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Atacama Desert – Genius of Place Claudia Rivera School of Chemistry, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico [email protected]
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Atacama Desert – Genius of Place

Claudia RiveraSchool of Chemistry, National Autonomous

University of Mexico, Mexico City, [email protected]

What is a genius of place study?

● Tool developed by Biomimicry 3.8● Allows us to look into nature in specific

places or areas● Helps to obtain information on locally-

attuned organisms● Organisms are expected to have

developed unique strategies

Why the Atacama Desert ecoregion?

Source: WWF

Deserts and xeric shrublands: recognized as some of the more outstanding regional centers of richness and endemism

Why the Atacama Desert ecoregion?

● Driest non-polar (McKay et al., 2003)

● Oldest extant desert in the world (Azua-Bustos et al., 2017; Hartley et al., 2005)

● Sandy soil, salt lakes, stony terrain and felsic lava flowing towards the Andes.

Hartley et al., 2005

Extreme environmental challenges

● Extreme temperatures● Sunlight exposure● Strong winds● Thin atmosphere (organisms thrive in low

oxygen levels)● Salinity● Hyper-aridity -low precipitation-● Variability in available water (precipitation)

Atacama Desert Champions

Llareta (Azorella compacta)

Martin Mergili (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu) CC BY 3.0

Llareta (Azorella compacta)

Biological Strategy -Adaptation-

Extreme temperatures

Strong winds

Hyper-aridity

Variability in available water

CC BY 3.0 Credit: Martin Mergili

Llareta is a woody cushion plant characterised by a densely branched hemispherical to mat-like growth form with the presence of a central taproot. The dense branching structure of llareta allows to store heat energy efficiently, providing buffering against sharp diurnal changes in ambient air temperature. Its cross-sectional shape provides minimal wind drag and thus reduces boundary layer turbulence around it's canopy (Kleier and Rundel 2004; 2008; Ralph, 1978; Wickens, 1985).

Moisture trapped in the dead tissue within the interior of the cushion could serve as a reservoir. The tiny, thick leaves, compact growth and resin content could contribute as well to reduce water loss and aid freezing resistance (Wickens, 1995).

Llareta (Azorella compacta)

Biological Strategy -Adaptation-

Extreme temperatures

Strong winds

Hyper-aridity

Variability in available water

CC BY 3.0 Credit: Martin Mergili

Structure is formed by tightly packed branched stems, forming a smooth exterior surface, converging to a single broad basal taproot. Each stem ends in a small rosette 1–2 cm in diameter. Stems maintain this tightly packed surface, without any gaps between rosettes. Rosettes are comprised of smooth leaves ranging from 3 to 10 mm in length and 1–2 mm in width (Kleier and Rundel 2004; 2008).

Image source: http://plants.jstor.org/stable/10.5555/al.ap.specimen.e00131889

Image source: Ralph, 1978

Llareta (Azorella compacta)

Extreme temperatures

Strong winds

Hyper-aridity

Variability in available water

Abstracted Design Principle

CC BY 3.0 Credit: Martin Mergili

A branched structure formed by tightly packed rosette elements of 1-2 cm of diameter converging to a single broad base is able to store heat energy, provide buffering against extreme temperatures and minimal wind drag.

Protuberances in between the branched structure store fluids.

Llareta (Azorella compacta)

Extreme temperatures

Strong winds

Hyper-aridity

Variability in available water

Design ideas / applications

CC BY 3.0 Credit: Martin Mergili

● Flexible, rigid or panel insulation systems that mimic the structure and rosette form

● Flexible sheets/blankets that both mimic the structure and rosette form and allow to not only insulate but also store fluids

● Structures design robust enough to accomplish minimal wind drag

Llareta (Azorella compacta)

Extreme temperatures

Strong winds

Hyper-aridity

Variability in available water

Design ideas / applications

CC BY 3.0 Credit: Martin Mergili

● Further design considerations● Is it possible to modify scales of the design idea?

(i.e. go to smaller or larger scales) -larger structures or membranes-

● Future work● Analize surface structure

of leaves● Chemically analize resin

inside leaves (possible anti-freezing properties)

Desert Holly (Atriplex Atacamensis)

Source: http://www.chileambiente.cl/atriplex-atacamensis-phil/

Desert Holly(Atriplex Atacamensis)

Biological Strategy -Adaptation-

Salinity Hyper-aridityMetalloid exposure

http://eco-antropologia.blogspot.mx

Atriplex atacamensis is a halophytic perennial shrub, native of Northern Chile (Atacama desert) and is able to cope with high As contents in its environment. Without exhibiting toxicity symptoms, it mainly retains -absorbs- As in the roots, preventing the metalloid from spreading in this arid area through the soil or by wind (Tapia et al., 2013; Tapia Fernández et al., 2016; Vromann et al., 2016).

Desert Holly(Atriplex Atacamensis)

Biological Strategy -Adaptation-

Salinity Hyper-aridityMetalloid exposure

http://eco-antropologia.blogspot.mx

Exogenous salinity reduces As uptake by the roots but increased its translocation to the leaves where As in mainly stored in As(V) form (Vromann et al., 2016).

As-treated plants are able to efficiently close their stomata in order to limit water losses and to accumulate glycinebetaine as an efficient osmoprotectant (Vromman et al., 2011; Lutts and Lefèvre 2015).

