Fog collection as a strategy to sequester carbon in drylands.
Advection fog is the sole source of water for many near-the-sea arid areas worldwide such as the lomas, i.e. fog-dependant landscapes of the coastal zone of Peru and Northern Chile, where deforestation occurred since 16th century, leading to a progressive and severe desertification. There, today's local socio-ecological systems suffer from lack of freshwater because they cannot rely anymore on the contribution of fog captured by vegetation. This paper presents the results of an experimental reforestation project carried out in Mejia (Peru), where tree seedlings of five native and exotic species were planted in two permanent plots in 1996. Part of the seedlings were irrigated during the first three years after planting, others not. The irrigation was carried out thanks to water harvesting by large fog collectors. From the third year onwards, all trees relied only on fog water collected by their canopy. Survival rate, height, and root-collar diameter were monitored until 2010, when also the soil carbon and nitrogen stocks were measured. Fifteen years after the planting, about 65% of trees were still alive and growing, and reforestation had induced substantial carbon sequestration both above- and below-ground. Of the tree species, Acacia saligna was definitely best performing than the other, with most of the above ground carbon stored in its biomass and a consequent high efficiency as natural fog collector. Overall, the combination of fog collection by nets and the plantation of trees showing good fog collection capacity, represented a successful strategy for allowing reforestation of arid environments and induced fast and substantial carbon sequestration. Greater efforts should be thus devoted for this purpose, paying special attention to the selection of the most suitable tree species to plant, especially looking at the local biodiversity. This work is dedicated to the memory of Professor Mario Falciai, passed away in 2015, who firstly conceived the experiment and attended all the work since 1996, bringing in our University the idea of Fog Collection for sustainable water management.