The deserts of the Southwestern United States are likely to change dramatically as a result of climate change. How climate change will impact the critters dwelling in the Southwest's canyon country is the focus of my dissertation research. I am particularly interested in how threatened and endangered species, such as Mexican spotted owls and their prey respond to the changing climate.
This month we kicked off my PhD pilot season. While my specific research questions are still developing, understanding the structure and functioning of small mammal communities in the canyon will be a major aspect of my research. By trapping small mammals on an elevation gradient, we can learn s great deal about the future of mammals, and the predators that depend on them, as the Southwest warms and dries.
To this end, this month my crew and I are testing out field methods, getting in shape and learning how to ID desert rodents. After a dry run in the rim pinyon-juniper forest we tipped over into the canyon and trapped the lower half of Pipe Creek for a week. We had a great time and I realized that this project is going to take a lot of sweat and hand work to pull off. Trapping on an elevational gradient, even in the "easily" accessible portions of the canyon (Garden Creek) requires 9 miles of hiking and 5,000ft of elevation change round trip. The wildlife interns here at the Grand Canyon are amazing and kept at it all week, even if they were exhausted by Friday. What a great start to the season and project!