Southwest Biological Science Center

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Four-wheel drive enthusiasts during Jeep Safari in Moab Utah
March 2002 (approx.)

Four-wheel drive enthusiasts during Jeep Safari in Moab Utah. 

Climate change combined with overlapping high-intensity land uses are likely to create conditions detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, or drylands, in the future, according to a paper published in Ecosphere.

 

Drilling for mineral resources near Canyonlands National Park, Utah
May 2007 (approx.)

Drilling for mineral resources near Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Climate change combined with overlapping high-intensity land uses are likely to create conditions detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, or drylands, in the future, according to a paper published in Ecosphere.

The Needles District, Canyonlands National Park
June 2008 (approx.)

The Needles District, Canyonlands National Park

Photo of Elizabeth Lake when it used to be a popular fishing spot in southern California.
July 22, 2008

Elizabeth Lake was about a mile long and 1/4 mile wide. It used to be a popular fishing spot in southern California.

Almost all of the turtles living in a southern California lake died following a large fire and years of drought, according to a new USGS report.

Cattle walking across biological soil crusts in southeastern Utah.
July 2011 (approx.)

Cattle walking across biological soil crusts in southeastern Utah.

Climate change combined with overlapping high-intensity land uses are likely to create conditions detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, or drylands, in the future, according to a paper published in Ecosphere.

Dry conditions at cattle water sources in western Colorado.
July 2011 (approx.)

Dry conditions at cattle water sources in western Colorado. 

Climate change combined with overlapping high-intensity land uses are likely to create conditions detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, or drylands, in the future, according to a paper published in Ecosphere.

A radio-tracked adult desert tortoise traverses a hill at the southern edge of the wind energy facility
October 2012 (approx.)

A radio-tracked adult desert tortoise traverses a hill at the southern edge of the wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California. 

How a wind energy facility is designed can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

A radio-tracked adult desert tortoise basks in the sun among the wind turbines at a wind energy facility
October 2012 (approx.)

A radio-tracked adult desert tortoise basks in the sun among the wind turbines at a wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California. 

How a wind energy facility is designed can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Boaters rafting on the Colorado River outside of Moab, Utah
2012 (approx.)

Boaters rafting on the Colorado River outside of Moab, Utah. 

Climate change combined with overlapping high-intensity land uses are likely to create conditions detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, or drylands, in the future, according to a paper published in Ecosphere.

USGS and US Forest Service staff installing dust monitoring equipment at a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park.
May 2013 (approx.)

USGS and US Forest Service staff installing dust monitoring equipment at a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park.

Climate change combined with overlapping high-intensity land uses are likely to create conditions detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, or drylands, in the future, according to a paper published in Ecosphere.

June 22, 2013

This American black bear and cub duo was seen simply investigating a tortoise burrow, and although it is surprising to see a black bear so low in elevation, it isn't impossible. The study site, Mesa, sits at the intersection of multiple ecosystems (Sonoran Desert, Mojave Desert, montane, and coastal sage scrub). Therefore, the bears could have come down from the montane area. 

Infrastructure associated with wind energy facilities can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study by University of California – Davis and the USGS.

Motion-sensor cameras were placed facing the entrances of 46 active desert tortoise burrows in a wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California. Recordings showed that visits to burrows from four predators increased closer to dirt roads, and decreased closer to wind turbines. 

June 22, 2013

Coyotes were the second most frequently observed mammalian predator on the trail cameras. Coyotes are considered one of the primary predators of desert tortoises. In this instance, a coyote is passing by a burrow when it suddenly has a change in attention as it is passing by. It then approaches the burrow and sniffs all around the burrow entrance (including the apron and overhanging plants) before it decides to move on. Scientists mostly observed investigatory behavior in the predators, and some hunting cues were also observed.

Infrastructure associated with wind energy facilities can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study by University of California – Davis and the USGS.

Motion-sensor cameras were placed facing the entrances of 46 active desert tortoise burrows in a wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California. Recordings showed that visits to burrows from four predators increased closer to dirt roads, and decreased closer to wind turbines. 

