Chilean matorral

Content Cover Image

Parque Nacional de Campana, Chile Photograph by David Olson

The Chilean matorral is an ecoregion in western central Chile that covers an area of approximately 57,300 square miles. This ecoregion is classified within the Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub biome. Exhibiting high plant and vertebrate endemism, the entire ecoregion is classified as critically endangered due to intensive deforestation and persistent high air pollution due to pressures of a burgeoning human population. The reptilian endemism is particularly notable, especially with respect to the tree iguanas; moreover, there are numerous reptiles, birds and mammals of threatened conservation status that can be found in the Chilean matorral.

caption Chilean matorral ecoregion. WWF

Significant invasion of herbs has taken place from species introduced from the Mediterranean Basin during the Spanish settlement period beginning in the sixteenth century; these effects have been exacerbated by the inherent low nutrient soils, herbivory and overgrazing from faunal alien species and livestock brought onto the land.

Location and general description

The Chilean matorral constitutes a 100 kilometer-wide strip extending along the central part of the Chilean coast. The ecoregion boasts a very high level of flora endemism; moreover, it is considered as a critically endangered habitat, with ongoing assaults from deforestation by native peoples of the region, resulting in severe habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. The deforestation has not only reduced habitat, but has accelerated the establishment of large expanses of alien herbs that were brought in during the Spanish settlement period.

To the north of this ecoregion is the Atacama Desert; along the extensive eastern border lies the Southern Andean steppe; at the southeast is situated the Valdivian temperate forests ecoregion.

Biodiversity features

The neotropical ecoregion has many endemic plant species with affinities not only to the tropics, but to the Antarctic and the Andes. About 95% of the plant species are Chilean endemic, including Gomortega keule, Pitavia punctata, Nothofagus alessandrii and Jubaea chilensis. The Chilean matorral has several threatened plant species; some endangered species are Adiantum gertrudis, Avellanita bustillosii and Beilschmiedia berteroana. There are seven endemic birds found at altitudes ranging from rocky slopes to arid scrub. With regard to vertbrates, there are 206 recorded taxa in the Chilean matorral ecoregion, with a high reptilian endemism.

Endemic reptiles in the Chilean matorral are: Alvaro's anole (Pristidactylus alvaroi), the degu (Octodon degus), the black-spotted tree iguana (Liolaemus nigromaculatus), the braided tree iguana (Liolaemus platei) the brown tree iguana (Liolaemus fuscus), Hellmich's tree iguana (Liolaemus hellmichi), Muller's tree iguana (Liolaemus copiapensis), Kuhlman's tree iguana (Liolaemus kuhlmanni), Philippi's tree iguana (Liolaemus bisignatus), Schroeder's tree iguana (Liolaemus schroederi), shining tree iguana (Liolaemus nitidus), Chilean tree iguana (Liolaemus chiliensis), spotted false monitor (Callopistes maculatus), Yanez's lava lizard (Microlophus yanezi), Liolaemus atacamensis, Liolaemus pseudolemniscatus, Liolaemus reichei, Liolaemus silvai, Pristidactylus valeriae and Homonota gaudichaudii.

The Green-backed Firecrown (Sephanoides sephanoides), a bird of restricted range, is found in the Chilean matorral and south to Tierra del Fuego. Near-endemic amphibians are represented by the Vallenar Toad (Chaunus atacamensis), which occurs in and near oases and streams year-around. Breeding occurs in permanent pools (including livestock water tanks), streams and rivers.Eggs are laid in long strings, and the larvae develop where these were laid..

caption Near Threatened pichi. @ Cláudio Dias Timm/EOL Non-endemic special status mammals of the ecoregion are: the Endangered Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita), the Near Threatened Atacama myotis (Myotis atacamensis), the Vulnerable Bridges degu (Octodon bridgesi), the Vulnerable kodkod (Leopardus guigna), the Near Threatened large long-clawed mouse (Chelemys megalonyx), the Near Threatened dromito del monte (Dromiciops gliroides), the Near Threatened pichi (Zaedyus pichiy), the Vulnerable Southern Pudu (pudu puda).

Non-endemic special status amphibians in the Chilean matorral ecoregion are represented by the Near threatened black spiny-chest frog (Alsodes nodosus), which can be found amongst scrub vegetation in the vicinity of perennial or ephemeral streams, where this anuranAn amphibian that has limbs but no tail (includes all frogs and toads) breeds. Other non-endemic anuranAn amphibian that has limbs but no tail (includes all frogs and toads) species in the ecoregion within the Chilean matorral are the Banded wood frog (Batrachyla taeniata) in the north of ecoregion, Chile four-eyed frog (Pleurodema thaul), and Helmeted water toad (Caudiverbera caudiverbera).

