Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tree planting in the driest place on Earth
The southern coast of Peru is one of the driest places on Earth. Why would anyone choose this parched location to re-plant a forest?
The strip of desert between the Andean mountains and the Pacific Ocean has an annual average rainfall as low as 1.5mm.
By way of comparison, London enjoys around 650mm a year.
It's not an obvious place to choose if you're looking for somewhere to plant trees, but for restoration ecologist Oliver Whaley the harsh environment of the northern fringes of the Atacama desert is part of the point.
By helping to restore the shrinking native forests, the aim is to benefit local people and wildlife, prevent soil erosion, and help alleviate climate change.
"If we can get trees established here, and learn how to do it with as little water as possible, then it is a model for the rest of the world," he says.
While the plight of the world's rainforests are well known, the same cannot be said of tropical dry forests. These less biodiverse, but equally remarkable forests, face threats every bit as severe as their better known cousins.
The Atacama dry forest "is really an ecosystem on its last legs," says Mr Whaley, of London's Kew Gardens - an internationally renowned botanical research institution.
The tree under threat is the huarango, Prosopis limensis, found only in the Ica region of Peru.
The Painting is by George Caleb Bingham