Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Perennial vegetation, an indicator of desertification in Spain

A team of scientists has analyzed 29 esparto fields from Guadalajara to Murcia and has concluded that perennial vegetation cover is an efficient early warning system against desertification in these ecosystems. The study has been published in the Ecology magazine.

In order to foresee the appearance of desertification processes, defined by the United Nations as the "degradation of the land into arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas, resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activity", the team of scientists from the Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC) has evaluated the spatial distribution of vegetation as an "early" indicator of the appearance of desertification processes.

To do so, they analyzed the formations dominated by esparto or needlegrass (stipa tenacissima), one of the most representative ecosystems in the Iberian Peninsula.

Fernando T. Maestre is the main author of the study published in the Ecology magazine and is the Senior Lecturer at the Higher School of Experimental Sciences and Technology of the URJC. "The losses of vegetable cover in the ecosystems studied lead to a decrease in the fertility and functionality of the ecosystem and bring about the beginning of desertification processes", he explained to SINC.

After characterizing the spatial distribution of the vegetation and analyzing the fertility of the soil and the capacity of the ecosystem to recycle the organic matter into nutrients which can be assimilated by the plants, the researchers showed that the spatial distribution of the vegetation on all the plots of land was characterized, from the statistical point of view, by displaying a potential "truncated" distribution. This takes place when the areas of vegetation of the greatest size are lost.

In spite of the above, "the plots studied showed, for example, a great variation in aspects as important as the content of nitrogen and phosphorus, while many of them did not display any symptoms of undergoing desertification processes", indicated Maestre. The researchers also found that the total vegetation cover was "positively and significantly" related to the fertility of the soil.

The conclusions indicate that perennial vegetation cover, "a parameter easily attainable by means of taking samples in the field or air photographs", can be used in a "satisfactory and robust manner" in order to evaluate the early appearance of desertification processes in semi-arid esparto fields.

18% of the surface area of Spain, at risk

Identifying that a specific ecosystem is undergoing desertification is of "great importance" when identifying the causes which are leading to its desertification and for knowing how this complex phenomenon may affect its functioning and the services it provides. Besides, "the search for early warning desertification indicators allows us to establish management and restoration measures before the degradation process of the ecosystem becomes irreversible", indicated Maestre.

Nevertheless, these results do not support those obtained by another team of researchers, whose study was published in 2007 in Nature (449: 213�). This research endorsed the use of the spatial distribution of vegetation as a universal indicator of the early appearance of desertification processes. "In that work, it was suggested that when the vegetation of a specific area characterized by a potential distribution becomes characterized by a potential truncated distribution, the risk of desertification is imminent", clarified Maestre.

Spain is the country with the greatest risk of desertification in Europe. According to the estimates of the Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, 18% of the surface area of Spain displays a high or very high risk of suffering this phenomenon. Desertification has already had significant consequences from the ecological and socio-economic point of view all around the world, and "directly affects about 250 million people in the developing countries", according to the estimates Maestre made in another study published in 2007 in Science (316: 847-851).

References: Maestre, Fernando T. y Escudero, Adrián, "Is the patch size distribution of vegetation a suitable indicator of desertification processes?", Ecology 90(7):1729-1735, julio de 2009.

SINC | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

First-time reconstruction of infectious bat influenza viruses

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Novel method to benchmark and improve the performance of protein measumeasurement techniques

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Amazon rain helps make more rain

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>