Non-endemic threatened birds of the Chilean matorral are the Near Threatened Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus), the Threatened Inca tern (Larosterna inca), the Near threatened Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopteris chilensis), the Near Threatened Peruvian pelican (Pelecanus thagus), the Endangered Peruvian diving-petrel (Pelecanoides garnotii), the Near Threatened elegant tern (Sterna elegans), the Near Threatened guanay cormorant (Phalacrocorax bougainvillii), the Near Threatened Inca tern (Larosterna inca), the Near threatened Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopteris chilensis), the strictly marine Vulnerable Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti), and the Near Threatened red-legged cormorant (Phalacrocorax gaimardi).

Ecological status

The conservation status of the Chilean matorral is classified as Critical/Endangered; correspondingly the ecoregion is given a G200 standing, indicating it is one of the worldwide priorities for conservation. The Chilean matorral is codified by the designation NT1201 in the World Wildlife Fund scheme. Air pollution is significant, expecially the persistent visible haze engendered by the presence of fine particulate matter from agricultural and solid waste combustion of indigenous peoples of the region. Additionally, the establishment of large tracts of alien species of Mediterranean herbs has ensued from continual land clearing and human induced fire disturbance.

Types and severity of threats

The ecoregion has been severely affected by fire, mining, logging, garbage dumps, urbanization, air pollution, water pollution and soil contamination. Water pollution of the region's rivers is of particular concern, as it relates to the expanding human population of the region; this impact is particularly severe to sensitive anuran species, such as Rhinella acamensis in the northern portion of the ecoregion, and to Alsodes nodosus. As an ongoing matter, this is the least protected ecoregion in Chile. The ongoing land clearing and burning by indigenous peoples not only is causing habitat loss, but is a significant contribution to propagation of alien herbs; moreover, these activities are frequently compounded by the overgrazing of domestic livestock (e.g. sheep, goats, cattle), whose herbivory and trampling promote alien species over the native understory and grasses.

Justification of ecoregion delineation

caption La Campana Parque Nacional. @ C.Michael Hogan This long and narrow ecoregion is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the east by the southern Andean Mountains. This ecoregion represents the transitional habitat between the ultra-dry Atacama Desert to the north, and the moist Valdivian temperate forests to the south. The northern linework follows Simmonetti and Montenegro (1994) who delineate the Atacama Desert, and the southern linework originated from expert opinion during several priority setting workshops for the Valdivian ecoregion complex (Valdivia, Chile, April 19-21, 1999 and Concepción, Chile, March 24, 2000). Justification for this ecoregion can be found in its many endemic plants and unique species associations (Mittermeier at al. 1999; WWF & IUCN 1997).

References and notes

  • Sharon Chester. 2010. A Wildlife Guide to Chile: Continental Chile, Chilean Antarctica, Easter Island, Juan Fernandez Archipelago (Google eBook) Princeton University Press. 400 pages
  • L.K.Lustig L. K. 1970. Appraisal of research on geomorphology and surface hydrology of desert environments. In W.G. McGinnies, B.J. Goldman, and P. Paylore, editors. Deserts of the world: An appraisal of research into their physical and biological environments. University of Arizona Press, Tucson. ISBN: 0816501815
  • C. Michael Hogan. 2008. Chilean Wine Palm: Jubaea chilensis,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg
  • Milena Holmgren, Reinaldo Aviles, Leonel Sierralta, Alejandro M.Segura & Eduardo R.Fuentes. 2000. Why have European herbs so successfully invaded the Chilean matorral? Effects of herbivory, soil nutrients and fire. Journal of Arid Environments 44: 197-211
  • Simmonetti, J.A. and G. Montenegro. 1994. Conservation and use of biodiversity of the arid and semiarid zones of Chile. Presented at the International Workshop "Conservación y uso sostenible de la biodiversidad en zonas áridas y semiáridas de América Latina", March 1994, Guadalajara, Mexico. Unpublished document
  • Mittermeier, R., N. Myers, and C.G. Mittermeier. 1999. Hotspots: earth’s biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecoregions. CEMEX/Conservation International, Mexico City. Pp. 430.
  • WWF and IUCN. 1997. Centres of plant diversity. A guide and strategy for their conservation. Volume 3: The Americas. IUCN Publications Unit, Cambridge, U.K.
  • Portions of the location and delineation sections were prepared by Claudia Locklin


Hogan, C., & Fund, W. (2014). Chilean matorral. Retrieved from


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