June 30, 2013

In this video, a bobcat approached a desert tortoise (a marked female in the study population) that was sleeping on the apron of her burrow. Bobcats are known predators of various life stages of the desert tortoise. In this case, the bobcat bent down to sniff the tortoise, and then touched its paw to the top of the tortoise's shell. The tortoise then moved into an "all-defensive" position, where it tucks head and limbs into the shell. The bobcat apparently loses interest and walks away after this. Another interaction of a different bobcat and the same tortoise followed shortly after, but again no predation was observed. Lucky tortoise! Bobcats were the predator that was most often observed at burrows on our trail cameras.

Infrastructure associated with wind energy facilities can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study by University of California – Davis and the USGS.

Motion-sensor cameras were placed facing the entrances of 46 active desert tortoise burrows in a wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California. Recordings showed that visits to burrows from four predators increased closer to dirt roads, and decreased closer to wind turbines. 

An adult bobcat approached a sleeping desert tortoise at a camera-monitored burrow at wind energy facility
June 2013 (approx.)

An adult bobcat approached a sleeping desert tortoise at a camera-monitored burrow at wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California. 

How a wind energy facility is designed can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

October 5, 2013

There was one documented skunk event captured on camera - the least documented predator. Here, a western spotted skunk is thoroughly investigating the burrow of one of the marked female tortoises in the study population. Western spotted skunks are known predators of turtle eggs. The skunk investigated the area within the burrow for a full minute before it appears outside of the burrow looking alertly in one direction, then running off screen in the opposite direction. This event took place in October, which is a bit late for eggs to be in a nest, but the nesting season for tortoises at the study site ranges from 12 May to 8 July and hatchlings emerge from their nests from 7 August to 29 September, and this period overlaps broadly with the dates where predators were observed at tortoise burrows.

Infrastructure associated with wind energy facilities can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study by University of California – Davis and the USGS.

Motion-sensor cameras were placed facing the entrances of 46 active desert tortoise burrows in a wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California. Recordings showed that visits to burrows from four predators increased closer to dirt roads, and decreased closer to wind turbines. 

October 7, 2013

There were two documented gray fox visits at the burrows, making them the third most documented predator. Gray foxes are implicated predators of various life stages of desert tortoises, but it is difficult to catch them in the act. In this case, a gray fox approaches a burrow, and thoroughly investigates the burrow mouth. The fox develops an arch in its tail (slight inverted U-shape) indicative of an alert or hunting behavior. The tail subsequently drops its arch as the fox loses interest and walks away. Scientists presume there was no tortoise in the burrow at this time (the last time a tortoise was seen entering or exiting was a week prior). Although camera traps are a useful monitoring technique, they sometimes fail to yield a complete story - often scientists would see a tortoise enter a burrow, but never leave. This obviously wasn't the case, as during this time tortoises were radio-tracked and they did move about.

Infrastructure associated with wind energy facilities can influence the behavior of animal predators and their prey, according to a recent study by University of California – Davis and the USGS.

Motion-sensor cameras were placed facing the entrances of 46 active desert tortoise burrows in a wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California. Recordings showed that visits to burrows from four predators increased closer to dirt roads, and decreased closer to wind turbines. 

Photo of an active oil and gas pad on Bureau of Land Management lands near Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
November 2014 (approx.)

Active oil and gas pad on Bureau of Land Management lands near Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Photo of USGS soil scientist Travis Nauman records vegetation data on decommissioned well pad.
August 2015 (approx.)

USGS soil scientist Travis Nauman records vegetation data on decommissioned well pad.

Photo of USGS scientist Jessica Mikenas collects surface soil pH data on decommissioned well pad.
August 2015 (approx.)

USGS scientist Jessica Mikenas collects surface soil pH data on decommissioned well pad.

Photo of USGS soil scientist Travis Nauman records vegetation data on decommissioned well pad.
August 2015 (approx.)

USGS soil scientist Travis Nauman records vegetation data on decommissioned well pad.

Photo of USGS soil scientist Travis Nauman examines biological soil crust communities near an abandoned well pad during field wo
August 2015 (approx.)

USGS soil scientist Travis Nauman examines biological soil crust communities near an abandoned well pad during field work.

