• Red Rocks with water in front of them in the desert.
  • Clouds behind Joshua Tree and bushes.
  • Desert flowers blooming in bushes in front of mountains in the desert.
  • Setting sun reflecting of clouds of orange and blue behind a joshua tree.
  • Hoover Dam intake towers with water behind the dam showing that it is not full.


Landscape connectivity of isolated waters for wildlife in the Sonoran desert

Science Need(s)

Critical Management Question 1: Water Management and Climate Change
How are climate change, water management, and their interaction affecting the physical processes that support springs, aquatic and riparian habitats, species, and human cultures? What are viable management options to mitigate these effects and support ecosystem functions? How can climate change, hydrological, ecological, and/or biological models be used to better understand the potential future effects of climate change, inform adaptive management and development of beneficial management practices, and create related decision support tools?

Critical Management Question 2: Monitoring Species/Processes and Related Threats/Stressors
What species and ecological processes are sensitive to climate change and/or other large scale stressors (e.g., water management, invasive species, altered fire regime, wind erosion) and can be effectively monitored to indicate the overall effects of these stressors on ecosystems, habitats, and species, thus helping managers detect, understand, and respond to these changes? What are the best monitoring designs and protocols to detect changes to these processes and species at temporal and geographic scales suitable for providing adequate and reliable metrics?

Critical Management Question 4: Physiological Stress of Climate Change
What species will be impacted by physiological stress due to climate change (e.g., temperature, water) and to what extent? What adaptation strategies might be applied to lessen the impact?

Grantee: Texas Tech University
Principle Investigators: Kerry L. Griffis-Kyle, Nancy E. McIntyre
Cooperative Agreement:  $85,572 in non-Federal funds and $85,424 in Federal funds provided by Bureau of Reclamation
Project Duration: 2013-2015
Project Goal(s)
Provide a quantitative and predictive analysis of landscape connectivity for 20 wildlife species over the Sonoran Desert ecoregion in the United States based on climate change and water type. Focal species are selected based on their vulnerability to changes in ephemeral water (most amphibians in the region) and interest by managers (invasive species, game species and threatened and endangered species).

Brief Project Description

Texas Tech University will conduct quantitative and predictive analysis of the connectivity of isolated desert "wetlands" that include tinajas — the name for eroded pools in bedrock — for 20 wildlife species over the Sonoran desert ecoregion. Potential loss of wetlands due to climate change will also be studied to identify high value areas that can be prioritized for future restoration efforts and targeted for better management practices.

Target species for landscape connectivity analysis include:

Colorado River toad (Incilius alverius)
American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)
Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis)
Lowland leopard frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis)
Couch’s spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii)
Plains spadefoot (Spea bombifrons)
Mexican spadefoot (Spea multiplicata)
Great Plains toad (Anaxyrus cognatus)
Red-spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus)
Sonoran green toad (Anaxyrus retiformis)
Southwestern Woodhouse’s toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii australis)
Lowland burrowing treefrog (Smilisca fodiens)
Western narrow-mouth toad (Gastrophryne olivacea)
Arizona tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium nebulosum)
Sonoran tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium stebbinsi)
Desert bighorn (Ovis canadensis mexicana)
Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus crooki)
Sonoran pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis)
Masked bobwhite (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi)
Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii)

Project Location

Sonoran desert ecoregion of the US

Project Tasks

  1. Compile species life history information.
  2. Compile wetland location databases.
  3. Quantify and compare the current connectivity status of Sonoran Desert wetlands across land management, based on: (i) simple Euclidian distance and (ii) effective distance as a function of surrounding land use/land cover.
  4. Simulate wetland losses under projected climate change, and recalculate connectivity.
  5. Prioritize waters according to their importance in maintaining overall system connectivity for wildlife and isolation for the invasive bullfrog.

Project Deliverables

  1. Identification of current probable dispersal routes (i.e., habitat corridors) and current weak linkages in landscape connectivity for target species.
  2. Identification of vulnerable corridors (i.e., those that are diminished or are lost altogether) and high-value areas for current management or future restoration activities.
  3. Prioritized list of waters for conservation and management allocations.
  4. Publications, presentations

Opportunities to learn more

Documents for downloading

Project Proposal