Bosque is the name for areas of riparian forest found along the 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 exists near rivers, streams, or other water courses. The most notable bosque is a 200 mile-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 trees in the bosque habitat are generally smaller species such as mesquite which rarely exceed 10 meters. 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, Mexican elder, 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 incredible biodiversity at the interface of the bosque and desert ecosystems.
Hope for the futureFires 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 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, a program known as BEMP led by Dr. Cliff Crawford out of Albuquerque, New Mexico has gathered value data over the last decade 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 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.