Photograph of Elizabeth Lake in the fourth year of drought and two years after the Powerhouse Fire.
September 16, 2015

Photograph of Elizabeth Lake in the fourth year of drought and two years after the Powerhouse Fire. Note salt encrustation of surface and small accumulations of water remaining in the foreground and background.

Almost all of the turtles living in a southern California lake died following a large fire and years of drought, according to a new USGS report.

Photo of remains of a southwestern pond turtle as found in the dry lake bed of Elizabeth Lake, Los Angeles California.
September 16, 2015

Salt-encrusted remains of a southwestern pond turtle (Actinemys pallida) as found in the dry lake bed of Elizabeth Lake, Los Angeles County, California. Note the heavy coating of evaporites on the carcass. Most living turtles collected in 2014 had similar but varying degrees of coatings on the head, limbs and shell.

Almost all of the turtles living in a southern California lake died following a large fire and years of drought, according to a new USGS report.

Aerial view showing greenup of restoration plots in the lower Colorado River Delta following the 2014 Minute 319 pulse flow.
October 2015 (approx.)

Aerial view showing the intense greenup of restoration plots in the lower Colorado River Delta following the 2014 Minute 319 pulse flow.

La Sal Mountain Range
January 13, 2016

Snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountain Range as seen from the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. This is one area in the Southwest where biocrust plays an important role. 

Photo of outdoor testing plots where biocrusts were exposed to different warming and precipitation factors over time.
September 26, 2016

USGS scientists created outdoor testing plots where large squares of biocrusts were exposed to different warming and precipitation factors over time. Researchers not only looked at how the biocrusts responded, but also measured the amount of energy that the different biocrust communities reflected back into the atmosphere relative to how much energy came in from the sun.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

Photo of USGS scientist Sasha Reed studying outdoor biocrust testing sites
September 26, 2016

USGS scientist Sasha Reed studies sites where different climate conditions are being mimicked to determine effect on biocrusts.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

Photo of biocrusts providing soil stability in the desert
September 26, 2016

Biocrusts provide soil stability and prevent erosion. Soil is the foundation where plants live; if soil is not stable, native plants can have difficulty growing.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

Photo of Biocrust outdoor testing plots
September 26, 2016

USGS scientists created outdoor testing plots where large squares of biocrusts were exposed to different warming and precipitation factors over time. Researchers not only looked at how the biocrusts responded, but also measured the amount of energy that the different biocrust communities reflected back into the atmosphere relative to how much energy came in from the sun.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

Photo of biocrust outdoor testing plots.
September 26, 2016

USGS scientists created outdoor testing plots where large squares of biocrusts were exposed to different warming and precipitation factors over time. Researchers not only looked at how the biocrusts responded, but also measured the amount of energy that the different biocrust communities reflected back into the atmosphere relative to how much energy came in from the sun.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

Photo of mature, dark-colored biocrust
September 29, 2016

On the Colorado Plateau, mature biocrusts are bumpy and dark-colored due to the presence of lichens, mosses, and high densities of cyanobacteria and other organisms. These organisms perform critical functions, such as fertilizing soils and increasing soil stability, therefore reducing dust.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

View from Canyonlands Research Center
September 29, 2016

View from Canyonlands Research Center. 

Photo of biocrust
September 29, 2016

On the Colorado Plateau, mature biocrusts are bumpy and dark-colored due to the presence of lichens, mosses, and high densities of cyanobacteria and other organisms. Disturbed biocrusts are lighter in color, looking more like the underlying sand than undisturbed ones, and are less capable of stabilizing soils or providing soil fertility.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

Photo of USGS scientist Jayne Belnap examining instrumentation to measure photosynthetic rates of biocrusts.
September 29, 2016

USGS scientist Jayne Belnap examines instrumentation to measure photosynthetic rates of biocrusts.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

Photo of footprint damage to biocrusts.
September 29, 2016

Many human activities can be unintentionally harmful to biological crusts. The biocrusts are no match for the compressional stress caused by footprints of livestock or people or tracks from vehicles.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to a new USGS study. 

An extremely rare Mojave River western pond turtle was recently observed in the Mojave Desert.
May 4, 2017

An extremely rare Mojave River western pond turtle was recently observed by USGS scientists and staff from The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in the Mojave Desert. Turtles of this population have rarely been seen since the late 1990s.