Primary Colonization of Volcanic Rocks by Plants in Arid Baja California, Mexico


Environmental Microbiology, The Center for Biological Research of the Northwest (CIB) P.O. Box 128 La Paz B.C.S. 23000


Abstract: In an arid region of Baja California Sur, Mexico, field observations, combined with chemical and physical analyses, mineral analysis and scanning electron microscopy of unweathered and weathered volcanic rocks, revealed the presence of rock-colonizing plants (most are tree-shaped cacti, possibly rock weathering), growing in volcanic rocks without benefit of soil. Many are at the seedling stage. At least four cactus species (Pachycereus pringlei [S. Wats] Britt. and Ross, Stenocereus thurberi [Engelm.] Buxb. subsp. thurberi, Mamillaria fraileana [Britt. and Rose] Boed., Opuntia cholla F. A. C. Weber), and one tree (wild fig, Ficus palmeri [S. Wats]) were capable of cracking, growing in and colonizing cliffs and rocks formed from ancient lava flows and, consequently, forming soil for succession by other plant species. This study shows that plant colonization of volcanic rocks may assist soil formation, which eventually leads to accumulation of soil, water and nutrients in a desert terrestrial ecosystem that otherwise lacks these essential plant-growth variables.