Forest ThreatNet

Volume 12, Issue 2 - Spring 2018

Can Birds and Butterflies Recover When an Aggressive Riparian Invader is Removed?

Giant_cane_along_Rio_Grande.jpgThe Rio Grande riparian system is one of the most significant of its kind in the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico, providing habitat for a wide array of plant, fish, and wildlife species. The river and its floodplain have changed dramatically over the past century due to water diversion for agricultural irrigation, damming, urban expansion, floodplain agriculture, and other impacts. These changes have facilitated the spread of invasive plant species, which further alter river hydrology and cause important changes in floodplain vegetation and habitat conditions for wildlife. Over the past several decades, large stands of giant cane (Arundo donax) have come to dominate significant portions of the riverbank in both the United States and Mexico, exacerbating stream channelization and displacing more diverse native vegetation. Big Bend National Park in west Texas and adjacent protected areas in northern Mexico have undertaken a major restoration initiative, using prescribed fire and manual treatments to remove giant cane stands along 118 miles of shared river floodplain. With support from the National Park Service, Eastern Threat Center ecologist Lars Pomara and collaborators at Cal State L.A. are studying the responses of bird and butterfly communities to these ongoing ecological restoration efforts. Because river floodplain vegetation throughout the Chihuahuan desert region is one of the highest-priority wildlife habitats due to its high biological diversity and the variety of issues threatening its conservation, monitoring the status of wildlife to inform management decisions is a priority. Learn more about Pomara's role in this project, and see a recent New York Times story that highlighted the difficult ecological restoration work in a visually stunning way.

Pictured: Giant cane invades the banks of the Rio Grande/Bravo in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photo by Heather Mackey.

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