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Desert Diary


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Recent news on the effect of wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park leads us to consider the role of now-absent predators in the Chihuahuan Desert. In Yellowstone, predation on overabundant elk drove them from the stream valleys where they fed on streamside vegetation. Indeed, fed so efficiently that there was little successful growth for decades. With the return of the wolves, however, not only were the elk herds culled, but they soon learned to avoid the valleys where they were most vulnerable. The result? Renewed tree growth creating nesting areas for birds and food for beavers, shaded waters cooled for trout, and marshland created by beaver ponds providing habitat for a variety of animals.

The Chihuahuan Desert has lost its grizzlies and its wolves. In its northern reaches, Jaguars have only recently begun to return in small numbers. Control efforts on Mountain Lions may well have reduced their earlier presence. We can only guess at what the effects of returning key predators to the desert would be, but as wolves are reintroduced, we'll finally have somewhat of an answer.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.