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Laguna Chaxa

by Martin Mergili

General information

The Laguna Chaxa represents one of several open water surfaces in the eastern part of the core area of the Salar de Atacama. Like some other lagoons nearby, it is superficially fed with water by the Canal Burro Muerto, which originates between the deltas of the Río San Pedro and the Río Villama, and runs through the eastern part of the salar from north to south. As the Laguna Chaxa - in contrast to the Laguna Tebinquinche and most other lagoons in the salar - is detachd from groundwater supply, its water level strongly relies on the discharge of the channel. Depending on the water level, also the number of individual lagons varies: in fact, the Laguna Chaxa consists of an entire system of water surfaces. Despite its high salt content, this lagoon hosts an ecosystem with a population of flamingos atop.

The flamingos in the Salar de Atacama

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Approach the flamingos in the Laguna Chaxa by clicking on the arrows or into the photograph.

Three species of flamingos live in the Salar de Atacama. They feed on the ecosystems of water bodies such as the Laguna Chaxa, whereas they breed and raise their offspring in the adjacent areas.

But on which organisms do the flamings actually feed? And what is the structure of the ecosystems in the lagoons in general? Try to formulate some hypotheses related to these research questions!

Show solution

Considering the hard environmental conditions, the lagoons in the Salar de Atacama host a remarkable diversity of microorganisms. These serve as food for small scuds, snails, and maybe also saltwater crabs, which are well adapted to the high salt content and the changing water level. They live on microbial mats in the lagoons. The crabs and snails are eaten by the flamingos and some other species of birds and reptiles. Almost all of these animals obtain at least part of the required nutrients directly from the minerals available in their habitats.

References and links

Boschetti, T., Cortecci, G., Barbieri, M. & Mussi, M. (2007): New and past geochemical data on fresh to brine waters of the Salar de Atacama and Andean Altiplano, northern Chile. Geofluids 7(1): 33-50 [Access source]

Bull, A.T. & Asenjo, J.A. (2013): Microbiology of hyper-arid environments: recent insights from the Atacama Desert, Chile. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek 103(6): 1173-1179 [Access source]

Dorador, C., Fink, P., Hengst, M., Icaza, G., Villalobos, A.S., Vejar, D., Meneses, D., Zadjelovic, V., Burmann, L., Moelzner, J. & Harrod, C. (2018): Microbial community composition and trophic role along a marked salinity gradient in Laguna Puilar, Salar de Atacama, Chile. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek: 1-14 [Access source]

Salas, J., Guimerá, J., Cornellá, O., Aravena, R., Guzmán, E., Tore, C., Von Igel, W. & Moreno, R. (2010): Hidrogeología del sistema lagunar del margen este del Salar de Atacama (Chile). Boletín Geológico y Minero 121: 357-372 [Access source]