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October 2011  •  Volume 4 Number 3

Wild Gardens of LSST Preserve Endangered Plant Species from El Peñón

Cactacae – Eriosyce aurata (photo by Fundación Jardín Botánico Nacional de Viña del Mar, under Creative Commons license)

Initial site leveling of El Peñón peak on Cerro Pachón has been completed, shortening the summit by nine vertical meters and removing approximately 19,000 cubic meters of rock and earth. While this massive engineering enterprise is both impressive and necessary to prepare for the LSST summit facility, calibration telescope, and roads, it displaces more than lifeless rubble. Cerro Pachón is home to a vibrant desert ecosystem.

Both LSST and the government of Chile are concerned about the impact of the project on native, endangered flora and fauna. From the beginning of LSST’s relationship with Chile, the protection of threatened species – and in particular the relocation and replanting of flora in need of preservation – has been part of the site development plan. An Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA) was submitted by Enrique Figueroa, AURA Strategic Projects Coordinator, on behalf of LSST/AURA to CONAMA, the environmental agency of Chile. The CONAMA resolution approving the DIA stipulates that prior to excavation work “all the native flora that was identified as having conservation problems in the Baseline Study of the Flora and Vegetation will be relocated as recommended by that study.”

The rescue, relocation, and propagation program, conducted by botanical specialists at the University of La Serena, began in 2009 and is already demonstrating success.

The program established a three-hectare protected area with geographical biodiversity similar to El Peñón and created wild gardens to which rescued specimens would be relocated. In addition to the rescue and transplantation of mature plants from the summit, the program collected fruit from Eriosyce aurata and cuttings from Anisomeria coriacea in summer of 2009 in order to propagate 70 specimens of each species. After cultivation in a nursery designated for the purpose, the propagated specimens are repopulated in the wild gardens. Rescued and propagated specimens are tended and their survival monitored at regular intervals.

Rescue, maintenance and relocation of Eriosyce aurata from El Peñón (photos by Enrique Bustos Bernard)

A July 2011 report from consulting agronomist Enrique Bustos Bernard described the successful rescue, relocation, and transplantation of 25 specimens of the endangered cactus species Eriosyce aurata. The report also testified to the good condition of specimens that had been rescued in April.

“Propagation of Eriosyce aurata and Anisomeria coriacea,” a report prepared by Gina Aracancio of the University of La Serena, indicates successful propagation of Eriosyce aurata. Unfortunately the program was unable to collect any viable Anisomeria corriacea seeds from El Peñón and propagation from cuttings has proven disappointing, however of the 300 Eriosyce aurata seeds collected, 270 have germinated. The seedlings are being cultivated in a greenhouse and eventually will be transplanted to El Peñón.

Eriosyce aurata seedlings at six months (photo by Gina Aracancio)

With the completion of LSST’s site leveling activities, and with the encouraging results of the rescue and propagation programs, Mario González Kemnis, AURA Safety and Environmental Engineer, anticipates that replanting on El Peñón will begin in January or February 2012. Like the previous transplantation to the wild gardens, this revegetation of the LSST site will be an important step in an ongoing program of conscientious and responsible site stewardship by LSST/AURA under the direction of Chilean biologists and environmental agencies.

Article written by Robert McKercher with contributions by Jeff Barr


LSST is a public-private partnership. Funding for design and development activity comes from the National Science Foundation, private donations, grants to universities, and in-kind support at Department of Energy laboratories and other LSSTC Institutional Members:

Adler Planetarium; Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL); California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Chile; Cornell University; Drexel University; Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; George Mason University; Google, Inc.; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Institut de Physique Nucléaire et de Physique des Particules (IN2P3); Johns Hopkins University; Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) – Stanford University; Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Inc.; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL); Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL); National Optical Astronomy Observatory; Princeton University; Purdue University; Research Corporation for Science Advancement; Rutgers University; SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Space Telescope Science Institute; Texas A & M University; The Pennsylvania State University; The University of Arizona; University of California at Davis; University of California at Irvine; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Michigan; University of Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh; University of Washington; Vanderbilt University

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