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Lake Mead-Based Scientists Track Mojave Desert's 'Vital Signs'

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National Park Service

A dozen National Park Service scientists based in Boulder City track the “vital signs” that reflect the environmental health of deserts in Nevada, California, and Arizona.

The Mojave Desert Inventory and Monitoring Network is one of 32 such research groups across the park service. It studies the deserts at eight national park units, four of which are in Nevada:  Lake Mead, Tule Springs, Great Basin National Park and a slice of Death Valley National Park.

“We do a lot of different ecosystem, kind of vital sign, monitoring. Think of the vital signs of our own health,” said Allen Calvert, program manager for the monitoring network. “Specifically, we spend a lot of time at desert springs.”

The thousands of springs that dot the desert Southwest take up a tiny bit of area but are integral to the well-being of many of the region’s animals and plants.

“These desert springs are a very vital resource for a lot of different wildlife, plants, vegetation,” Calvert said. “They are kind of a hotspot for biodiversity.”

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The scientists recently published a case study showing a sharp decline in the number of springs bringing water to the surface at Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. While hydrologists investigate the exact causes, Calvert pointed out that the drop in surface water occurred during an extended period of drought.

Calvert said his team will continue to study the springs and could make recommendations to park managers on how to address the changing environment. For instance, he said, the park might seasonally close off public access to a flowing spring that bighorn sheep rely on.

In Nevada, the monitoring network is preparing to begin its work studying the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in North Las Vegas.

Congress made the area part of the park service in late 2014, and it is so new that a visitor center is yet to be built.

“We’re looking forward to getting our boots on the ground there when the time comes,” said Nicole Hupp, a National Park Service ecologist and part of the monitoring team.

“The first thing that comes to mind for me, as an ecologist, at Tule Springs," Hupp said, "is probably investigating the invasive plant scene we have there, … getting an idea for the kind of work we have to do to keep the plants we want in, and the ones we don’t out.”

Guests

Allen Calvert, Mojave Desert Inventory and Monitoring Network program manager; Nicole Hupp, National Park Service ecologist

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