Mohave desertscrub occurs in northwestern Arizona, southern Nevada and southeastern California generally at elevations between 1,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level. Landscapes are typically quite barren and desolate in appearance with low, scattered shrubs. Although this landscape is shrub-dominated and lacks giant cacti and many tree species, several large plants such as the Joshua tree and Mohave yucca are common, and mesquites and cat-claw acacia are present (Turner 1994c). Other predominant plant species include creosote bush, brittlebush, desert holly, and white bursage with smaller cacti present along slopes. Hot summers and cool winters are typical with the majority of the annual precipitation (5 to 11 inches) falling in the winter (USGS 2005). There are few SGCN species that inhabit this region that are not found elsewhere in the state or in only one or a few habitat types. Examples of these species include Mojave desert tortoise, relict leopard frog, Kingman springsnail, and Mohave talussnail.
In recent decades, the historical distribution of Mohave desertscrub in Arizona has been reduced through habitat loss and fragmentation due to agricultural operations and low-density development across the landscape (Averill-Murray et al. 2021). With this increase in habitat loss, habitat fragmentation has increased causing wildlife to become displaced and genetic diversity to decrease. A significant portion of Mohave desertscrub distribution is federally-managed. This offers some degree of protection from development on the landscape.
Significant Habitat Features
The following describes habitat features or microhabitats that are unique to this habitat type and are of particular importance to certain species:
Riparian areas, such as the Colorado River and Virgin River are extremely important for wildlife in Mohave desertscrub habitats. Riparian areas and associated marshlands provide habitat for a variety of native species, including federally-listed species like Yuma Ridgway’s rail, southwestern willow flycatcher, western yellow-billed cuckoo, and northern Mexican gartersnake.
Springs exist on the landscape when water pressure in the aquifer pushes water through cracks or tunnels and flows naturally to the surface. These springs create isolated pockets of habitat and often support endemic species, such as Grand Wash springsnail, Kingman springsnail, desert springsnail, relict leopard frog, and lowland leopard frog.
Joshua tree forests in Arizona are restricted to small areas of Mohave desertscrub in the northwest portion of the state. These habitats are an important part of the Mohave Desert ecosystem and are a host to unique species of yucca that provide resources for many pollinators, birds, mammals, and lizard species.
Caves and mines are important roost sites for many species of bats. Many of the bat species that occur in the Mohave desertscrub habitat use caves and mines at some point during the year. Many of the mines lack bat-friendly protections, leaving these species vulnerable to disturbances.
Playas occur in intermountain basins throughout the arid southwestern United States. Although playas may appear as featureless plains, they are rich in features and characteristics that can reveal information about climates, past and present (USGS 2009).
The following list represents SGCN in this habitat type that AZGFD actively manages or are watching closely due to some level of concern:
Arizona Toad, Lowland Leopard Frog, Relict Leopard Frog
American Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Bendire's Thrasher, Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, California Condor, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, LeConte's Thrasher, Loggerhead Shrike, Swainson's Hawk, Western Burrowing Owl
Desert Springsnail, Grand Wash Springsnail, Kingman Springsnail, Apache Talussnail
Allen's Lappet-browed Bat, American Pronghorn, California Leaf-nosed Bat, Mexican Free-tailed Bat, Pale Townsend's Big-eared Bat
Gila Monster, Mojave Desert Tortoise, Sonoran Desert Tortoise
Sensitive Plant Species
The following list represents plant species that are known to occur in this habitat type:Arizona pricklypoppy, Holmgren (Paradox) milk-vetch, freckled milk-vetch, Kaibab suncup, Tabeau Peak wild buckwheat, Black Mountains monardella, Siler pincushion cactus, Higgins' phacelia, Arizona rose sage, Gierisch mallow
Additional Influential Species
The following are other wildlife species, native and non-native, that can have particular influence in this habitat type. Influential species can affect SGCN and their habitats directly and indirectly, for example altering predator/prey interactions, overgrazing, outcompeting natives, creating microhabitats, and others.
Red-spotted Toad, Woodhouse's Toad
Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Greater Roadrunner
Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Bobcat, Coyote, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Desert Cottontail, Collared Peccary or Javelina, Mule Deer, Pallid Bat, Yuma Myotis
Creosote, Joshua Tree, Mojave Yucca
The following describes the primary threats facing this habitat type, adapted from Salafsky et al. (2008). First-level threats (i.e. Agriculture, Climate Change) represent broad categories while second-level threats reflect more specific stressors to the system. For detailed information on threats to this habitat type and conservation actions being taken, see Chapter 8: Threats and Conservation Actions.
2. Biological Resource Use
3. Climate Change and Severe Weather
4. Residential and Commercial Development
5. Disease, Pathogens, and Parasites
6. Energy Production and Mining
7. Human Intrusions and Disturbance
8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species
9. Natural System Modifications
11. Transportation and Service Corridors
The following describes specific conservation actions that can be taken to reduce or eliminate threats to this habitat type, adapted from Salafsky et al. (2008). Level 1 conservation actions (i.e. Land and Water Protection) represent broad categories of potential actions, while the Level 2 conservation actions (i.e. Resource and habitat protection) are more specific.
