By Dido Polo Monterrosa
Bogota, Mar 14 (EFE).- A reforestation project is helping to conserve, protect and revive Bogota’s Eastern Hills, which form the Colombian capital’s eastern natural boundary and play key roles in regulating the water cycle, combating climate change and protecting biodiversity.
That work was launched nine years ago by the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute, whose headquarters is located in the foothills of that Andean forest ecosystem, in the vicinity of the sanctuaries of Monserrate and Guadalupe.
That area was completely devoid of vegetation prior to the start of the project, the Von Humboldt Institute’s relationship director, Diego Ochoa, told Efe, adding that the hills had suffered significant deforestation during the colonial era because they were the main source of firewood for the city’s inhabitants.
Ochoa said that ecosystem, whose predominant species are oak, encenillo and tibar trees that absorb water directly from clouds, plays an essential role in protecting the soil and reducing the risk of landslides and landslips.
But the success of the current project also entails dealing with a problem of invasive species that were introduced in the 1970s in a failed reforestation effort that desiccated the soil and inhibited the growth of other species.
The corrective process therefore involves removing pine and eucalyptus trees, promoting the growth of Andean forest and stimulating the reproduction of Kikuyu grass and other pioneer species capable of adapting to bare soil.
Once those species have grown sufficiently, they start to provide shade and food for other second-generation plants that attract birds, which deposit droppings that help nourish the forest.
“This restoration process is slow, but nature is extraordinarily resilient,” Ochoa said, adding that the process is based on imitating and accelerating a natural process known as succession, in which one community of plant species replaces another.
Other key forest functions are water cycle regulation and carbon dioxide sequestration and storage, which prevents that greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere and thus helps mitigate climate change.
That ecosystem also contributes to the mental health of Bogota’s inhabitants by “offering them a spiritual connection with nature,” Ochoa said.
The Von Humboldt Institute expert furthermore underscored the extraordinary wealth of biodiversity found in the Eastern Hills of Bogota, saying “this area is one of South America’s most important centers of endemism and biodiversity.”
That area is home to birds such as the scarlet-bellied mountain tanager, opossums and other marsupials and the western mountain coati, as well as foxes, oncillas, frogs, various species of lizards and a vast array of invertebrates, from insects to spiders.
In terms of flora, it boasts an enormous variety of bromeliads and orchids, as well as native species of plants and trees that are very representative of the Cordillero Oriental, the widest of the three branches of the Colombian Andes.