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Ecology of Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park hosts a variety of rich ecosystems and supports over 1,000 different plant species. Variations in elevation and influences from the surrounding Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, and Chihuahuan Desert support habitats from sand dunes to coniferous forests.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park supports a diverse ecosystem of plants and animals. Some particularly interesting habitats emerge around the park’s springs and seeps, which are reliable sources of water that bring lush greenery and vitality to the otherwise hot and arid landscape. Springs and seeps attract a variety of different animals, both predator and prey, that must find water to survive.

Bowl area of Guadalupe Mountains
A photo of the “Bowl” area of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. In this high-altitude area, Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs thrive in the cooler temperatures. In contrast, at the lower, warmer climes, the landscape is a desert.

The huge variations in elevation at Guadalupe Mountains National Park leads to vast variation in climate over a small area. During the same day, temperatures in one part of the park can be around 50°F and another sweltering at 100 °F.  Many species withstand these extremes to make their home in the park, including 60 species of mammals, 289 bird species, and 55 species of reptiles. Several of these species are nocturnal and are able to avoid the hottest temperatures of the daytime. Other animals, such as mule deer, skunks, and raccoons, make use of the riparian (streamside) areas.

Perennial stream in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
An image of a lush area of the park near a perennial stream. Such areas are vital to the wildlife of the Guadalupe Mountains and attract all sorts of plant and animal life.

Elk, black bear, gray foxes, striped and hog-nosed skunks, porcupines, mule deer, mountain lions, and mountain short-horned lizards make their homes in the mountain pine forests. Meanwhile the western diamondback rattlesnake, bullsnake, coachwhip snake, prairie lizard, collared lizard, crevice spiny lizard, and the Chihuahuan spotted whiptail spend their lives on the desert floor.

Landsat comparison of burn scar in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Before (left) and after (right) Landsat images of a burn scar in the Guadalupe Mountains.

Fire is another important feature of the Guadalupe Mountains ecosystem. Fire is a valuable factor in nutrient recycling, as well as in controlling insect populations and plant diseases. Fires can also contribute to the diversity of plant life, which improves the stability and resiliency of the ecosystem. Controlled-burn fires provide an important ecological function, but they also prevent larger, less-controllable fires from happening by reducing the fuel available. A large, uncontrolled, and very hot fire could have devastating consequences for some areas of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, like McKittrick Canyon. This area hosts the largest relict woodland in the park as well as a diversity of unique plants and animals and fire management helps to protect these vulnerable areas. 

Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s desert landscape
A view of Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s desert landscape as a rainstorm rolls in.