Last month, September 30-October 5, a group of fellow Portal enthusiasts (Zachary Brym, Katherine Thibault, and Christa Weise) got together at the site to take on not only the rodent survey, but also the summer annual and perennial plant survey. Each experimental plot (50 m X 50 m) also has 16 (0.5 m X 0.5 m) permanent plant sampling quadrats within it so that we can understand what changes might occur in the plant community from year-to-year or based on differences in what rodents might be munching or moving around their seeds. We weren’t sure that we could actually finish the survey between our schedule flights to Arizona, but found that a determined group of (mostly) mammalogists could actually do pretty well at identifying desert plants!
There doesn’t seem to be a great field guide for the plant occurring at the site (barely in Arizona, almost in New Mexico, and a desert transition zone…) but we compiled a small ‘library’ to take out with us including a mini-herbarium of plants pressed over the years, the Flora of New Mexico book, Flora of Arizona Book (Epple), and the Peterson Field Guide to Southwestern and Texas Wildflowers, and a Grasses of Arizona Book. We’d love to hear any suggestions for other guide books for the area, especially for grasses or non-flowering ID characters.
The weather was great and by working all day everyday, we were able to sample all our rodents (still a desert pocket mouse takeover) and get to all the plant quadrates with very few unidentifiable individuals! The area near the Chiricahua mountains seems to have gotten more monsoon rain that many other areas of southeastern Arizona, so there were quite a few plants to count relative to some other years, and I would guess (haven’t finished entering data yet!) that there were about 15 species of annual plants per plot. This is actually relatively high diversity for this site, since many years have less than 5 species present! Most common was the Summer Poppy (Kallstroemia grandiflora), Woolly Tidestromia (Tidestromia lanuginosa), two species of spiderling (Boerhavia intermedia and torreyana) and panicum grass (Panicum arizonicum and hirticaule). We tried to photo document everything identified (and unidentified!) and hope to update our mini-herbarium soon since many of the samples are becoming worse for the wear.
It was a lot of work and a cobbled together fast trip, but we sampled everything and had a lot of fun!