Ecological Escapades in The Arizonian Sky Islands

West Saguaro National Park

Greetings! My name is Angelika, and I am currently a part of the EFTA Saguaro Diversity Crew. These past two weeks have been a wonderful and intricate experience. I was lucky; this is my first Conservation Corps, and there are no regrets. I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, and yet, until now, I have not thought about the incredible diversity in the desert biome. It was terrific to hear that it is considered a Sky Island in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico, meaning the dramatic elevation changes of the desert and its surrounding mountainous regions lend to a wide-ranging diversity of species and biomes.

A big highlight of my first week was exploring with wildlife biologist and conservation social scientist Jennie Duberstein, who led our crew on a night hike through Sabino Canyon in Tucson. We brought out UV black lights to look for scorpions and even found a Striped Skunk, and a Western Screech Owl casually sitting on a branch looking for food. I had not experienced desert nightlife before this for fear of the dangers, but it was eye-opening and a great team-building experience. During the the Sabino Canyon hike, we came across a Desert Tortoise underneath a slab of rock!

Image source: Sarahi Porcayo, A best attempt at capturing a scorpion under UV light

In the second week, our crew met up with Don Swann, a biologist for the Saguaro National Parks for 30 years. I appreciated how extremely knowledgeable he was and how willing he was to answer our questions, especially for someone like myself who is new to this type of work and experience. We worked with him and interns of AmeriCorps to monitor and record the growth of the Saguaro plants on the west side of the park. By far, it is my most favorite activity so far! It was interesting to use special measuring tools and poles for the dimensions of the cacti, and the variability was always there, as some had lots of little arms growing. An interesting fact about these Saguaros is that they can live up to 200 years, an incredible feat in a harsh, hot environment. It is exclusive to the Sonoran Desert, another reason to visit Arizona!

The scientists, biologists, and even crewmates I have met have inspired me to continue conservation work in the future and to record my findings of new species and plants. I cannot wait to see what the next weeks’ adventures are!

The measuring tool used for the cacti