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J Environ Manage. 2013 Sep 30;127:50-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2013.04.030. Epub 2013 May 13.

Impacts of informal trails on vegetation and soils in the highest protected area in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Environment Futures Centre, School of Environment, Griffith University, Gold Coast, QLD 4222, Australia.


There is limited recreation ecology research in South America, especially studies looking at informal trails. Impacts of informal trails formed by hikers and pack animals on vegetation and soils were assessed for the highest protected area in the Southern Hemisphere, Aconcagua Provincial Park. The number of braided trails, their width and depth were surveyed at 30 sites along the main access route to Mt Aconcagua (6962 m a.s.l.). Species composition, richness and cover were also measured on control and trail transects. A total of 3.3 ha of alpine meadows and 13.4 ha of alpine steppe were disturbed by trails. Trails through meadows resulted in greater soil loss, more exposed soil and rock and less vegetation than trails through steppe vegetation. Trampling also affected the composition of meadow and steppe vegetation with declines in sedges, herbs, grasses and shrubs on trails. These results highlight how visitor use can result in substantial cumulative damage to areas of high conservation value in the Andes. With unregulated use of trails and increasing visitation, park agencies need to limit the further spread of informal trails and improve the conservation of plant communities in Aconcagua Provincial Park and other popular parks in the region.


Aconcagua; Andes mountains; Nature-based tourism; Recreation ecology; Trampling mules; Walking

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