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THE SAHARA

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Author Topic: THE SAHARA  (Read 4036 times)
Bianca
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« on: May 16, 2009, 10:54:27 pm »










To Europeans, conifer trees in the midst of the Sahara had been a rumor since 1860, when the
English explorer H. B. Tristram wrote in his book The Great Sahara: Wanderings South of the Atlas Mountains, “to judge from the woodwork of the [Tuareg] saddles, there is also a species of hard resinous wood probably allied to junipers.” He was close: The Juniperus genus is adjacent to the Cupressus genus within the cypress family, Cupressaceae.

Still, this cypress species was not described scientifically until 1924, after it was seen by the man
for whom it is named, Captain Duprez, commander of French forces at Fort Charlet in the Djanet oasis, at the foot of the nearly 2000-meter-high (6500') Tassili plateau. He wrote to a biologist, “I discovered one day in a small wadi called Tamrit a tree with foliage and habit too unusual for the area not to attract my attention.” At the time, only a handful of these cypresses were said to be in existence, their seeds were thought to be sterile, and their extinction was anticipated in a matter of years.

Today, the Saharan cypress has better chances of survival. In part, this is thanks to investigations
by Algerian paleoecologist Fatiha Abdoun, the one person who has seen every Saharan cypress still alive in its native habitat. Two young trees in Wadi Tamrit, where many are clustered, were thought to have slim odds of survival when French botanists measured them in the 1950’s but, five decades later, Abdoun has found them healthy. Their slow, two-millimeter-per-year radial growth rates compare well with those of their close cousin the Atlas cypress (Cupressus atlantica), whose habitat in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains has an annual rainfall 15 times greater than that of the Tassili. And no less fittingly, that first tree found by Captain Duprez is thought to be still alive and healthy at the head of the wadi.

But if the tree has proved to be successful in germinating, taking root and adapting to increasingly arid conditions, Abdoun says it may not be able to outwit its latest challenge: growing numbers of mostly European tourists, led by the commercial outfitters who have flourished since the end of the Algerian civil war in the late 1990’s. They flock to the Tassili plateau not so much for the trees, but to view a remarkable gallery of late Paleolithic and Neolithic rock art.
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