Gypsum and Plant Species: A Marvel of Cuatro Ciénegas and the Chihuahuan Desert

Part of the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin: An Endangered Hyperdiverse Oasis book series (CUCIBA)


Soils rich in gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O) are both a challenge for plant growth and a trigger for plant evolution. Plants that grow only on this type of soils are known as gypsophiles, but there are also generalists that grow on and off gypsum, known as gypsovags. The Cuatro Ciénegas municipality (CCM) in Coahuila is characterized by a complex mosaic of soils with different gypsum contents, ranging from massive, ancient gypsum evaporite bedrock, crystalline selenite, and anhydrite to very recent formations of secondary evaporites, often mixed with other salts, and gypsum dunes. These exposures of gypsum (gypsum outcrops) host a species-rich gypsophilic flora that has mostly been described in only the last 50 years, and aside from the well-known gypsum deposits of Cuatro Ciénegas Basin (CCB) is still imperfectly known. To date there is no available comprehensive synthesis for where the gypsum outcrops occur within CCM or for the vascular plant species growing on them. In this chapter we use remote sensing techniques to reveal botanically unexplored gypsum outcrops and we present a checklist for the vascular plant species currently known to occur on gypsum outcrops within CCM. We report 297 species in 187 genera and 60 families of vascular plants growing on gypsum outcrops in the CCM, of which 31 species are gypsophiles, five are halogypsophiles (species that grow on soils with a mixture of sodium chloride and gypsum), and three are either gypsophiles or halogypsophiles; 15 are endemic to the municipality. Our results demonstrate that the method presented here for detecting potential gypsum outcrops is powerful, that CCM has an outstanding number of potential gypsum outcrops, many of which are unexplored botanically. The relatively high number of gypsophiles in CCM and the fact that new taxa continue to be discovered clearly indicate the need for continued botanical exploration of gypsum environments in the Cuatro Ciénegas region and in Coahuila and the Chihuahuan Desert as a whole.


Endemism Gypsum Gypsophiles Gypsovags Halogypsophiles Checklist of vascular plant species 



We thank Héctor M. Hernández for allowing us to use his database on Cactaceae and Tom Wendt for downloading and sharing the information from LL and TEX. We thank George Hinton for help with demonstrating how to detect gypsum using online imagery. We thank the National Geographic Society, the US National Science Foundation (DEB 1054539 & DEB 1352907), and Oberlin College for funding. We greatly appreciate the careful revision and suggestions by the editors of this volume.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de BotánicaInstituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAMMexico CityMexico
  2. 2.Department of BiologyOberlin CollegeOberlinUSA

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