Few people who have been to California are unaware of the vast deserts in the southeast. Although regarded for many centuries as wastelands unable to sustain life, deserts fill an extremely important ecological niche. The Mojave Desert itself occupies over 25,000 square miles, filled with yucca, Joshua tree and sage plants. The yucca, in particular, is critical in supporting life in the desert. Rodents rely on the seeds, while birds rely on the fruit for food and the leaves for nest building.
People Moving In
As more and more people move south to enjoy the mild climate, the desert becomes another vast suburbia, capable of sustaining only human life. Deserts have also become very popular recreational areas, as off-road vehicle use is increasing. Many animals are not able to adapt to their rapidly changing habitat, and without a nearby place to relocate, are forced into extinction.
The desert holds a success story, however, in the desert tortoise. Once listed as endangered due to constant removal for the pet trade and damage from off-road vehicles and cattle, this reptile has made a comeback. Educational programs, increased responsibility by recreational users, and man-made additions to protect burrows and feeding areas have helped this species off the list. It is currently listed only as threatened.
Who are the Desert Dwellers?
Morro Bay Kangaroo Rat
Kangaroo Rats are found only in the more arid regions of the western and southwestern U.S. Several species occur in all four southwestern deserts. Many of the 22 occur only in California. The Kangaroo Rat is the most-wide-ranging and occurs between the Sierra Nevada /Cacscade and Rocky mountains from southern Canada to central Mexico. Two species of the smaller Kangaroo Mouse (genus Microdipodops) occur in the Great Basin Desert.
Voles are small, mouse-like rodents with small eyes and barely visible ears. The coat of the Amargosa Vole is a cinnamon brown color on the back with a lighter belly. They have pale feet and bicolor tails, which are only a third of the length of their bodies. Adults can grow to 20cm in length and can weigh about 21 to 56 grams.
The Amargosa Vole was listed as endangered on September 2nd, 1980. It was listed due loss of historical habitat, rechannelization of water sources, and pumping of ground water. It has been given a priority of 6, meaning that it is a subspecies under high threat with low recovery potential. The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management has bought springs and marshlands near Tecopa, California. These habitats are now protected as areas of critical environmental concern. The Nature Conservancy and BLM now currently own most of the land necessary for the vole’s survival
See other types of habitats by following the links on the right side of the page.