of conservation programs. This project, which concluded in 2003, emphasized efforts that encouraged the residents to understand, take pride in, and protect the islands’ native ecosystems. Many local islanders are quite eager to participate in the conservation of the islands and have already adopted eco-friendly attitudes and activities.

(1) Roy et al. 1999. Oryx 33(3): 223-232
(2) Hodum. 2005. Technical report to the Jeniam Foundation.

Conservation Concerns

Male Juan Fernández Firecrown. © Peter Hodum

Male Juan Fernández Firecrown. © Peter Hodum

The natural communities of the Juan Fernández Islands are biologically unique. Although the archipelago’s flora has received considerable scientific attention (see the works of Tod Stuessy et al. and Philippe Danton), the fauna of the islands has not been as well researched. Changes to the native systems of the islands, beginning with the arrival of humans in 1574, have continued unabated, and much of the native flora and fauna are at risk, exhibiting serious population declines worthy of alarm.

Seventy-three percent of the endemic angiosperms are threatened with extinction (1). Four of the six locally breeding seabird species are listed by the IUCN as vulnerable (2). Two landbirds are recognized as critically endangered, and two others as vulnerable and near threatened. The Juan Fernández fur seal is listed by the IUCN as vulnerable (2) and is still recovering from severe over-hunting that nearly drove the species extinct in the 1800s.

The archipelago is currently home to many species of introduced and invasive plants (more than 400 species) and mammals (cattle, cats, coati, goats, mice, rabbits and rats). Because of the simplified ecological systems present on most islands, non-native species can have a disproportionate impact. Introduced species of mammals on islands can cause extensive damage to native systems through grazing, competition with native species, habitat alteration and destruction, and predation. Preliminary studies (see Research page) suggest that introduced mammals directly impact our focal seabird species through predation (cats, rats and coatis), competition for burrows (rabbits), and destruction of burrows (cattle). For example, a successful eradication of rabbits from Santa Clara in 2003 has resulted in a 20% increase in burrow occupancy by breeding pink-footed shearwaters. Changes in the plant community due to herbivory and grazing can potentially indirectly affect burrowing seabirds through soil compaction, increased soil erosion and compromised nesting habitat.

We are discussing the possibility of concerted eradication efforts with local islanders, local, regional, and national officials from the Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF, the national park administration agency), other Chilean agencies, Chilean ecologists, and eradication experts from the US, Ecuador, and New Zealand.

We also feel strongly that long-term restoration efforts are warranted, but we encourage the implementation of eradication efforts prior to investment in large-scale restoration. Without eliminating the threats posed by invasive species, restoration efforts run the risk of being undermined by their effects.

(1) Stuessy et al. 1992. Aliso 13(2): 297-307
(2) International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources www.redlist.org

Partners

CONAF logo_1inCorporación Nacional Forestal, CONAF logo mmaMinisterio del Medio Ambiente UNORCH logo_1inAvesChile, Unión de Ornitólogos de Chile
ABC logo_2inAmerican Bird Conservancy hbsociety_1inThe Hummingbird Society CodeffProDelphinusEnvironment Canada