Termite mounds can help prevent the spread of deserts into semi-arid ecosystems and agricultural lands. The results of a new study not only suggest that termite mounds could make these areas more resilient to climate change than previously thought, but could also inspire a change in how scientists determine the possible effects of climate change on ecosystems.

A recent Princeton University study suggests that termite mounds might play a crucial role in preventing the spread of deserts. The tunnels contained within a termite mound help water to spread throughout the surrounding terrain, serving as a kind of natural irrigation system for the area near the mound. The termite tunnels improve water flow near the mound and allow nearby vegetation to grow as though it were receiving more rain. 

The Princeton research team also found that while the plant growth patterns near termite mounds initially looked similar to those found in the last stages of desertification, the mounds actually preserved the drylands ecosystem around them.

Water scarcity continues to be a major problem facing much of the globe. By examining natural counters to desertification, it may be possible to develop effective and cost-efficient methods to preserve the vegetation and water supplies of areas at risk. So while nobody wants termites near their houses, having them around in general may not be so bad after all.

Ten years ago today, I left Arizona for North Carolina.

   Ten years is a very long time. I have a hard time believing it’s been that long, or only that long. Many, many things have happened since then, some of them terrible, most of them good. (Much of it was front-loaded into the first four years, which were crazy and awful—the last six have been wonderful and rather sedate.)

   But I still miss the desert.

   I am very happy here in North Carolina, don’t get me wrong. I have Kevin and a garden that becomes extravagantly, absurdly lush given hardly any encouragement. I am on the spring migration route and obscure warblers routinely pause in my yard to sip water and catch bugs. I love it very much.

   But there is something about the desert—perhaps specifically the Sonoran desert, although the high desert in Washington is similar—something about the strange Spartan puzzle-box vegetation and the bleached bone light, something that I miss. It goes dormant for long periods and then I see photos of saguaros and palo verde and top-knotted quail and I want to get up out of my chair and walk into the desert.

   Well, it would be a long walk. I am thousands of miles away. There are days when I can feel every one of those miles and think “What the hell am I doing here, in this soggy, ridiculous place?”

   If I were to die—and someday, of course, I will—I would not be surprised to find myself in the desert again. I would stand beside a saguaro and think “Of course this is what the afterlife looks like. I should have guessed. What else would it look like, really?”

   Which probably proves that this is my internal landscape after all, and perhaps I’m a fool to live so far apart from it.

   Kevin, who knows about my occasional pangs, has suggested that someday when we are fabulously wealthy (or at least somewhat more than we are now), we can buy a house in the desert and move between them. It’s an appealing thought. The problem is that I do not know how many seasons I would be willing to sacrifice—winter here is charmless, high summer there is no great shakes, but where do you spend spring or fall? Do I love the rare cactus flowers and the bright pink sage more, or the green stalks of wild indigo and the mating songs of frogs? What am I willing to miss out on? And what gets neglected? Even the best gardens don’t do well when the gardener is gone for months at a stretch.

   Well. I’m young yet. 36 is perhaps halfway to my actuarial allotted span. There’s still time. And for the most part, I love my weird little garden and my weird little town and would not trade them, and perhaps if I did move, I’d pine for them as much as I do for saguaros now.

   But I do feel the occasional pang.

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AmayA hates #spearmint candy!!! This #kid has no taste in good #deserts

This week in Geography we are learning about the deserts. This is the Painted Desert. So awesome!
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