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Robert Petitpas


Robert Petitpas

UCL Department of Geography
University College London
North-West Wing
Gower Street








Current research

Political Ecology of Pewen Conservation in Chile

This research aims to understand the politics around the uses and conservation of pewen or araucaria (Araucaria araucana). Pewen is an iconic tree in Chile, present on banknotes and other official documents, and sacred to indigenous people. Also, araucaria seeds have been for centuries a staple food to Pewenche people. The species is a Natural Monument and thus protected in all the Chilean territory. Also, the species is classified as Vulnerable by Chilean law, and Endangered at the international level (IUCN red lists). Despite the strong protection that the tree has in Chile, there are disagreements regarding the future of the species. Recent wildfires, unknown diseases, drier climate conditions, and increases in seed consumption, have triggered scientific projects and experts committees in order to assess threats to araucaria forests. Many Chilean scientists are advocating to change the conservation status from Vulnerable to Endangered, on the other hand, Pewenche communities made a public statement rejecting the conservation status change, worried that their ancestral access to the seed will be restricted.

The change from Vulnerable to Endangered and its ecological and social consequences unveil not only scientific uncertainties but also social and political processes that are shaping the interactions between the actors involved in pewen conservation, and also the interactions between humans and tree. In this research, I propose that pewen is different for the scientists, the government and the local communities. By using an ontological politics framework, where pewen are considered ontologically multiple, I am looking to better understand the politics behind the agreements and disagreements regarding the conservation of pewen in Chile. Also, this research aims at exploring the different ways of understanding pewen, the discrepancies and similarities between different understandings, and role of these in shaping the politics of pewen conservation.


Primary Supervisor: Dr Sam Randalls (UCL Geography)
Secondary Supervisor: Dr Seth Gustafson (UCL Geography)


Work Experience

Research assistant
Interdisciplinary Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Studies
Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social Science, Pontificia Universidad Católica de
Chile, 2013 – 2015

Associate researcher
Fauna Australis Wildlife Laboratory
Department of Ecosystems and Environment, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry
Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2010 – 2011; 2013 – 2015


Academic Background

MSc, Environment, Science and Society, Department of Geography, University College London, 2012

Forestry Engineer, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2010

Academic Minor in Environmental Studies, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2008



Scholarship for PhD Studies, Becas Chile program of CONICYT (National Commission of Science and Technology), 2015

Scholarship granted by Botanic Latin-American Network for regional workshop in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 2011

Scholarship for Master Studies, Becas Chile program of CONICYT (National Commission of Science and Technology), 2009



Award for the contribution to a sustainable culture in the university. Sustainability Office and Ecological Council (CEUC) of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2011

Academic excellence award, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2010

Meritorious award that recognized the integral formation and behaviour according to the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2010.


Peer-reviewed publications

Muñoz, A., Petitpas, R., Marín, J. C., Bonacic, C. 2021. A conflict between a threaten deer and indigenous agriculture: Tarukas (Hippocamelus antisensis D´Orbigny) and Aymara farmers in northern Chile. Gayana. 85(1), 35 - 45.

Álvarez-Varas, R., Barrios-Garrido, H., Skamiotis-Gomez, I. and Petitpas, R. 2020. Cultural Role of Sea Turtles on Rapa Nui (Easter Island): Spatial and Temporal Contrast in the Pacific Region. Island Studies Journal. 15(1), 253 - 270.

Petitpas, R. and Bonacic, C. 2019. Ontological Politics of Wildlife: Local People, Conservation Biologists and Guanacos. Conservation and Society. 17(3), 250 - 257.

Petitpas, R., Ibarra, J. T., Miranda, M. and Bonacic, C. 2016. Spatial patterns over a 24-year period show an increase in native vegetation cover and decreased fragmentation in Andean temperate landscapes, Chile. Ciencia e investigación agraria 43(3), 384 – 395.

Álvarez-Varas, R., Petitpas, R., Stowhas, P. and Fuentes-Hurtado, M. 2015. Conservation Research Needs of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) Marine Turtles. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 14(2), 184 – 192.

Gálvez, N., Hernández, F., Laker, J., Gilabert, H., Petitpas, R., Bonacic, C., Gimona, A., et al. 2013. Forest cover outside protected areas plays an important role in the conservation of the Vulnerable guiña Leopardus guigna. Oryx 47(02), 251 – 258.


Book chapter

Ibarra, J.T., Petitpas, R., Barreau, A., Caviedes, J., Cortés, J. Orrego, G., Salazar, G., Altamirano, T. 2022. Becoming tree, becoming memory: Social-ecological fabrics in Pewen (Araucaria araucana) landscapes of the southern Andes. In: Wall, J. ed. The Cultural Value of Trees: Folk Value and Biocultural Conservation. 1st ed. London: Routledge, pp. 15–31.

Selected posters and presentations

Petitpas, R. 2019. Conservación y manejo del pewen. La ecología política de un árbol sagrado. Conferencia de las Americas 2019, Bonn Universität, Bonn, Germany. July 12 - 14.

Vargas, S., Petitpas, R., Kalazich, F. and Bonacic, C. 2015. El guanaco como especie cultural clave en Atacama (The guanaco as a cultural keystone specie in Atacama). XXII
Annual meeting of Chilean ecological society, Olmué, Chile. November 3 – 6.

Petitpas, R. y Randalls, S. 2014. Ciencia ciudadana y relación público-ciencia en el estudio de las aves en Chile: el caso de eBird. XI Chilean Congress of Ornithology, La Serena, Chile. Octubre 13 – 17.

Petitpas, R., Sandoval, MJ., Condeza, C. and Altamirano, TA. 2013. Distribución potencial de aves amenazadas y su representación en áreas protegidas. V Ecology bi-national meeting, Chile - Argentina. Puerto Varas, Chile, November, 3 – 6.

Bonacic, C., Muñoz, AE. and Petitpas, R., Ohrens, O. 2013. Interacciones entre la agricultura Aymará y ungulados silvestre en ecosistemas andinos de Tarapacá, Chile. V Ecology bi-national meeting, Chile - Argentina. Puerto Varas, Chile, November, 3 – 6.

Petitpas, R., Ohrens, O., Hernández, F. and Bonacic, C. 2011. Distribution models of invasive species in Southern Chile: Red Deer, Wild Boar and American Mink. BIOLIEF, 2nd World Conference on Biological Invasions and Ecosystem Functioning. BIOLIEF. Mar del Plata, Argentina. November, 21 – 24.

Petitpas, R., Miranda, M., Ibarra, J.T., Gálvez, N., Laker, J. and Bonacic, C. 2010. Cambios en los patrones espaciales del paisaje entre 1983 y 2007, en la pre-cordillera de la Araucanía, Chile. IV Ecology bi-national meeting. Buenos Aires, Argentina.