Chihuahuan Desert

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Chihuahuan Desert
Big Bend National Park PB112611.jpg
Chihuahuan desert landscape in Big Bend National Park
Chihuahuan Desert map.svg
Location map of Chihuahuan Desert
Ecology
Realm Nearctic
Biome Deserts and xeric shrublands
Borders
Geography
Area501,896 km2 (193,783 sq mi)
Countries Mexico and United States
States
Coordinates 30°32′26″N103°50′14″W / 30.54056°N 103.83722°W / 30.54056; -103.83722 Coordinates: 30°32′26″N103°50′14″W / 30.54056°N 103.83722°W / 30.54056; -103.83722
Rivers Rio Grande
Conservation
Conservation status Vulnerable
Global 200 Yes
Protected35,905 km2 (13,863 sq mi) (7%) [1]

The Chihuahuan Desert (Spanish : Desierto de Chihuahua, Desierto Chihuahuense) is a desert and ecoregion designation covering parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It occupies much of West Texas, the middle and lower Rio Grande Valley, the lower Pecos Valley in New Mexico, and a portion of southeastern Arizona, as well as the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau. It is bordered on the west by the Sonoran Desert and the extensive Sierra Madre Occidental range, along with northwestern lowlands of the Sierra Madre Oriental range. On the Mexican side, it covers a large portion of the state of Chihuahua, along with portions of Coahuila, north-eastern Durango, the extreme northern part of Zacatecas, and small western portions of Nuevo León. With an area of about 501,896 km2 (193,783 sq mi), [1] it is the largest desert in North America. [2]

Contents

Geography

The terrain mainly consists of basins broken by numerous small mountain ranges. Chihuahuan Desert from South Rim BIBE.jpg
The terrain mainly consists of basins broken by numerous small mountain ranges.

Several larger mountain ranges include the Sierra Madre, the Sierra del Carmen, the Organ Mountains, the Franklin Mountains, the Sacramento Mountains, the Chisos Mountains, the Guadalupe Mountains, and the Davis Mountains. These create "sky islands" of cooler, wetter, climates adjacent to, or within the desert, and such elevated areas have both coniferous and broadleaf woodlands, including forests along drainages and favored exposures. The lower elevations of the Sandia–Manzano Mountains, the Magdalena–San Mateo Mountains, and the Gila Region partly border the Chihuahuan Desert and partly border other ecoregions that are not deserts.

There are a few urban areas within the desert: the largest is Ciudad Juárez with almost two million inhabitants; Chihuahua, Saltillo, and Torreón; and the US cities of El Paso and Albuquerque. Alamogordo, Alpine, Benson, Carlsbad, Carrizozo, Deming, Fort Stockton, Fort Sumner, Las Cruces, Marfa, Pecos, Roswell, and Willcox are among the other communities in this ecoregion.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature the Chihuahuan Desert may be the most biologically diverse desert in the world as measured by species richness or endemism. The region has been badly degraded, mainly due to grazing. [3] Many native grasses and other species have become dominated by woody native plants, including creosote bush and mesquite, due to overgrazing and other urbanization. The Mexican wolf, once abundant, was nearly extinct and remains on the endangered species list. [4]

Climate

The desert is mainly a rain shadow desert because the two main mountain ranges covering the desert, the Sierra Madre Occidental to the west and the Sierra Madre Oriental to the east block most moisture from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, respectively. [5] Climatically, the desert mostly has an arid, mesothermal climate with one rainy season in the late summer and smaller amounts of precipitation in early winter, the mean daily temperature of the coldest month warmer than 0 °C (32 °F). [5] The majority of rain falls between late June and early October, during the North American Monsoon when moist air from the Gulf of Mexico penetrates into the region, or much less frequently, when a tropical cyclone moves inland and stalls. [5] [6] Owing to its inland position and higher elevation than the Sonoran Desert to the west, mostly varying from 480 to 1,800 m (1,575 to 5,906 ft) in altitude, [7] the desert has a slightly milder climate in the summer (though usually daytime June temperatures are in the range of 32 to 40 °C or 90 to 104 °F), with mild to cool winters and occasional to frequent freezes. [6] The average annual temperature in the desert varies from about 13 to 22 °C (55 to 72 °F), depending on elevation and latitude. The hottest temperatures in the desert occur in lower elevation areas and valleys, including near the Rio Grande from south of El Paso into the Big Bend, and the Bolson de Mapimi. [7] Northern and eastern portions have more definite winters than southern and western portions, receiving a portion of winter precipitation as snowfall most winters. [6] The mean annual precipitation for the Chihuahuan Desert is 235 mm (9.3 in) with a range of approximately 150–400 mm (6–16 in), although it receives more precipitation than most other warm desert ecoregions. [5] Nearly two-thirds of the arid zone stations have annual totals between 225 and 275 mm (8.9 and 10.8 in). [8] Snowfall is scant except at the higher elevation edges. The desert is fairly young, existing for only 8000 years. [5]

Flora

The Pronghorn and lechuguilla agave are native species of the Chihuahuan Desert. Antelope, Otero Mesa NM.jpg
The Pronghorn and lechuguilla agave are native species of the Chihuahuan Desert.

