Scientists say that Araucaria araucana, commonly known as the monkey puzzle tree, is now endangered and faces the risk of extinction. Known to be one of the most resilient species, the plant outlived the Jurassic era, over 14 million years ago.
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According to the IUCN red list, the monkey puzzle tree is currently endangered both in the wild and on farms. The plant is cultivated in farms and gardens around the world thanks to its beauty. Furthermore, the fact that it is evergreen makes it an attractive choice for garden decorations.
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Today, the tree only grows on the slopes of Patagonia’s volcanoes in Chile and Argentina. However, its existence has faced plenty of challenges in the recent past. Wildfires, overgrazing and land clearances led to a decrease in its numbers. Additionally, its seeds are a delicacy for endemic species of birds, particularly the austral parakeet. The parakeets raid trees in a flock of about 15 birds in winter, but their numbers on one tree can easily swell to over 100.
While the parakeets have been quite heavy on the trees, they also help in their survival. The birds feed on its nuts, but in return, they spread its seed to new grounds. A recent study in Patagonia found that the birds act as a buffer between the trees and the threats posed by humans. Among the threats noted in the study include overharvesting of the nuts.
The parrots only eat the nuts from the tree tops, partially removing the coat on the seeds. This helps the seeds germinate faster. On the other hand, humans harvest both the nuts and seeds, killing the growth cycle of the pant.
“They play an important role in the regeneration of the araucaria forests as the partially eaten seeds they leave on the ground are not selected by seed collectors, and they retain their germination potential,” explained Gabriela Gleiser and Karina Speziale, researchers at Argentina’s Biodiversity and Environment Research Institute at the National University of Comahue.
Not only with animals, they are a source of food for the Indigenous Mapuche people in Chile and Argentina. The Mapuche lifestyle depends on the monkey puzzletree just as much as the parakeets. Now, these trees are protected by law across the Patagonia in hopes that they will continue to survive.
Lead image via Pixabay