BUENOS AIRES - The old-growth forests of South America’s Patagonia region are now, more than at any time in the past 600 years, extremely slow growth, according to researchers from Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research, or CONICET.
The infamous hole in the ozone layer, the CONICET researchers argue, has shifted weather patterns in Patagonia, a wilderness region that covers both sides of the border in southern Chile and Argentina. The changes have resulted in less rainfall for northern Patagonia, whose forests depend on high levels of moisture.
The growth slow-down is affecting several species of tree, including Patagonia’s iconic Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides), an endangered species that also goes by the name Patagonian Cyprus. Like its Northern Hemisphere cousin, the Redwood, Alerce trees can live for millennia. Also affected are Araucaria araucana, or Monkey Puzzle trees, an extremely old species of evergreen considered to be a “living fossil.”
The Monkey Puzzle tree, a "living fossile" - Photo: Benjamin Witte
Still the phenomenon requires further study, for the same researchers found that forests in mountainous regions of New Zealand and Tasmania (in southern Australia), areas that are on roughly the same latitude as Patagonia, are currently experiencing an accelerated growth spurt not seen since the 1700s.