Research Thesis: “Location, biological characterization, and anthropogenic disturbances of springs near the Esqueda – Sierra del Tigre route, Sonora”

Earlier this year, our 2021 Sky Island Fellow Ángel Garcia graduated from the Universidad de la Sierra in Sonora, Mexico with a degree in biology. The following is a recap of Ángel’s senior thesis, titled “Location, biological characterization and anthropogenic disturbances of springs near the Esqueda – Sierra del Tigre route, Sonora.”

This thesis was written in collaboration with the Sky Island Alliance Spring Seeker program.


Springs are among the most structurally, ecologically, and biologically diverse ecosystems. They are incredibly productive and evolutionary provocateurs, but they remain some of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth (Stevens and Springer, 2005).

The information we have about the location, health status, threats, and biodiversity of the springs in Sonora is very limited; therefore, the public and Sonoran landowners have little interest towards springs, which leads to the mismanagement of these resources.

Sky Island Alliance and Springs Stewardship Institute are the main organizations in charge of conducting management activities and documenting information about the springs in Sonora. However, most of the information we have on documented springs belongs to the United States.

This thesis project investigates and documents the distribution, condition, and biological characteristics of the springs of Sonora, in addition to the threats they are facing. To complete the research, an area that represented the Sky Islands region in Sonora was delimited (route Esqueda – Sierra del Tigre), and using the Spring Seeker form from Sky Island Alliance and the “Springs Ecosystem Inventory Protocols” from the Springs Stewardship Institute, Ángel was able to make a full evaluation of the spring ecosystems within this representative area.


The area in which the study was carried out was approximately 140 km2, in which 62 springs were found—the majority in a mild state of disturbance and with high richness and biological diversity but seriously threatened by livestock and diversion of water.

Photo Caption: Maps of the location of the study area and the springs found.

Based on the results obtained from Sky Island Alliance’s Spring Seeker forms, it was possible to determine that the springs in the area are mostly affected by human and livestock activity.

Photo Caption: Springs affected by each factor and image of affectation by livestock.

The main natural factors that affect the springs in this area are the lack of rain and the high temperatures that cause the drought of non-permanent, or ephemeral, water sources.

Most of the springs in the research area presented high values of biological richness with the presence of mainly native and some endemic species, as well as very important species such as Lithobates Berlingieri, Ambystoma rosaceum, Thamnophis cyrtopsis, Chiricahua Lithobates chiricahuensis and Kinosternon sonoriense ssp.

Longifemorale (a Kinosternon sonoriense ssp., otherwise known as the Sonoyta mud turtle) is in some category of protection by NOM-059 – SEMARNAT-2010.


Before the threats severely affecting water sources of the region start to appear in the study area, it is important to raise awareness for the land owners in the area so they know the value of these resources for the public, for wildlife, and for the operation of the ecosystem.

It would also be helpful for owners to understand the future benefits they would obtain if they make good use and management of these water sources.

Read the Thesis (in Spanish)

Get Involved:

Ángel invites anyone who is interested in the Sky Island region’s springs to collaborate in the Spring Seeker project! There is still much to do—there are hundreds of springs that have not been documented, mainly in Sonora, but also some on the U.S. side of the border.

If you’re aware of a spring location near you or own land with springs on it, and if you’d like to collaborate with us, contact Sarah Truebe ([email protected]).


Stevens and Springer. 2005. CONCEPTUAL ECOLOGICAL MODEL OF MANANTIALES . SPRINGS STEWARDSHIP INSTITUTE. (Consulted on September 11, 2020).