Along the border, 500 miles of desert species

One early March morning in southern Arizona’s Coronado National Memorial, an uneven line of scientists and amateur naturalists in floppy hats and hiking pants crept up a steep hillside through yellowed grasses and dark shrubs. Plant names – scientific and common – flitted through the cool air, as the group covered the terrain, moving at the pace of lichen.

The dry winter suppressed plant growth, making for challenging botanizing. “Any ideas on this little guy here?” one participant asked, pointing to what appeared to be a leaf emerging from parched soil.

The group was there to spend the day cataloging the plants and animals along approximately four miles of undulating desert grassland. Nine other teams were doing the same thing on either side of some 500 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, from Baja California to western New Mexico, along with one team in Texas’s Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge.

It was the first Border BioBlitz organized by N-Gen, a professional network of Sonoran desert researchers. More rigorous and thorough field studies would be needed, but this was a necessary first step toward a baseline, said Myles Traphagen, a biogeographer at the nonprofit Wildlands Network, who organized the BioBlitz. If border wall construction goes forward, these experts can watch and record what that means for the ecosystems being bisected.

“We are getting an idea of what is here,” Traphagen said. “Once you do that, then you can start to monitor over time what changes occur.”

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