What Our Sky Island Fellow Learned about Springs in Sonora

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Earlier this year, our 2021 Sky Island Fellow Ángel Garcia — who also spent the summer and fall of 2020 with us as part of our binational internship program — graduated from the Universidad de la Sierra in Sonora, Mexico with a degree in biology! (You can read more about this momentous occasion in a previous blog post.)

Leading up to his graduation, Ángel spent a good portion of his internship with us monitoring and documenting springs near the Esqueda – Sierra del Tigre route in Sonora, and he even hosted a coffee break with us early on to share his results. We recommend a watch if you’re interested!

Ángel has been instrumental in getting Spring Seeker, one of our water programs, off the ground in parts of Mexico. As such, we are delighted that this work made it into his undergraduate dissertation, titled “Location, biological characterization and anthropogenic disturbances of springs near the Esqueda – Sierra del Tigre route, Sonora.”

A month ago, Ángel shared a copy of his dissertation with us — and also gave us permission to put it in our Water Library so that we could share his research with you, too! While the document (PDF, 74 pages) is written in Spanish, here are a few takeaways. You can find a full recap in English HERE.

1. The information researchers have about the location, health, threats, and biodiversity of Sonoran springs in Sonora is limited. Because of this, the public doesn’t understand the importance of their local springs, leading to mismanagement of these increasingly limited resources.

2. The two main organizations (both from Arizona) that currently help manage and document water resources in Sonora are the Springs Stewardship Institute and Sky Island Alliance. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work and research to be done on fresh water locations in Sonora.

3. Ángel chose a small portion of the Sonoran Sky Islands to study. Using protocols from both these organizations, he documented the distribution, condition, and biological characteristics of 62 springs. While the majority of these springs were only mildly disturbed and had a high level of species richness, all of them were threatened by the presence of local cattle and livestock practices (like water diversion).

4. Springs in the area of research were also impacted by ongoing drought, caused by our global climate crisis (high temperatures, no rain, etc.).

5. Many of the springs were home to native and endemic species, such as the Tarahumara salamander (Ambystoma rosaceum), the blackneck garter snake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis), and the Chiricahua leopard frog (Chiricahua Lithobates chiricahuensis).

Read the full recap of Ángel’s thesis HERE or his official dissertation in Spanish HERE.