Endemic to Argentina and Chile where it is mainly confined to the Andes.
In Argentina it occurs in the Andes between Prov. Neuquén and Prov. Chubut. It has a scattered natural distribution from 36° 30' and 39° 30'S and more continuously between 39° 30'S and 43° 35'S, along a 60-80 km wide strip (Seibert 1982).
In Chile it occurs in both the Andes and in the Coastal Cordillera. In the Andes it is found in a series of disjunct populations from Region V (Province Los Andes 32° 29'S), to Region X (Province Palena, 34º 38'S) in an altitudinal range of between 250-2,200 m. In the Coastal Cordillera it occurs infrequently in a few scattered locations between Region VIII (Province Arauco 37º 30'S) and Region X (Province Valdivia 40º 20'S) where its altitudinal range is between 100-500 m (Hechenleitner et al. 2005).
It has an estimated total area of occupancy (AOO) of 1,860 km2 (Chile is 449 km2 (Catastro dataset, 1999)); Argentina 1,411 km2 (Rusch et al. 2002).
Towards the western end of the range of Austrocedrus in Argentina, particularly in peri-urban areas there has been decrease over in the past 50-60 years due to illegal cutting. However, in the east of its range, towards the steppe vegetation, there has been a noticeable expansion in its range and this trend represents an overall net gain for Austrocedrus in Argentina. In contrast, in Chile there is a net loss (Le Quesne pers. comm.).
In the northern part of its range in Chile, at altitudes of between 900 and 1,600 m, it grows with species which form part of the sclerophyllous forest type such as Cryptocarya alba, Kegeneckia oblonga, Lithrea caustica and Quillaja saponaria. In some locations it can also grow in pure open stands at the tree-line, for example, in Region VIII there are large stands on steep volcanic slopes of Volcán Antuco (1,000-1,200 m).
In Central Chile it can also form stands in association with Nothofagus obliqua. At the lower altitudes it sometimes grows along rocky, river margins and is often associated with Prumnopitys andinus (Hechenleitner et al. 2005).
There are a wide range of threats to the population in Argentina and Chile. These include logging (mainly historic), harmful pathogens, grazing, invasive non-native tree species, habitat loss through natural or human-set fires and establishment of plantation trees. More recently there have been concerns regarding climate change and the effects of hydroelectric schemes in Chile. In Argentina the North American conifer Pseudotsuga menziesii, although only established as a plantation crop over the past 25 years, is already considered as a serious invasive species in Austrocedrus forests (Orellana and Raffaele 2010). Austrocedrus is extremely vulnerable to the detrimental effects of cattle grazing on post-fire regeneration (Blackhall et al. 2008). Since 2003, when the insect pest Cinara cupressi was first detected in Chile, it has quickly become established throughout the country where it has caused yellowing of the foliage, branch dieback, and eventually tree death, depending on the severity and duration of the infestation (Baldini et al. 2008, Penna and Altmann 2009). Increasingly over recent years, there has been decline and mortality throughout its range caused by the condition known as ‘mal del ciprés’. This condition, which was first recognized 60 years ago, is still poorly understood but the symptoms originate in the root system and cause loss of vigour and defoliation of the crown (Havrylenko et al. 1989, Hennon and Rajchenberg 2000). This is possibly caused by the pathogen Phytophthora austrocedrae. However, even taking these negative effects into account, post-disturbance regeneration, in the majority of its distribution in Argentina, is very good and as a result there is no net loss of sexually mature individuals (Kitzberger pers. comm.). This is not the case in Chile where there is a net loss, particularly in the drier parts of its range in central Chile (Le Quesne pers comm.).
Timber was historically used for construction and making furniture. The wood is fragrant and has a durable quality suitable for outdoor use (panelling and outdoor furniture). The species is grown as an ornamental by arboreta and botanical gardens, but is not commonly seen in trade.