The evergreen plant can grow up to 48.8 meters tall and live for a millennium. tree is a survivor from the Jurassic era, more than 145 million years ago.
Fires, land clearing, overgrazing and logging have shrunk the temperate forest where the monkey puzzle tree grows. The large seeds are also a prized food source for an endemic bird species, the Australian parakeet.
The green-hued parrots, in flocks of about 15 birds, flutter from tree to tree to find a good place to fatten up for the winter. When the birds hit the jackpot, their numbers can exceed 100, and they eat the pine nuts of monkey puzzles.
Scientists say the birds act as a buffer against the threat posed by over-harvesting the nuts by humans.
The parakeets usually take the pine nuts and consume them from a tree top tens of meters away. Often the birds eat only part of the seeds.
In addition, they said via email that the parakeets disperse the seeds, meaning the trees regenerate further from the mother plant.
Gleiser and Speziale also examine whether the parakeets, as they flutter from branch to spiky branch, pollinate the female cones.
The parakeets are not the only residents to eat these nuts. They are also a traditional food source for Chili’s and The indigenous Mapuche people of Argentina, who skillfully climb the monumental trees to collect seeds and pound them into a flour that can be baked into bread. The nuts, which are larger than almonds, are also more widely eaten in the two countries, especially Chile.
The Mapuche have the right to collect nuts in their ancestral territory; But in addition, local authorities limit the amount of nuts that can be collected for personal and commercial purposes and require a permit, Gleiser and Speziale said.
“Nevertheless, there are many illegal collectors who collect without respecting collection limits,” the researchers added.
“The collection of human seed poses a significant threat to (the) the reproduction of the monkey puzzle tree in those populations accessible to humans, as illegal seed collectors nearly exhaust the seed pools produced by the trees.”
However, the nuts damaged by the parakeets are discarded by collectors, so that the partially eaten nuts can still germinate.
Mapuche’s lifestyle is intertwined with the monkey puzzle tree. However, it was a bond that was almost severed during colonial times and until the 1990s, when industrial loggers cleared the land, including the Araucaria trees. The Mapuche demanded legal protection for the species and clashed with loggers and the Chilean government. The monkey puzzle trees are now protected by law in Patagonia.