Chihuahuan Desert

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Chihuahuan Desert
Chihuahuan Desert.jpg
The Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas
Chihuahuan Desert map.svg
Length1,280 km (800 mi)
Width4,400 km (2,700 mi)
Area362,600 km2 (140,000 sq mi)
Geography
Country Mexico and the United States
State/Province North America
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

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, parts of the middle and lower Rio Grande Valley and 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 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 362,000 km2 (139,769 sq mi), it is the second largest desert of the Americas and the largest in North America. [1]

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. Though not technically within this ecoregion, the southernmost parts of the Sandia–Manzano Mountains are near the northernmost points of the region. The Magdalena–San Mateo Mountains and the Gila Region border the Chihuahuan Desert at their lower elevations.

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 Tucson. Las Cruces and Roswell are among the other significant cities in this ecoregion. Monterrey is located near the Chihuahuan desert in Mexico, as is the US city of Albuquerque several hundred miles to the north.

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. [2] 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. [3]

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. [4] Climatically, the desert has a dry climate with only one rainy season in the summer and smaller amounts of precipitation in early winter. [4] Most of the summer rains falls between late June and early October, during the North American Monsoon when moist air from the Gulf of Mexico penetrates into the region. [4] [5] Owing to its inland position and higher elevation than the Sonoran Desert to the west, mostly varying from 600 to 1,675 m (1,969 to 5,495 ft) in altitude, [6] the desert has a slightly milder climate in the summer (though usually daytime June temperatures are in the range of 35 to 40 °C or 95 to 104 °F) and cool or cold winters with occasional frosts. [5] The average annual temperature in the desert is 24 °C (75 °F), which varies with altitude. The hottest temperatures in the desert occur in lower elevation areas and in valleys. [6] Northern areas have more severe winters than the southern portion and can receive snowstorms. [5] 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 other warm desert ecoregions. [4] Nearly two-thirds of the arid zone stations have annual totals between 225 and 275 mm (8.9 and 10.8 in). [7] Snowfall is scant except at the higher elevation edges. The desert is fairly young, existing for only 8000 years. [4]

Flora/fauna

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 it is found with depends on factors such as the soil, altitude, and degree of slope. Viscid acacia ( Acacia neovernicosa ), and tarbush ( Flourensia cernua ) dominate northern portions, as does broom dalea ( Psorothamnus scoparius ) on sandy soils in western portions. Yucca and Opuntia species are abundant in foothill edges and the central third, 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.

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 ) bottomlands. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

Sonoran Desert North American desert

The Sonoran Desert is a North American desert which covers large parts of the Southwestern United States in Arizona and California and of 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). The western portion of the United States–Mexico border passes through the Sonoran Desert.

Great Basin Desert Desert in the United States

The Great Basin Desert is part of the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Range. The desert is a geographical region that largely overlaps the Great Basin shrub steppe defined by the World Wildlife Fund, and the Central Basin and Range ecoregion defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and United States Geological Survey. It is a temperate desert with hot, dry summers and snowy winters. The desert spans a large part of the state of Nevada, and extends into western Utah, eastern California, and Idaho. The desert is one of the four biologically defined deserts in North America, in addition to the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts.

Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range

The Sierra Madre Occidental is a major mountain range system of the North American Cordillera, that runs northwest–southeast through northwestern and western Mexico, and along the Gulf of California. The Sierra Madre 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 West Antarctica.

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.

Madrean pine–oak woodlands

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Madrean Sky Islands Peak-isolated biomes in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Mexico

The Madrean Sky Islands are enclaves of Madrean pine-oak woodlands, found at higher elevations in a complex of small mountain ranges in southern and southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northwestern Mexico. The sky islands are surrounded at lower elevations by the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. The northern west–east perimeter of the sky island region merges into the higher elevation eastern Mogollon Rim and the White Mountains of eastern Arizona.

Yuma Desert desert in southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico

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Sierra Madre Occidental pine–oak forests subtropical coniferous forest ecoregion of the Sierra Madre Occidental range

The Sierra Madre Occidental pine–oak forests are a subtropical coniferous forest 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 ethnic group

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East Potrillo Mountains

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West Potrillo Mountains Mountain range in south central Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States

The West Potrillo Mountains are a mountain range in south central Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States. They are located approximately 40 miles (64 km) northwest of El Paso, Texas, 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and 35 miles (56 km) southeast of Deming, New Mexico Most of the mountains are located on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument. Access to the vicinity is through Doña Ana County Road B-4 South from NM 549, which may be accessed from Interstate 10 Exit 116.

Yellow-nosed cotton rat species of mammal

The yellow-nosed cotton rat is a species of rodent in the family Cricetidae. It is native to Mexico and to the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in the United States, where it inhabits mountain grassland, scrub, and pinyon-juniper woodland. It is common over much of its wide range and the IUCN considers it to be of "least concern".

Tamaulipan mezquital

The Tamaulipan mezquital ecoregion, in the deserts and xeric shrublands biome, is located 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.

<i>Yucca</i> × <i>schottii</i> species of 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.

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>Dasylirion leiophyllum</i> species of 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.

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 southwestern United States from Arizona to Texas.

Protected Area of Flora and Fauna Santa Elena Canyon

The Protected Area of Flora and Fauna Santa Elena Canyon 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 mountain range in Texas, United States of America

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.

References

  1. 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.
  2. 1 2 "Chihuahuan desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  3. "Lobos of the Southwest". Mexican Wolves. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Chihuahuan Desert". New Mexico State University. Archived from the original on December 27, 2012. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 "Chihuahuan Desert". National Park Service. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  6. 1 2 "Chihuahuan Desert". Encyclopedia of Earth. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  7. Chihuahuan Climate Archived September 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine , Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute