Sonoran Desert Research Center

In cooperation with the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources

U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 2005-1185
version 1.0

Vascular Plant and Vertebrate Inventory of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

By Brian F. Powell, Eric W. Albrecht, Cecilia A. Schmidt, William L. Halvorson, Pamela Anning, and Kathleen Docherty


photo of ruins with a protective roof over them to keep them from eroding away into sand more than they already are
Casa Grande structure, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona. Photograph by Brian Powell.

Executive Summary

This report summarizes results of the first comprehensive biological inventory of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (NM) in southern Arizona. Surveys at the monument were part of a larger effort to inventory vascular plants and vertebrates in eight National Park Service units in Arizona and New Mexico. In 2001 and 2002 we surveyed for vascular plants and vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) at Casa Grande Ruins NM to document the presence, and in some cases relative abundance, of species. By using repeatable study designs and standardized field techniques, which included quantified survey effort, we produced inventories that can serve as the basis for a biological monitoring program.

Of the National Park Service units in the region, no other has experienced as much recent ecological change as Casa Grande Ruins NM. Once situated in a large and biologically diverse mesquite bosque near the perennially flowing Gila River, the monument is now a patch of sparse desert vegetation surrounded by urban and commercial development that is rapidly replacing agriculture as the dominant land use in the area. Roads, highways, and canals surround the monument. Development, and its associated impacts, has important implications for the plants and animals that live in the monument. The plant species list is small and the distribution and number of non-native plants appears to be increasing. Terrestrial vertebrates are also being impacted by the changing landscape, which is increasing the isolation of these populations from nearby natural areas and thereby reducing the number of species at the monument. These observations are alarming and are based on our review of previous studies, our research in the monument, and our knowledge of the biogeography and ecology of the Sonoran Desert. Together, these data suggest that the monument has lost a significant portion of its historic complement of species and these changes will likely intensify as urbanization continues.

Despite isolation of the monument from nearby natural areas, we recorded noteworthy species or observations for all taxonomic groups:

This study is a first step in the process of compiling information about the biological resources of Casa Grande Ruins NM and surrounding areas. We recommend additional inventory and research studies, and we identify aspects of our effort that could be improved upon through application of new techniques or by extending the temporal (and possibly spatial) scope of our work.

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