Information from ARMI surveys guides management action in the Desert Southwest

By: Sigafus BH; Hossack BR; Muths E; September 15, 2020
The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) has developed a new pond designed to replicate ciénega conditions that will provide habitat for the federally threatened Chiricahua leopard frog. Reintroduced to the Refuge after extirpation in the early 2000s, the Chiricahua leopard frog has colonized areas beyond the initial reintroduction sites, now inhabiting several human-made stock tanks on the Refuge. The species’ persistence on the Refuge depends on the ongoing eradication of invasive bullfrogs and the availability of water. In desert habitats such as BANWR, the ciénega (a Spanish word for wetland) is a marsh-like habitat that is critical for numerous desert-dwelling creatures. Ciénegas on BANWR are characterized by a spring or seep that saturates the soil and allows water to pool in small areas (Hendrickson and Minckley, 1985). Ciénega vegetation includes rushes, watercress, and smartweed; they are often bordered by cottonwood and willow trees which the Refuge will plant at the new ciénega once the water has settled into the excavated depression. The new ciénega on BANWR is plumbed, meaning that water levels can be modified and maintained in response to environmental conditions that range from multi-year droughts to heavy monsoon conditions (Bezy et. al. 2007).

ARMI has collected data at BANWR since 2000, gathering information about native species (e.g., Chandler et al. 2015, Jarchow et al. 2016, , Howell et al. 2018, 2020a), invasive species such as American bullfrogs and sunfish (Suhr 2010, Howell et al. 2020b), and disease (Sigafus et al. 2014). Models assessing occupancy and movement of the Chiricahua leopard frog indicate that water availability and permanency are critical components to the its persistence at BANWR. The Refuge has used this information to make decisions about management actions such as building plumbed ponds — a non-trivial action in terms of cost and logistics. The new ciénega will not only support the Chiricahua leopard frog but will provide water for many other species that call BANWR home including the federally endangered masked bobwhite quail, great blue herons, yellow-billed cuckoos, and pronghorn.

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