Lomas: Plants in the mist

Lomas is the term used for zones of vegetation that line coastal Peru and Chile. These zones form where dense clouds of fog occur when masses of cold air, from the Humboldt Current, are driven over the hot Peruvian and Atacama deserts.

Photo of Lomas San fernando
Lomas Vegetation in the San Fernando Reserve, Peru (Photo:  Justin Moat )

Lomas formations stretch along the 3500 km coastline (5-30°S) and all depend on this fog formation as their most significant (or only) source of moisture, making their existence incredibly sensitive to small climatic variations. They hold a wide range of endemic species, not only are these species singularly found in the Lomas but for some species, only found in a small number of these Lomas formation, making them particularly rare. These formations face a number of threats, including damage from mining, recreational dune buggies and human settlement. These systems may also face significant losses to climate change, as is demonstrated during an extreme El Nino of La Nina event. The more we can learn about their biological content and function of these systems will allow us to properly manage them to ensure the Lomas’ survival.

Photo of Lomas San fernando
Tillandsia Lomas in Reservada San Fernando, Peru (Photo: Justin Moat) 

The Lomas presents a unique challenge from a mapping perspective because it requires a very specific combination of timing and very high-spatial resolution in order to locate and identify the vegetation. The system is dependent on a dense fog for all of it water to thrive but that fog then creates a blanket that satellites cannot see through. Additionally, the clouds are at their most abundant during southern hemisphere spring, leaving only a three month window in which the majority of the vegetation will be visible.

We are working alongside Peru’s SERNANP parks service to map and better understand this unique and diverse environment.

See Mandy's Blog on exploring the Lomas for a more in-depth view.