This blog will focus on my fall sabbatical, and the ecology, evolution, and conservation of endangered and rare species in the Death Valley / Owens Valley area of California. Two taxa that I am particularly interested in are the Inyo Mountain salamander, and desert pupfish in the genus Cyprinodon. I plan on exploring not only the science of these species (and others), but also their beauty.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Although most of my research during the last sixteen years has focused on the ecology of breeding birds in early successional habitats in the Northeast, I am fascinated by several species of desert organisms - particularly the Inyo Mountains slender salamander (Batrachoseps campi) and desert pupfish (Cyprinodon). The fate of these species is tied to water, the desert's most precious resource. This dependence on water, and the ability of pupfish and salamanders to persist in a very arid and harsh environment, is stunning and compelling. For example, the photo above shows my son, Martin, standing in creosote scrub habitat at the base of the Inyo Mountains. It is a heat-blasted, xeric landscape, and appears completely alien for any salamander - and yet they go about their business around a tiny spring in the canyon visible over Martin's right shoulder. The existence of slender salamanders in this isolated canyon in the Inyo Mountains is tied to the ecology and evolutionary biology of the species, and to the geological and climate history of the region. It is an existence that is unexpected, wonderful, and beautiful. And so my goal over the next few months is to explore the wonder and beauty of the desert, and of pupfish and salamanders - and hopefully, to begin building a book of creative nonfiction, which I shall call "In the Fullness of Time."