The rangelands of the southwestern United States comprise a mosaic of biome types, including deserts, grasslands, chaparral, woodlands, forests, subalpine meadows, and alpine tundra. Taken together, these ecosystems support exceptionally high numbers of vertebrate and invertebrate animal species. Biogeographic patterns of mammal, bird, and reptile species across North America show trends of increasing species numbers for these vertebrate groups, and some invertebrate groups, occur in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, especially in the border region with Mexico. Underlying causes of the region's high biodiversity are related to (1) the elevational variability inherent in the basin-and-range topography, with its concomitant range of climate conditions, (2) the diverse biogeographic history of the region, particularly with respect to the merging of major faunal groups during glacier retreats, and (3) the architectural variations in vegetation structure across the region's component ecosystems. Climate dynamics and disturbance also play major roles in maintaining a habitat mosaic, promoting greater regional faunal diversity. Disturbances affect animal diversity at many scales, from individuals' home ranges to continental species' distributions. Human activities have generated new suites of disturbances (livestock grazing, timber harvesting, mining, agriculture, prescribed fires, construction of roads and buildings), many of which contribute to the habitat patchiness of the landscape. Studies have shown that these disturbances prove beneficial to some species and detrimental to others. Hence, local increases in biodiversity can be orchestrated by creating or maintaining habitat diversity and disturbance regimes. Such management strategies can be scaled up to regional landscapes, in which areas of intensive human land use and disturbance are interspersed with regions of little or no human interference. Historically, this has been accomplished at local or state levels on an ad hoc bases (i.e., crisis management), with little evidence of long-term, large-scale, regional planning or coordination. If faunal biodiversity is to be preserved and enhanced on southwestern rangelands, human activities must be managed in a fashion that integrates faunal biology, resource requirements, and movement patterns with landscape scale attributes. Therefore, the task of the modern land manager will be to balance carefully the various scales and intensities of human activities, for the purpose of promoting sustainable use of natural resources and assuring the maintenance or enhancement of biodiversity. Future regional planning for biodiversity attributes will clearly require extensive communication and close cooperation among concerned citizens, private landowners, scientists, and government land managers.
Parmenter, Robert R.; Brantley, Sandra L.; Brown, James H.; Crawford, Clifford S.; Lightfoot, David C.; and Yates, Terry L.
"Diversity of animal communities on southwestern rangelands: Species patterns, habitat relationships, and land management,"
Natural Resources and Environmental Issues: Vol. 4
, Article 7.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/nrei/vol4/iss1/7