The threat of the kipuka or islands among the lava of the La Palma volcano

This is how he warns José Ramón Arévalo, Professor of Ecology at the University of La Laguna (ULL), as it observes that in the environments in which these islands have been created among the lava they were already disturbed by human action and, in them, there are more competitive exotic species when adapting to the new basaltic terrain that has left in their wake lava flow.

The recovery of the area will be fast but will last between 4,000 and 5,000 years


Studies in Hawaii have shown for years that kipuka have a high ecological value as they keep intact the forests that had formed before the eruption. These places become a true oasis for the local plants and animals that settle in that space, as if it were a refuge. But the kipuka have another special characteristic, and that is that, by being totally isolated from the outside, they are also capable of acting as a protective barrier for native species. This occurs because, being surrounded by rugged terrain, native plants and animals are inaccessible for new alien species to threaten their life.

Nevertheless, “None of this is expected to happen on La Palma”, as Arévalo sentenced. It will not do so because these redoubts that have remained on the island are poor in terms of biodiversity. “In all these redoubts you can see houses, which means that they have been ecosystems modified by humans,” says Arévalo, who regrets that “it is possible that in this area the ecological refuge expected by theories is not formed.” In fact, as the scientist points out, “this eruption has had very few ecological consequences.”

Exotic colonization

What can happen, in a similar way to Hawaii, is that these isolated areas act as a starting point for the subsequent recolonization of the lava flows that have flowed around them. And, in this specific case, it could prove to be more counterproductive than a solution. As the area affected by the lava flow –essentially the Todoque neighborhood– is highly inhabited, in most of these ecological redoubts or kipukas there are still houses that have survived the eruption, if not crops or other highly «disturbed lands. »By anthropogenic activity. As these houses are usually decorated with exotic ornamental plants, it is possible that, in the future, they will be the first to repopulate the lava flows, without even giving the endemic plants the opportunity to do so first.

The passage of lava flows has had very little ecological consequences


“Various studies have shown that exotic species are those that have the greatest capacity to colonize lava and are a real problem,” argues Arévalo, which is why they will be “sources of propagule in areas with a high level of alteration”, such as are these lava flow. This circumstance has occurred on other occasions. After six years in continuous eruption, the flora of Lanzarote recovered again, but not in the expected way. In the large expanses of picón that were left behind by the Timanfaya volcanoes, the cruet or calcosa (Rumex lunaria). Although this plant is endemic to the rest of the Canary Islands, in Lanzarote it was introduced for animal fodder. This species has expanded uncontrollably due, above all, to its ability to bear fruit several times a year and, for this reason, there are research teams at the ULL that are working to eradicate it from Lanzarote.

The fajana created in the sea will bring a rocky ecosystem richer in fauna and flora than the previous one


Regarding future recovery, the researcher considers that it will be “fast”, both due to the exceptional climatic conditions of the island and due to the fact that it is the exotic species that colonize. from the new area of ​​malpaís. “On La Palma it rains twice as much as in the rest of the Archipelago”, remarks the researcher, who emphasizes that “on other islands, colonization would not be so easy.” However, the professor appeases his own optimism, because, as he emphasizes, “this will not happen for at least 4,000 or 5,000 years, so not even the grandchildren of our grandchildren will see it.”

In any case, as the researcher points out, the majority of kipukas left standing by the lava are relatively small, as is the area affected by the lava. “For now we are going through 600 hectares when we are used to fires that can burn up to 8,000,” he insists. When the eruption ends, it will be time for biologists and ecologists to take action, since what is presented is a unique opportunity to learn how a primary colonization of virgin soil occurs after an event as destructive as a volcano. .

In Hawaii, these last ecological strongholds after the passage of lava are known as ‘kipuka’


But the changes in terrestrial ecosystems caused by the eruption are not the only ones that professionals are waiting for. The strip of Playa de Los Guirres, which has already gained more than 30 hectares to the sea, could rekindle the ecosystem. Because this new marine platform is going to create a rocky system, likely to be very rich in biodiversity in the future, since very diverse corals are likely to settle. It will do so in a place where until now “there was nothing” as illustrated by Juan Carlos Hernández, a marine biologist at the ULL. In that space, only an ecosystem based on “basalt sands” had been described that only harbor the little life that could survive hidden among the sand at the bottom. “The fajana or lava delta is going to generate a new habitat very different from the one it was until then and it will give us information on how the new substrates are colonized”, Hernández sentence.


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