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College of Wooster

Publication Date

Fall 12-8-2014

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


Soil erosion is a key source leading to the depletion of Earth’s natural resources. Beginning with deforestation, soils are stripped of their rich vegetation cover, leaving them vulnerable to wind, water, and sometimes total exhaustion. One of the major causes of deforestation, if not the primary cause, is for agricultural purposes. Extensive agricultural fields, steep slopes, and heavy rains characterize the highlands of Chiriquí; thus, the land displays potential for severe loss of soil. This paper illustrates and discusses the extent of soil erosion in Cerro Punta, Chiriquí, specifically considering the steep terrains and very wet environment that impact the land. Three farms were investigated with 2 sites per farm, as well as 2 randomly selected forested sites. A field of bare soil and a field of moderate vegetation cover were chosen at each farm, and the 2 forested sites were used as reference. Additionally, water clarity was measured in a stream that cuts through cultivated land and in The Río Chirquí Viejo (RCV), which flows through primary, untouched forest. The Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE) was used to determine potential annual soil loss for the sites. Measurements were carried out from November 11th to the 22nd. Two large rainfall events as well as small, intermittent showers on most days occurred during the period of study. The bare soil sites displayed overall higher loss of soil when compared to the sites of moderate vegetation cover. Both sites of bare soil and moderate vegetation had higher losses of soil than the forested sites. The stream had lower water clarity during the 2 days of heavy rainfall, and the RCV showed no difference in turbidity on rainy and dry days. The results suggest that cultivated soils face more severe threats to erosion, and contribute to increased surface runoff during large rainfall events. Forested areas offer protection from rainfall impact as the canopy and vegetation cover act as natural barriers. It is essential to understand the current state of lands in the region of Panama that provides a majority of produce to the country. Further investigation should look into the rate of soil erosion and direct consequences. Sustainable practices, as well as farming policies should be implemented in the near future to preserve the fertility and offering of these lands.


Agriculture | Environmental Health | International and Area Studies | Latin American Studies | Pharmacology, Toxicology and Environmental Health


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