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Current Projects - Research and Conservation

Quitobaquito and Rio Sonyota Conservation Projects

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was recently awarded grant funds to collaborate with Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve in Sonora, Mexico. The purpose of the project is to support the implementation of both in situ and ex situ conservation actions related to the Quitobaquito pupfish and Sonoyta mud turtle, provide for public education, and forge partnerships between sister parks and non-governmental institutions. Actions include research and monitoring of these species, surveys of invasive species, establishment and enhancement of off-site facilities for maintaining assurance populations, public education and outreach. Target habitats include Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona and the Rio Sonoyta in the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, Mexico.

Pollinator Conservation

For over two decades, biologists have been concerned about declines in pollinator populations worldwide. Current ASDM pollinator conservation efforts focus on monarch butterflies and native bees in the Sonoran Desert. The monarch butterfly migration is one of the natural wonders of the world, yet has been listed as a threatened phenomenon by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. ASDM works with regional partners to better understand and conserve monarchs that pass through the Sonoran Desert. The Museum also manages a citizen science project (Pollinator Hotspots) to help understand the health of native bee populations regionally.

Native fish, frogs, snakes, and turtles

Springs, streams and rivers in the Sonoran Desert have all been declining in recent years due to a decade-long drought, and diversion of water for human needs. The Museum works with partners to hold, breed and supplement the populations of these species in the wild.

Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative and Landscape Conservation Planning and Design (DLCC funded; 2016-2017):

The Desert LCC is a bi-national, self-directed, non-regulatory regional partnership formed and directed by resource management entities and interested public and private entities in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Desert regions of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Through collaborative partnerships, the Desert LCC seeks to provide scientific and technical support, coordination, and communication to resource managers and the broader community to address climate change. Many federal, state, county, academic, non-government and individual partners are part of this planning group.

Contact: Sergio Avila ([email protected])

Buffelgrass — control of invasive grasses

Rapid spread of buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) and the conversion of fire-resistant desert to flammable grassland rivals climate change and drought as our region's most pressing environmental issue. Fires that kill native plants and damage wildlife habitat create even more space for buffelgrass, which not only survives the fire but thrives on fire. In the absence of fire, buffelgrass outcompetes native plants for space, sunlight, moisture, and nutrients, threatening the long-term persistence of individual plant and animal species, as well as entire natural communities within southern Arizona. Buffelgrass also poses a threat to our quality of life and regional economy. Ecotourism is a cornerstone of the economy of southern Arizona, and the saguaro is the symbol of our community. Without continued effort to control this grass, the saguaros we see today in the Tucson Mountains and the Catalina foothills will likely be the last saguaros to stand in these landscapes.

Heritage Fruit Trees

During the colonial period, Spanish settlers introduced new foods to Sonoran Desert gardens, including pomegranates, figs, pears, peaches and quinces. The Kino Heritage Fruit Trees project is working to restore these trees to historical orchards, and bring their diversity and quality to people in the region today.

Ancient Salt Trails & Oases

As sparse as the landscape appears, historically, people settled near oases, planted fruit trees and made annual salt pilgrimages through the Sonoran Desert region. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is partnering with a Tri-National group that includes Organ Pipe National Monument, Pinacate Biosphere Reserve & UNESCO World Heritage Site and Tohono O’odham community members to research and share these traditions. Partners are working together to reconnect the landscape and parks to the people who live on both sides of the border through education, interpretation and outreach.

Sonoran Desert Ant Diversity

Ants are among the most abundant and diverse animal groups in the Sonoran Desert. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum scientists are working to document, describe and understand the current distribution of ant diversity in our region and how climate change may alter this distribution in the future. This work forms part of the broader Arizona Sky Island Arthropod Project (ASAP) at the University of Arizona.


One of the most significant impacts of climate change is likely to be changes in the timing of events in the life cycle of plants and animals, known as phenology. At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, we're tracking phenological shifts in plants on our grounds and nearby, evaluating whether and how much different groups of plants have altered their phenologies over the past 40 years.

Conservation Partnerships for work in Mexico and the US

Recent Projects