The creosote bush ( Larrea tridentata ) is the dominant plant species on gravelly and occasional sandy soils in valley areas within the Chihuahuan Desert. The other species creosote bush is found with depend on factors including the soil type, elevation, and degree of slope. Viscid acacia ( Vachellia vernicosa ), and tarbush ( Flourensia cernua ) dominate northern portions, while broom dalea ( Psorothamnus scoparius ) occurs on sandy soils in western portions. Yucca and Opuntia species are abundant on slopes and uplands in most areas, while Arizona rainbow cactus ( Echinocereus polyacanthus ) and Mexican fire-barrel cactus ( Ferocactus pilosus ) inhabit portions near the US–Mexico border.

Herbaceous plants, such as bush muhly ( Muhlenbergia porteri ), blue grama ( Bouteloua gracilis ), gypsum grama ( B. breviseta ), and hairy grama ( B. hirsuta ), are dominant in desert grasslands and near the mountain edges including the Sierra Madre Occidental. Lechuguilla ( Agave lechuguilla ), honey mesquite ( Prosopis glandulosa ), Opuntia macrocentra and Echinocereus pectinatus are the dominant species in western Coahuila. Ocotillo ( Fouquieria splendens ), lechuguilla, and Yucca filifera are the most common species in the southeastern part of the desert. Candelilla ( Euphorbia antisyphilitica ), Mimosa zygophylla , Acacia glandulifera and lechuguilla are found in areas with well-draining, shallow soils. The shrubs found near the Sierra Madre Oriental are exclusively lechuguilla, guapilla ( Hechtia glomerata ), Queen Victoria's agave ( Agave victoriae-reginae ), sotol ( Dasylirion spp.), and barreta ( Helietta parvifolia ), while the well-developed herbaceous layer includes grasses, legumes and cacti.

Desert or arid grasslands comprise 20% of this desert and are often mosaics of shrubs and grasses. They include purple three-awn ( Aristida purpurea ), black grama ( Bouteloua eriopoda ), and sideoats grama ( Bouteloua curtipendula ). Early Spanish explorers reported encountering grasses that were "belly high to a horse;" most likely these were big alkali sacaton ( Sporobolus wrightii ) and tobosa ( Pleuraphis mutica ) along floodplain or bottomland areas. [3]

Protected areas

A 2017 assessment found that 35,905 km2 (13,863 sq mi), or 7%, of the ecoregion is in protected areas. [1] Protected areas include Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, Janos Biosphere Reserve, Médanos de Samalayuca Natural Protected Area and Cañón de Santa Elena Flora and Fauna Protection Area in Chihuahua, Cuatro Ciénegas Basin, Ocampo Flora and Fauna Protection Area, and part of Maderas del Carmen Biosphere Reserve in Coahuila, Mapimí Biosphere Reserve and Cañón de Fernández State Park in Durango, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carrizozo Malpais, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument, Petroglyph National Monument, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, and White Sands National Park in New Mexico, and Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, Franklin Mountains State Park, and part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.

See also

Related Research Articles

Sonoran Desert Desert in northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States

The Sonoran Desert is a North American desert and ecoregion that covers large parts of the Southwestern United States in Arizona and California as well as Northwestern Mexico in Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is the hottest desert in Mexico. It has an area of 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 sq mi).

<i>Yucca baccata</i> Yucca with banana-shaped fruit

Yucca baccata is a common species of yucca native to the deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, from southeastern California north to Utah, east to western Texas and south to Sonora and Chihuahua. It is also reported in the wild in Colombia.

Sierra Madre Oriental Mountain range in Mexico

The Sierra Madre Oriental is a mountain range in northeastern Mexico. The Sierra Madre Oriental is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges (cordillera) that consists of an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges that form the western "backbone" of North America, Central America, South America, and Antarctica.

Yuma Desert

The Yuma Desert is a lower-elevation section of the Sonoran Desert in the southwestern United States and the northwest of Mexico. It lies in the Salton basin. The desert contains areas of sparse vegetation and has notable areas of sand dunes. With an average rainfall less than 8 inches (200 mm) each year, this is among the harshest deserts in North America. Human presence is sparse throughout, the largest city being Yuma, Arizona, on the Colorado River and the border of California.

Sierra Madre Occidental pine–oak forests Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests ecoregion of Mexico and the United States

The Sierra Madre Occidental pine–oak forests are a Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests ecoregion of the Sierra Madre Occidental range from the southwest USA region to the western part of Mexico. They are home to a large number of endemic plants and important habitat for wildlife.

Aridoamerica Ecological region of North America

Aridoamerica denotes an ecological region spanning Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States, defined by the presence of the culturally significant staple foodstuff Phaseolus acutifolius, a drought-resistant bean. Its dry, arid climate and geography stand in contrast to the verdant Mesoamerica of present-day central Mexico into Central America to the south and east, and the higher, milder "island" of Oasisamerica to the north. Aridoamerica overlaps with both.

