Where is the rain?

I am situated in Mesa county Colorado. The entire county is inundated by extreme drought conditions, which has resulted in many plant species failing to produce viable seed or only producing small amounts. I have seen large populations of Gutierrezia sarothrae and microcephala beginning to die back to their caudex before reaching antithesis. I assume the plants are still alive below ground but couldn’t afford to nurture their above ground foliage. There are multiple forbs that have dried without maturing to seed, such as some Packera, Heterotheca, and Grindelia species. While some plants may still complete their life cycles, there seems to be an exceedingly high proportion of plants that are struggling, especially as the summer comes to a close. When I first got to this area in mid-May I was surprised by the drought conditions and found a charm in seeing how different populations were able to handle it and the phenotypic nuances that were exhibited dependent on soil, cover, and water. However, as the summer has gone on the majority of plants have shriveled and left behind their standing dead with few characteristics to determine what they once were.

Antithetically one of the most valuable things I will take away from my experience here is my love of mesic, riparian, and wetland areas. Before coming here I was on the fence about what I wanted to focus on and study ecologically, yet being in the desert I find that I can’t help but be drawn to the seasonal springs, seeps, playas, and rivers. Many of these spaces have dried by the time I reach them, but I can still read the space through the landforms, plants, animals/amphibians present and get an idea of what this area is like during different times. A salvation for me from the desert heat/dryness has been to visit the wet montane meadows and riparian areas of the San juan and Weminuche wilderness. It has been a fabulous and increasingly interesting experience to learn about the local ecosystems, and I find myself wishing I had been here in the spring to see the full circle of the growing season.

Starting Over

In the first week of my internship in Grand Junction Colorado I have found myself leaning new plants and their ecology. The flora here is unlike what I have experienced before and it manifests a diversity of organisms that is different depending on the ecoregion I find myself. The experience of learning the inhabitants of a space begins for me with becoming aware of them as individuals. From this point of view, it is important to identify organisms to their latin genus and species at some point, however this requires many hours of keying out plants and is secondary to an initial awareness of the variance of individuals present in a landscape. My goal is to reach the point that I previously experienced where there were few species that seemed new to me, and the ones I had come in contact with appeared familiar, while still unique.

Some of the ostensibly more exciting plants I have seen the past week were Astragalus linifolius and Skelerocatus glauca, both are considered endangered in Colorado. While surveying some trails for Sage Grouse Habitat a coworker and I stumbled upon at first an isolated A. linifolius, we then decided to do transects only to find that the area was scattered with many individuals. At this point we spent the following hours scouting and recording the gps coordinates of the edges of the population. While mapping this area I stumbled upon a single flowering S. glauca, and after this discovery we started to survey this area and found 6 other individual cacti! It was a rather exciting afternoon and that left me feeling accomplished, because both populations were previously unknown and represent a good sign for both species.