A Day in the Life: Adam Bouche in Valdivia, Chile

Adam Bouche

Follow Adam through a day working on his Master’s thesis research in Valdivia, Chile!

A day in the life as a visiting researcher in Valdivia, Chile

Thanks to the Dean’s Investment Fund Award for International Engagement and support from my major professors Klaus Puettmann and David Shaw, I spent August 2019 conducting research in Valdivia, Chile. Valdivia is a quiet city with a large university in south-central Chile. It sits close to the coast, surrounded by wetlands and deep rivers born from glacial lakes high in the Andes. Every day I spent in Valdivia was different, and packed with learning and exploration.

7:00 AM – Rise and shine!

I began my days as the sun (sometimes) peeked over the rounded peaks of the Coastal Range. Valdivia in August is much like Corvallis in March: chilly and rainy, with the occasional sunny day. I stoked the wood stove in the cabin and ate breakfast before wading out through the fog of morning. I hopped on the bus, zooming past rows of wooden houses and marshes full of black-necked swans and on my way to the Universidad Austral de Chile. There I met my hosts, Professor Rodrigo Morales, a researcher in plant pathology and forest protection, and faculty research assistant Marcos Aravena.
I came here to study a disease affecting Pinus radiata (Monterrey pine, native to California), one of the most important species for the Chilean timber industry. For foresters looking to produce high-quality wood, this disease is a major concern, because it can impact 50 to 90+% of trees at each site! The fungus Corinectria constrictus causes this disease, twisting trunks and creating long, narrow “flute” cankers like gouges in the trees. In Chile, foresters often prune trees, removing lower branches to reduce the size and number of knots, which reduce the quality and strength of the wood. In plantations where this fungus is living beneath the bark, this pruning appears to stress the trees just enough that fungus can jump into action, when the symptoms emerge.

A beautiful nightmare for Chilean foresters: The burnt orange Corinectria constricta fungus fruiting on an infected pine. These incredible organisms are tiny and dangerous to pines.


My role in this project was to extend my Master’s thesis research, adapting a disease spread model to understand the transmission of this Corinectria disease in Chile. Though the damage caused by this fungus is severe and infection widespread, we don’t know where in the world it comes from or how it arrives in these plantations. By using a computer model, our goal is to develop hypotheses about how this disease moves through forested landscapes, simulate spread under different scenarios, and compare the simulation results to field data to see whether our understanding matches the reality on the ground.

In order to build the model, we had to develop an understanding of this disease. Our first step was an exercise known as concept mapping. We took everything known about this disease and started connecting ideas. We asked ourselves, “What conditions does the fungus need to spread?” We discussed everything from temperature and precipitation to management practices, including tree spacing and pruning. We created a graphical representation of this understanding to help design efficient data collection to answer key questions and build the model.

Prof. Morales and I dig into the details about this disease with a concept map.


The beautiful lake in Panguipulli, with the glacier-covered Mocho-Choshuenco volcano in the background.

We also did fieldwork to characterize the spatial pattern of infection. To better understand how this disease is moving, we needed to ask: What proportion of trees are infected? Are infected trees spread evenly in the stand or clustered together? Are most trees severely damaged, or do they just have small defects? By understanding how infections are distributed in space, we can begin to understand the processes that spread the fungus, which can be difficult to directly measure and observe.

We traveled to an infected plantation near Panguipulli, Chile, and began collecting data. We walked parallel rows of planted trees, recording age, size, and the severity of disease effects on tree growth. After measuring many rows of trees, we had built a grid of points representing the location and status of the trees that could be analyzed in a geographic information system (GIS).

Me and Prof. Morales measure a pine severely deformed by this disease.

12:00 PM – LUNCH TIME!

We were too busy eating to snap pictures of lunch, but Chilean food is delicious! I highly recommend the baked empanadas, and the fresh ceviche, clams, mussels, and crab you can taste on the coast.


Back on campus, I spent some time at the front of the classroom. Because of my experience during my thesis research, I was invited to give a workshop introducing simulation modeling and its applications in ecology, especially for diseases in agricultural and forestry systems. This was a great way to engage students and researchers and thank the University, especially those involved in organizing my visit. Teaching a modeling workshop was outside of my comfort zone, and teaching in Spanish was a challenge.

Teaching my first modeling workshop at Universidad Austral de Chile!


Outside my window stood an arrayán (Luma apiculata), a native understory plant in the myrtle family (Myrtaceae). In the foreground, the data we collected in the field. To close out a full day, we often took time to reflect on what we had learned. No need to go out when it’s pouring… Most Valdivians hunker down around wood-burning stoves to fend off cold winter days. It’s not a bad option, especially when you have a view of the “Valdivian jungle”, native vegetation of the region.

At the end of the day…

I made new friends and developed a collaboration with researchers that we plan to continue into the future. This project is in its early days, and I hope to go back to Chile on my own next year. If you’re interested in traveling to learn or research, get in touch with College of Forestry International Programs, and they will help you make it work!

Sharing a goodbye feast with new friends and colleagues.

A special thank you to the Dean’s Investment Fund Award for International Engagement, the College of Forestry’s International Programs office, my major professors Klaus Puettmann and Dave Shaw, my collaborators Rodrigo Morales, Marcos Aravena, and everyone in the Falcultad de Ciencias Forestales y Recursos Naturales and Agronomía at Universidad Austral de Chile!

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