Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Team Describes Unique Desert Cloud Forest

Date:
September 18, 2006
Source:
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology
Summary:
Trees that live in an odd desert forest in Oman have found an unusual way to water themselves by extracting moisture from low-lying clouds, MIT scientists report. In an area that is characterized mostly by desert, the trees have preserved an ecological niche because they exploit a wispy-thin source of water that only occurs seasonally.

A desert cloud forest in Oman.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Elfatih Eltahir

Trees that live in an odd desert forest in Oman have found an unusual way to water themselves by extracting moisture from low-lying clouds, MIT scientists report.

In an area that is characterized mostly by desert, the trees have preserved an ecological niche because they exploit a wispy-thin source of water that only occurs seasonally, said Elfatih A.B. Eltahir, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and former MIT graduate student Anke Hildebrandt.

After studying the Oman site, they also expressed concern that the unusual forest could be driven into extinction if hungry camels continue eating too much of the foliage. As the greenery disappears it's possible the trees will lose the ability to pull water from the mist and recharge underground reservoirs.

A report on their research was published in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters. They are also advising the Omani government on handling the problem.

The forest is especially unique, said Eltahir and Hildebrandt, because it "is a water-limited seasonal cloud forest" that is kept alive by water droplets gathered from passing clouds -- ground fog. The water dribbles into the ground and sustains the trees later when the weather is dry. The MIT work suggests the trees actually get more of their water through contact with clouds than via rainfall.

In general, cloud forests are not really rare. But they occur most frequently in moist tropical regions where there is ample rainfall. So it is unusual, the researchers said, to find a cloud forest in a region known for chronic dryness.

The researchers studied the area in Oman to learn how the Dhofar Mountain ecosystem "functions naturally, and how it may respond to human activity" that could lead to desertification and the need for reforestation.

Eltahir and Hildebrandt, who is now at the UFZ Center for Environmental Research, in Leipzig, Germany, said the unusual forest is an interesting remnant "of a moist vegetation belt that once spread across the Arabian Peninsula" in the distant past. At that time the regional climate was generally wetter.

The forested area in the Sultanate of Oman is now semi-arid, and most of the ancient tree vegetation is gone. This small remnant has managed to survive in the Dhofar Mountains.

But it is under threat.

Although many Omanis have moved into cities and towns as the country has grown rich on oil, Eltahir explained, a family's prestige still comes from owning many camels, and people now tend to keep more camels than they need, which is part of the problem facing the forest.

"It is an unusual place," Eltahir said. "It's a very good example of a unique and fragile ecosystem" where constant pressure from over-grazing can have consequences beyond defoliation. In fact, the forest illustrates how small changes can lead to major impact on far bigger systems, Eltahir said.

The trees in wetter ecosystems would likely recover from small amounts of over-grazing, Eltahir said, but "in this location, due to the nature of the interaction of the canopy structure with the clouds, the trees may not recover."

The two said the forest probably would not regenerate naturally once it is gone. Without the trees that sweep the extra water from clouds, the forest cannot regrow. Grass, even if abundant, cannot collect enough moisture from fog to let a forest regrow.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. "Team Describes Unique Desert Cloud Forest." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060912225845.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. (2006, September 18). Team Describes Unique Desert Cloud Forest. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060912225845.htm
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. "Team Describes Unique Desert Cloud Forest." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060912225845.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, August 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

AP (July 31, 2014) With Florida's panther population rebounding, some ranchers complain the protected predators are once again killing their calves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Big Waves In Arctic Ocean Threaten Polar Ice

Big Waves In Arctic Ocean Threaten Polar Ice

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Big waves in parts of the Arctic Ocean are unprecedented, mainly because they used to be covered in ice. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins