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The playas of the Chihuahuan Desert

(mexican part)

Influence of the salts in arid and semi-arid environments







Editors :

Olivier Grünberger


Victor Manuel Reyes-Gómez 


Jean-Louis Janeau




Co-edited between L´Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, (IRD)
and the Instituto de Ecología, A.C. (INECOL)



ISBN 970-709-048-0
Rustic cover, 
360 pp., size  17 X 23 cm




This work reunites the basic and applied knowledge, generated by several investigation projects developed on the plains of the endorreic depressions, called playas of the Chihuahuan Desert. The physical and biological variability of these environments is showed.

It contains the interdisciplinary focus of edaphologists, geochemists, biologists, ecologists, hydrogeologists and geographers which contributed their experience to increase the knowledge about the functioning of the playas of the arid and semi-arid north of Mexico. The convergence of the disciplines is the presence of salts in soil surface, whose dynamics has incidence over all the aspects in the functioning of the ecosystems. Most of the detailed studies were realized at the playa and the sebkra within the Palomas basin in the Biosphere Reserve of Mapimi. The content starts with the definition of playa, the description of the environment in the study area (weather, soil, water, and vegetation) and the results related to the states of the soil surface, and geochemistry of water at the playa and the sebkra of the Mapimi reserve. On the fourth chapter, the spatial variability of the chemical quality of the soil is analyzed, considering the organization of several kinds of vegetation to a scale of the landscape.  On the fifth chapter, the main biological communities of playa and sebkra are described.  On the last two chapters; an exam of the human activities that can be carried out in the playa ecosystem is presented, a first typology of the desert playas is discussed, and some examples of the evolution of the characteristics of the playa soil influenced by human activities are presented.






Chapter 1: the playa ecosystem

The concept of playa

Grünberger O.


Essential characteristics of the Biosphere Reserve

Grünberger O.



Chapter 2: the soils, their surface states and surface hydro-dynamics at the playa and the sebkra of the Biosphere reserve of Mapimi

The playa soils

Grünberger O.


The surface states of the playa and sebkra and its distribution in the Reserve

Janeau J.-L. y Grünberger O.


Soil surface hydro-dynamics of the playa soils

Reyes-Gómez V. M.


Legend of the map of the surface soil states 1:50 000

Janeau J.-L. y Grünberger O.



Chapter 3: geochemistry of water in the playa and the sebkra of the Biosphere reserve of Mapimi

Geochemistry of rainfall, runoff and infiltration

Grünberger O. y Janeau J.-L.


Kinetics of mineralization of runoff in the playa and sebkra soils

Reyes-Gómez V. M. y Grünberger O.


Geo-chemical and isotopic study of the aquifers of the reserve

Brouste L. y Marlin C.



Chapter 4: study of the several environments of the playa

Study of the soil and vegetation structures in three types of playa grasslands

Grünberger O. y Ochoa-Chavarría I.


The patches (manchones) of the Biosphere Reserve of Mapimi

·         Study of the organization and hydro-dynamics of the soil surface states.

Grünberger O., Janeau J.-L. y Reyes-Gómez V.M.


·        The soil organization

Grünberger O., Janeau J.-L. y Reyes-Gómez V. M.

·         The mound: an example of an interaction among the surface conditions, fauna and Prosopis glandulosa

Janeau J.-L., Aragón-Pińa E., Reyes-Gómez V. M. y García-Arévalo A.


The polygons of Suaeda sp. at the playa

Grünberger O., Janeau J.-L. y Reyes-Gómez V. M.



Chapter 5: some examples of biological communities in the playa

Spatial structure of an assemble of lizards associated with vegetation of a low playa

Gadsden H.


Usage of the space by a community of rodents in a zone of vegetation patches of the low playa

Aragón-Pińa E.


Preliminary study of the aquatic macro-invertebrates of the Reserve

Valdez-Ramirez M. E. y Dejoux C.



Chapter 6: the human activities of the playa and sebkra of the Biosphere Reserve of Mapimi

The bovine cattle in the playa zones at the Reserve

Hernández L. y Barral H.


 The development systems of grasslands at the playa

Vital-Rumebe A., Alberteau K. y Grünberger O.


The salines of Carrillo: a communal production system of continental salt in the Chihuahuan Desert

Liot C. y Grünberger O.


The crops in the playa. Evolution after abandonment

Vital-Rumebe A. y Grünberger O.



Chapter 7: regional extension

The playas and sebkras of the Chihuahuan Desert

Janeau J.-L., Grünberger O., Páez-Pérez N. y Reyes-Gómez V.M.


Hydrography of the lagoons of Mayran and Viesca:  endoreism and anthropism

Descroix L.


The hydro-agricultural developments at the playas in the Chihuahua Desert: influence of the saline concentrations in the hydro-edaphologic resources quality.  An application to the study of the irrigated area “Comarca Lagunera

González-Barrios J. L., Valles V., Servat E. y Plenecassagne A.











Olivier Grünberger Arsac

L´Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, (IRD) 

Doctorate in Sciences de la Térre (1989, Université de Paris Sur-Orsay), DEA in Hydology and Isotopic Geochemistry. (Paris sur-Orsay, 1985). Master Degree in Geology (Université de Grenoble, France, 1984). Consultant at Hydratec, studies of impact in urban and pluvial hydrology (1989-1990). In 1990, he became an investigator at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement  (IRD). His specialty is the geochemistry and isotopic of water (rain, runoff, groundwater) and the saline soils.  During 1991-1996, he was responsible of the Project of Soils of the playa from the Reserve of Mapimi, in the north of Mexico. From 1996-2001, he was a collaborator of the program INCO-CE Hydromed, in the area of isotopic hydrology and geochemistry of small associations of reservoirs and aquifers.  Since September 2001, he became an investigator of the project Land Development Departement in Bangkok: DTEC project:  Improving the mangement of SALT-effected soils. He has coordinated pluri-disciplinary research groups in Mexico, Tunisia, Thailand and France. He has participated in the formation of about thirty young investigators in the areas of soil-water-plant-crop-geochemistry in saline soils and saline aquifers (15 degrees, 10 masters and 5 doctorates) in countries such as Mexico, France, Tunisia, and Thailand. He has published about fifteen articles in specialized journals, and book chapters; he has contributed as a speaker in national and international congresses. 



Victor Manuel Reyes Gómez

Institute of Ecología, A.C.  

IHydro-edaphologist, researcher of the institute of Ecology (Instituto de Ecología, A.C., INECOL), Chihuahua Regional Center where he works as a specialist in the hydro-dynamic functioning of surface soil. He graduated as a biologist at the ESB-UJED (Mexico), he obtained the Master degree at the Colegio de Posgraduados in Montecillos (Physics of soils, 1998). He realized the DEA Sciences de l’Eau Dans l’Environnement Continental at the Université de Montpellier II (1999, France), doctorate in Sciences de la Terre et de l’EAU at the Université de Montpellier II (2002, France). He has been a CONACYT scholarship holder (1998-2002), from the IRD (1994-1996), he is a member of the SNI (2004-on-going), member of the Reseau de Zones Arides (1995-on-going), member of the Commission Scientiphique électoralle de l’IRD-Paris (2003-on-going). He has been a collaborator and coordinator of several research projects in arid and semi-arid zones, financed by the CEE-CONACYT-IRD-INECOL-IMTA. He has written some scientific papers, several chapters of books, has participated in the drafting of technical reports and the diffusion in national and international congresses. He participates as a teacher in the master of Forest Resources Management (FCF-UJED), and in the specialty of Wildlife Management (FZ-UJED) with the courses of: Watershed Management and Integral Management of Natural Resources. He participates in the formation of students as a principal, reviewer and advisor of degree, master and doctorate thesis (INECOL, UACH, UJED).



Jean Louis Janeau

L´Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, (IRD) 

Engineer specialized in hydro-physics measurements, attributed to the IRD-Paris. He’s an expert in the determination of erosion parameters in natural and human influenced environments, he participates in technology innovation (simulation of rain, aerial photography and traps and deposits in situ). He’s a specialist in cartography of crusted soils, consultant in earth sciences and natural disasters (Study of the effects of the Nińo), consultant in hydro-metric measurements in Central Asia. Assistant and collaborator in projects related with the erosion of soils, hydro-dynamic of the landscape, soil management, sustainable natural resources management, cartography of soils (Africa, Equator, Thailand, Guadalupe, to mention a few). He has been responsible of field experiments about the simulation of rainfall (Thailand), infilatration and crusting in high slopes (Laos), integrated management of soils (Nicaragua), erosion and hydro-dynamics at the Pichincha volcano (Equator), soil resources management in Mapimi, Mexico.  He has participated in the formation of young investigators of several nationalities (Africa, Mexico, Equator, France, and Thailand). He has published a dozen of articles, several chapters of books and several national and international congresses.