Bosque

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Bosque on the Rio Grande near Bernalillo, New Mexico
NASA image of Albuquerque, New Mexico showing the green bosque area surrounding the Rio Grande

Bosque is the name for areas of gallery forest found along the riparian flood plains of stream and river banks in the southwestern United States. It derives its name from the Spanish word for woodlands.

In the predominantly arid or semi-arid southwestern United States, the bosque is an oasis-like ribbon of green vegetation, often canopied, that only exists near rivers, streams, or other water courses. The most notable bosque is a 200 miles (320 km)-long ecosystem along the middle Rio Grande in New Mexico that extends from Santa Fe past Socorro including the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

The five most common trees in the bosque habitat are generally smaller species which rarely exceed 10 metres (33 ft), such as mesquite. Larger cottonwood trees are also common in some areas. Because there is only a single canopy layer and because the tree species found in the bosque are generally deciduous, a wide variety of shrubs, grasses, and other understory vegetation is also supported. Desert hackberry, blue palo verde, graythorn (Condalia lycioides), Mexican elder (Sambucus mexicana ), "virgin's bower", and "Indian root" all flourish in the bosque. The habitat also supports a large variety of lichens. For a semi-arid region, there is extraordinary biodiversity at the interface of the bosque and surrounding desert ecosystems.

Certain subsets of vegetative association are defined within the Kuchler scheme, including the Mesquite Bosque.

Rio Grande Bosque[edit]

Fires and encroachment notwithstanding, recent events have given scientists and local residents alike hope for positive change in the bosque's future. By garnering national attention, funding has been obtained to clear invasive exotic species from large sections of the bosque. Where possible, levees and other flood control devices along the Rio Grande are being removed, to allow the river to undergo its natural cycle. Also, over the last decade, a program known as Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP), started by Dr. Cliff Crawford of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has gathered value data that monitors the change in ecological factors within the bosque. This data is invaluable to better understand where the future of this ecosystem is heading.

Most importantly, heavy precipitation in the spring and summer of 2005 doubled the flow in the river, scouring invasive species off sandbars, stirring up sediments, and overflowing the banks in many places. Much of the Southwest had experienced upwards of 4 inches (100 mm) of rain above average by June. Scientists hope this may be an early sign of the end of the drought that has long plagued the region. In the bosque, this trend means moist, nutrient rich soil that the cottonwood seedlings need to take root and more habitat for the endangered silvery minnow and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

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