The Nutrient Cycle in Hyper-arid Conditions: Why This Camel Isn’t Biodegrading

The Nutrient Cycle in Hyper-arid Conditions:  Why This Camel Isn’t Biodegrading

In a previous post I diagnosed the Hijaz with diarrhea as the closest analogy to the functioning of its water cycle. ¬† This post is going to be about the nutrient cycle, which is closely related tot he water cycle’s functioning, but also deserves its own study and understanding.

The camel carcass in the picture above is 3 years old; it died in a car crash on a road near where I work. It looks pretty gnarly, but the amazing thing is that anything is there at all. In another climate, this would have been consumed by scavengers, insects, and eventually, bacteria, and turned back into soil. Not here.

In our climate south of Makkah, things do not biodegrade. They dry up, turn into dust, and blow away. All the minerals–the carbon, calcium, iron, magnesium, nitrogen, and others, never become available as nutrients for plant life, because they are still locked up in the carcass. Why doesn’t it biodegrade? Because the soil and the air are so dry that the bacteria that would carry out the decomposition cannot survive.

This is not only true for animals that die. It is also true for plants.

These pods won't biodegrade, and the seeds won't germinate without assistance.

These pods won’t biodegrade, and the seeds won’t germinate without assistance.

Thus if the nutrient cycle is not functioning due to a dysfunctional water cycle, how can we design around that? How can we get the cycle functioning again? First, we have to mimic a healthy water cycle, and second we need to introduce elements that can perform some of those roles for us. One such element is grazing animals. Grazing animals carry with them, at all times, a moist, bacteria-rich environment where plant and other organic materials can be broken down, and the minerals in that material can become available for new plant life: their stomachs.

Hundreds of meters of bacteria-rich camel digestive system can help mimic a functioning nutrient cycle.

Hundreds of meters of bacteria-rich camel digestive system can help mimic a functioning nutrient cycle.

Source for the picture can be found here.

Thus while grazing animals have been widely criticized for causing deforestation and desertification (and rightly so), we also need animals to reboot a functioning mineral cycle, without which nothing would biodegrade, and no new soil would develop.

2 Comments

  1. Very interesting. Hope we can keep the cycle functioning well.

    Reply
    • Thanks Whitfim200106!

      Reply

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