A group of scientists carry out various samplings on the coastal edge of the Strait of Magellan, where there is a real jungle of macroalgae that has more than 40 hectares and is undetectable by satellites. It is only possible to see it at low tide.
Daniela Jofré, IDEAL Center. The Buque Quemado sector is located in San Gregorio, 200 kilometers north of Punta Arenas, Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic Region. Despite the fact that within the scientific community it is a sector known for its extensive pampas and wetlands, the biodiversity of its marine ecosystem has been little studied.
There, in the heart of the Strait of Magellan, a team of scientists from the Center for Dynamic Research of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) investigates the so-called “ghost forests” of Macrocystis pyrifera. These are true swarms of huiros, which are undetectable to satellite systems and can only be seen when at low tide. Its extension reaches more than 40 hectares.
“The correct term to refer to this maritory is ‘intertidal forest.’ Despite the fact that this place is subjected to the stress of low tide, which lasts around six hours a day depending on the lunar cycle, it continues to perform its physiological activity normally, but always under pressure from the environment (high solar radiation, drying and increases in salinity due to the evaporation of seawater,) it is even capable of withstanding temperatures exceeding 22°C in the intertidal pools that form. This is something very particular,” assures the IDEAL Center doctor candidate and co-author of the study, Mauricio Palacios, who has been working for more than four years in the remote perception line headed by Dr. Pirjo Huovinen.
In the framework of his doctoral thesis on the physiological characterization of the huiro, Palacios began to study the Buque Quemado sector four years ago. This is characterized by having small plants compared to the average (they measure between 4 and 5 meters), which grow on an irregular surface, with mud and boulder, very different from the huiro forests that are usually found in the rest of the Magallanes region.
After extracting and analyzing different samples of this species in the field (physiological response and population data such as density and biomass,) in addition to carrying out an environmental characterization of this particular habitat, Palacios and his team hope to know what is the contribution that these particular “ghost forests” perform in the Strait of Magellan, especially under possible scenarios of climate change.
“From a global point of view, M. pyrifera is one of the most successful algae to colonize different spaces. Although its distribution is relatively clear, its coverage from the northern to the southern hemisphere is quite wide, being a species that is adaptable to different environmental conditions,” said Palacios, who hopes to obtain results in the middle of the year.
This type of huiro forest has been registered in other places such as Baja California, but they are not usually common. The Buque Quemado ecosystem could become the first one found in the Magallanes Region. “In Chile it is possible to find small intertidal patches of Macrocystis from the Los Ríos region to the north, but to date we have not seen one with the dimensions found in this place,” he concluded.