Desert Holly(Atriplex Atacamensis)

Abstracted Design Prnciple

Salinity Hyper-aridityMetalloid exposure

http://eco-antropologia.blogspot.mx

Salinity levels control Arsenic absorption, increased salinity prevents absorption at some parts but promotes transfer and absorption to other parts of a structure.

NaCl

NaCl

NaCl

NaClNaCl

NaCl

NaCl

AsAs As

As As

AsAs As

AsAs

As

As As As

As

As

As

As

NaCl As

As

As

AsNaCl NaCl

Desert Holly(Atriplex Atacamensis)

Abstracted Design Prnciple

Salinity Hyper-aridityMetalloid exposure

http://eco-antropologia.blogspot.mx

Quaternary ammonium compounds (glycinebetaine)maintain selective barriers integrity and protection of other membrane-like structures.

Desert Holly(Atriplex Atacamensis)

Design ideas / applications

Salinity Hyper-aridityMetalloid exposure

http://eco-antropologia.blogspot.mx

● Filters (As)● Controlled absorption of Arsenic (by NaCl

adjustments)● Selective transport of Arsenic● Selective allocation of Arsenic● Membranes

● Further considerations:● Air and water

Atacama Desert Champions

Acknowledgements

● Organisms that thrive in the Atacama Desert.

● Scientists that have conducted research (and shared it through publications) about organisms living in the Atacama Desert.

● Research partially funded by Program UNAM-DGAPA-PAPIIT IA100716 RA100716.

ReferencesAzua-Bustos, A., González-Silva, C., Corsini, G. (2017). The Hyperarid Core of the Atacama Desert, an Extremely Dry and Carbon Deprived Habitat of Potential Interest for the Field of Carbon Science. Frontiers in Microbiology, 8:993. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.00993

Hartley, A. J., Chong, G., Houston, J., Mather A. E. (2005). 150 million years of climatic stability: evidence from the Atacama Desert, Northern Chile. Journal of the Geological Society, London, 162, 421 – 424.

Kleier, C. and Rundel, P. (2008). Energy balance and temperature relations of Azorella compacta, a high-elevation cushion plant of the central Andes. Plant Biology, 11, 351–358.

Kleier, C. and Rundel, P. (2004). Microsite requirements, population structure and growth of the cushion plant Azorella compacta in the tropical Chilean Andes. Austral Ecology, 29 , 461–470.

Lutts, S., and Lefèvre, I. (2015). How can we take advantage of halophyte properties to cope with heavy metal toxicity in salt-affected areas?. Annals of Botany 0, 1–20, doi:10.1093/aob/mcu264

McKay, C. P., Friedmann, E. I., Gómez-Silva, B., Cáceres-Villanueva, L., Andersen, D. T., Landheim, R. (2003). Temperature and Moisture Conditions for Life in the Extreme Arid Region of the Atacama Desert: Four Years of Observations Including the El Niño of 1997–1998. Astrobiology 3 (2), 393–406.

ReferencesRalph, C. P. (1978). Observations on Azorella compacta (Umbelliferae), a tropical Andean cushion plant. Biotropica, 10, 62-67.

Tapia Fernández, Y., Diaz O., Acuña, E., Casanova, M., Salazar, O., Masaguer, A. (2016). Phytostabilization of arsenic in soils with plants of the genus Atriplex established in situ in the Atacama Desert. Environmental Monitoring Assessment, 188: 235, DOI 10.1007/s10661-016-5247-x

Tapia, Y., Diaz, O., Pizarro, C., Segura, R., Vines, M., Zúñiga, G., Moreno-Jiménez, E. (2013). Atriplex atacamensis and Atriplex halimus resist As contamination in Pre-Andean soils (northern Chile). Science of the Total Environment, 450–451, 188–196.

Vromman, D., Flores-Bavestrello, A., Šlejkovec, Z., Lapaille, S., Teixeira-Cardoso, C., Briceño, M., Kumar, M., Martínez, J-P., Lutts, S. (2011). Arsenic accumulation and distribution in relation to young seedling growth in Atriplex atacamensis Phil. Science of the Total Environment 412-413, 286–295.

Vromman, D., Lefèvre, I., Šlejkovec, Z., Martínez, J-P., Vanhecke, N., Briceño, M., Kumar, M., Lutts, S. (2016). Salinity influences arsenic resistance in the xerohalophyte Atriplex atacamensis Phil. Environmental and Experimental Botany, 126, 32–43.

Wickens, G. E. (1995). Llareta (Azorella Compacta, Umbelliferae): A review. Economic Botany 49(2), 207-212.

WWF (n.d.) WWF ecoregion map. Available at: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/ecoregions/maps/

References images

Atriplex Atacamensis

http://www.chileambiente.cl/atriplex-atacamensis-phil/

http://eco-antropologia.blogspot.mx

Chañar

https://www.geovirtual2.cl/Museovirtual/Plantas/Chanar01esp.htm

Chilean Mesquite

Penarc https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2859082

Desert Saltgrass

http://www.chileresponsibleadventure.com/chile/atacama-fauna-flora/

Guanaco

Fainmen at Flickr

Llareta

Martin Mergili (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu) CC BY 3.0

http://plants.jstor.org/stable/10.5555/al.ap.specimen.e00131889

Southern Viscacha

Alexandre Buisse CC BY-SA 3.0


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