Desert Plant Succession and Fire-con’t

Bob Minckley and amigos relocated and resampled all the vegetation plots in Mexico that had been established in 2000. Some of the plots, especially those that are near water, have changed considerably.

Towards the end of the trip, a few individuals of Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius) and Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) were out in anticipation of the rainy season.

Colorado River Toad

Gila monster

The Horseshoe fire in the Chiricahua Mountains burns on and the worst part of it will be when the rains begin and there is no vegetation to slow the water and the soil suspended in it. Here are some pictures from El Coronado Ranch on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains in east Turkey Creek Canyon. It is remarkable to see how variable fires can be. In some areas the understory grasses and shrubs burn and most trees appear to live and in other nearby areas everything burns.

14 June 2011, El Coronado Ranch, Cochise Co., Arizona

The hillside below was a hot spot, as you can tell by comparing the two pictures taken two weeks apart.

Hillside 14 June 2011, El Coronado Ranch, Cochise Co., Arizona

Hillside 19 June 2011, El Coronado Ranch, Cochise Co., Arizona

Desert Plant Succession and Fire

The largest impact of humans on deserts is grazing. In western North America, cattle have been present continuously since the 1700’s. Along the Mexican-U.S. border two large tracts of land were removed from grazing in the late 1970’s. The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge ( was established in 1979 because it contains the headwaters of the Rio Yaqui, the largest river in Sonora, Mexico. A number of fish species and a spring snail occur in the U.S. only in this refuge. Directly south, in Mexico, Rancho San Bernardino has not been grazed since 2000 ( We are re-measuring sites first established in 2000 with the vegetation found there today. The data are repeat photography and documentation of species composition and cover. The picture below is one site in an abandoned agricultural field. Major differences are the modest increase in mesquite trees. The mesquite tree in the middle of the picture in 2000 died (probably due to winter freezing). Photos such as these will be compared in sites in riparian, desert marsh, desert scrub, mesquite forest and grassland habitats.

The fire in the Chiricahua Mountains has crossed to the western side of the mountain last Sunday or Monday (22, 23 May). It is now larger than 40,000 acres and will probably burn until the rains begin in early July (

Next Week’s Bike Expedition: Island Speciation in Birds

For next week’s bike expedition, we’re going to read two recent papers on speciation in island birds (links are below).  I’ve also written a short commentary for Molecular Ecology on these papers that I can provide to anyone who’s interested (it’s not yet available on-line).  We’ll depart from outside Hutch at 1PM on Thursday, June 2nd.  Possible destinations include: Sully’s, New Taj India (Corn Hill Landing), Napa Pizza (South Wedge), Owl House, and S.E.A. (Monroe Ave.).

Melo et al. (2011) Rapid parallel evolution of aberrant traits in the diversification of the Gulf of Guinea white-eyes (Aves, Zosteropidae). Molecular Ecology [doi link]

Sly et al. (2011) Ancient islands and modern invasions: disparate phylogeographic histories among Hispaniola’s endemic birds. Molecular Ecology [doi link]

Chiricahua Mountains Fire (from Bob)

On the way to the Chiricahua Mountains, we had a few adventures. One, my favorite highway sign in the United States. The fissure it refers to is probably because of groundwater pumping.

Second, a fire, now 27,000 acres large, has been burning for a week on the east side of the Chiricahua Mts. The Southwest Research Station at Portal was evacuated a few days ago. Miriam Roe took these pictures yesterday (Monday, 16 May) from east Turkey Creek. In the second photo, you can see the Forest Service plane dropping the fire retardant.

Bob’s Desert Adventures

Now that the winter has broken and flowers are out in Rochester, and the temperature in the deserts of North America are over 90 degrees each day, the only sensible place to go is the Sonoran Desert. The Minckley lab (Robert, Bob, Roberto, Rob, Adrian and Chan) is headed to northern Sonora for the rest of May and June. No bees are out this time of year, but the perennial plants are. We will be resurveying plants on plots first established in the year 2000 to see how the species composition and cover has changed over the last decade. In 2000, all grazing and agriculture was stopped in this area. We will keep you posted.

The pictures are from Three Points, Arizona-a suburb of Tucson. Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), left. A Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii), right.

The Desert Tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) were born on 9 Sept 2010.

Avian Genome Art Opening Today (Thursday)


This isn’t usually a place for reporting art openings, but the exhibit opening today in the University’s Hartnett Gallery is by an artist who “uses custom software to interpret and represent the genetic sequences of various bird species, illustrating the similarities in the data despite the visual and morphological differences between the birds.”  The artist will be speaking at 4 in the Gowen Room and the opening reception will be at 5 in the Hartnett Gallery in Wilson Commons.  I’ll probably head over at around 5:30, so drop by my lab if you’d like to walk over with me.

Update from Glor Lab in the Dominican Republic

I’m down in the Dominican Republic along with graduate students Daniel Scantlebury and Anthony Geneva. We’ve enjoyed some excellent lizard hunting thusfar and have plenty of new samples for our study of ecological speciation in Hispaniolan trunk anoles. The photos above are from two recent hikes. On the left, Anthony and I are exploring a gully in the river that runs along the Recodo Road (a region that has fascinated anole biologists for decades).  On the right is a shot of Dan and Anthony heading toward a patch of forest on the other side of a denuded ridge just north of Bani.  Wireless internet has reached Bani, so we hope to have post stories and photos regularly on our lab webpage.  We’ll be back in a bit more than a week, hopefully with plenty of lizards in tow!