White-throated woodrat Species of rodent

The white-throated woodrat is a species of rodent in the family Cricetidae. It is found from central Mexico north to Utah and Colorado in the United States. It is primarily a western species in the United States, extending from central Texas west to southeastern California. Populations east of the Rio Grande in New Mexico and Trans-Pecos Texas, previously considered to be variants of the white-throated woodrat, have since 1988 been assigned to the white-toothed woodrat.

<i>Fraxinus velutina</i> Species of ash

Fraxinus velutina, the velvet ash, Arizona ash or Modesto ash, is a species of Fraxinus native to southwestern North America, in the United States from southern California east to Texas, and in Mexico from northern Baja California east to Coahuila and Nuevo León.

Tamaulipan mezquital Xeric shrublands ecoregion in Mexico and the United States

The Tamaulipan mezquital is a deserts and xeric shrublands ecoregion in the southern United States and northeastern Mexico. It covers an area of 141,500 km2 (54,600 sq mi), encompassing a portion of the Gulf Coastal Plain in southern Texas, northern Tamaulipas, northeastern Coahuila, and part of Nuevo León.

Central Mexican matorral Xeric shrubland ecoregion in Mexico

The Central Mexican matorral is an ecoregion of the deserts and xeric shrublands biome of central Mexico. It is the southernmost ecoregion of the Nearctic realm.

<i>Yucca</i> × <i>schottii</i> Species of flowering plant

Yucca × schottii is a plant species in the genus Yucca, native to southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and the northern parts of Sonora and Chihuahua. The common names are Schott's yucca, hoary yucca, and mountain yucca. The "×" in the name indicates that this is a nothospecies, regarded as being a natural hybrid between two other species. In this case, Yucca × schottii is believed to have originated as a hybrid between Y. baccata and Y. madrensis. Yucca × schottii is firmly established and does reproduce freely in the wild.

The Reserva Ecológica Municipal Sierra y Cañón de Jimulco is a protected area in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. Jimulco has a high mountain range of over 10,000 ft, a riparian area formed by the Aguanaval River, an endorrheic basin and an extensive valley with the characteristic flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert.

<i>Echinocereus chisoensis</i> Species of cactus

Echinocereus chisoensis is a rare North American species of cactus known by the common name Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus, native to the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico and the south-central United States.

<i>Echinomastus mariposensis</i> Species of cactus

Echinomastus mariposensis is a rare species of cactus known by the common names Lloyd's fishhook cactus, golfball cactus, silver column cactus, and Mariposa cactus. It is native to a small section of territory straddling the border between Brewster County, Texas, in the United States and the state of Coahuila in Mexico. It has been federally listed as a threatened species in the United States since 1979.

<i>Dasylirion leiophyllum</i> Species of flowering plant

Dasylirion leiophyllum is a species of flowering plant in the asparagus family known by the common names green sotol, smooth-leaf sotol, and smooth sotol. It is native to North America, where it occurs in Chihuahua and Coahuila in Mexico and New Mexico and western Texas in the United States. It was first collected by Valery Havard in 1880 and was described by William Trelease in 1911.

<i>Lycium berlandieri</i> Species of flowering plant

Lycium berlandieri is a species of flowering plant in the nightshade family known by the common name Berlandier's wolfberry. It is native to Mexico and the south-western United States from Arizona to Texas.

Cañón de Santa Elena Flora and Fauna Protection Area

The Cañón de Santa Elena Flora and Fauna Protection Area is a protected area for plants and wildlife in the Mexican municipalities of Manuel Benavides and Ojinaga, in the state of Chihuahua. It was founded on November 7, 1994 and has an area of 277,209 hectares.

Beach Mountains

The Beach Mountains are located on privately owned land roughly 3 miles (5 km) north of Van Horn in southwestern Culberson County, Texas. The maximum elevation reached is 5,827 feet (1,776 m) above sea level. The Beach Mountains occupy a roughly circular area with a diameter of approximately 8 kilometres (5.0 mi), rising 550 metres (1,800 ft) above the surrounding desert. Narrow passes separate the Beach Mountains from the Baylor Mountains to the north and the much larger Sierra Diablo range to the northwest.

Meseta Central matorral Xeric shrubland ecoregion in Mexico

The Meseta Central matorral is a deserts and xeric shrublands ecoregion in north-central Mexico.

References

  1. 1 2 3 Dinerstein, Eric; Olson, David; et al. (2017). "An Ecoregion-Based Approach to Protecting Half the Terrestrial Realm". BioScience. 67 (6). pp. 534–545; Supplemental material 2 table S1b. doi: 10.1093/biosci/bix014 .
  2. Wright, John W., ed. (2006). The New York Times Almanac (2007 ed.). New York, New York: Penguin Books. pp.  456. ISBN   0-14-303820-6.
  3. 1 2 "Chihuahuan desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  4. "Lobos of the Southwest". Mexican Wolves. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Chihuahuan Desert". New Mexico State University. Archived from the original on December 27, 2012. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 "Chihuahuan Desert". National Park Service. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  7. 1 2 "Chihuahuan Desert". Encyclopedia of Earth. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  8. Chihuahuan Climate Archived September 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine , Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute