Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Las Cienegas Grassland Monitoring
Las Cienegas BLM National Conservation Area (NCA) is situated just north of Arizona's "Wine Country" in Elgin. The NCA encompasses most of the valley between the Santa Rita and the Whetstone "Sky Island" mountain ranges. Its verdant, rolling grass hills are a welcome surprise after the stark rock and Saguaro spires of the Sonoran Desert. When travelers see it they invariably exclaim, "Oh, I didn't know Arizona could be like this!". [map]
We identified annual and perennial grasses to evaluate ecosystem recovery after several years with no livestock grazing (there are native Pronghorn antelope). The transects revealed a marked increase in overall ground cover and a succession over the years from annuals to perennials. There were a few invasives, of course, such as Lovegrass, but also many beautiful natives like Sideoats Grama.
Grasses can be quite beautiful: while they lack the showy colors and fragrances of flowers because they are wind pollinated (and hence don't need to attract pollinators), their varying solutions to the architectural problem of arranging the seed head are quite wondrous, especially under magnification.