1. Land and Water Protection
- Identify wildlife corridors and seek land acquisition essential to the movement of species between high-quality habitat blocks. (Threat 4.1)
2. Land and Water Management
- Improve rangeland health by creating suitable habitat and/or habitat features for wildlife; partner with agricultural producers and private landowners on a variety of habitat enhancements that benefit both livestock and wildlife. (Threats 1.1, 10.1)
- To reduce adverse effects to habitat, control the spread of and remove non-native, undesirable, and/or invasive wildlife and plant species, including unauthorized livestock, burros, and feral horses; remove these species where they are not managed at appropriate levels. (Threat 8.1)
4. Education and Awareness
- Engage communities to incorporate natural resource values and open spaces into long-term planning; increase public awareness of AZGFD’s nongame conservation efforts to gain the support of non-traditional constituencies. (Threat 4.1)
- Work with developers, federal permitting agencies, the Arizona Corporation Commission, and state and local governments to raise awareness of impacts to wildlife and habitat from renewable and non-renewable energy development. (Threats 6.2, 6.3)
- Expand wildlife viewing programs to improve associated infrastructure (signs, platforms, etc.) and to reach larger and more diverse audiences. (Threats 4.3, 7.1)
- Increase educational outreach through public events, social media messaging, and partnering with AZ State Parks, OHV dealers, and off-road clubs and organizations; improve coordination with partners to discuss priorities and how the AWCS can be used to facilitate project planning and implementation. (Threat 7.1)
- Improve coordination with partners to identify priorities and how the AWCS can be used to facilitate project planning and implementation; mitigate transportation impacts by constructing wildlife crossing structures, avoiding wildlife corridors, and signage, etc., when major roadway/highway construction will be occurring. (Threat 11.1)
5. Law and Policy
- Improve coordination with partners to identify priorities and how the AWCS can be used to facilitate project planning and implementation; mitigate transportation impacts by constructing wildlife crossing structures, avoiding wildlife corridors, and signage, etc., when major roadway/highway construction will be occurring. (Threat 7.1)
7. External Capacity Building
- Collaborate with partners at different scales (e.g., statewide, regional, national, and international) to develop and implement management plans, conservation agreements, recovery actions, research, management recommendations, and determine specific management efforts to improve and coordinate landscape-scale efforts for long-term conservation of SCGN wildlife. (Threats 3.1, 3.2, 3.3)
Conservation in the Context of Climate Change
The following describes some of the conservation strategies that may mitigate the effects of a changing climate for this habitat type. Strategies have been adapted from guidelines by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA 2009).
Conserve a variety of habitats that support healthy populations of fish and wildlife as climate changes.
Establish new wild and/or captive populations of climate vulnerable SGCN.
Identify and improve the connectivity of natural landscapes to better link wildlife populations and allow for range shifts.
Collect specimens or samples for taxonomic analysis, genetics, research, and/or disease testing.
Conduct research targeting species and habitat types likely to be vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Implement long-term monitoring protocols for vulnerable species and habitats to inform adaptive management.
Other Conservation Actions
The following describe other routine or on-going conservation actions AZGFD regularly performs in this habitat type:
- Monitor white-nose syndrome on BLM-administered lands with various funding sources. Mines/caves are gated or closed dependent on the bat resources found.
- Monitor for epizootic pneumonia disease in the Black Mountain desert bighorn sheep population.
- Conduct surveys and monitor populations of SGCN as specified in work plans and job statements. Survey other influential species within the habitat to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.
- Fund or work with partners to conduct conservation-related species research.
- Manage recreational activities and OHV use of desertscrub habitat to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.
- Collect samples for taxonomic analysis, genetics, research, and/or disease testing.
Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs)
The following represents identified COAs where conservation efforts would benefit wildlife and their habitats.
The following is a list of the organizations and agencies that AZGFD regularly partners with on conservation efforts in this habitat type:
- USFWS Arizona Ecological Services
- Bureau of Land Management
- NPS Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Hualapai Tribe
- Havasupai Tribe
- Big Sandy National Resource Conservation District
- Natural Resources Conservation Service
- Mule Deer Foundation
- Northern Arizona University
- US Geological Survey
- Nevada Department of Wildlife
- Nevada Department of Transportation
- Utah Department of Natural Resources
- Arizona Deer Association
- Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society
- AZ Department of Transportation
- Federal Highway Administration
- Arizona Mule Deer Organization
- Arizona Monarch Collaborative
- Southwest Monarch Study
- Gila Watershed Partnership
Important Conservation Resources
The following are relevant conservation agreements, plans, and other documents or particular interest regarding wildlife in this habitat type:
- Western Burrowing Owl Management Resources
- CCAA - AZ Electric Power Co-op CCAA for the Sonoran Desert Tortoise
- Candidate Conservation Agreement for Sonoran Desert Tortoise
- Black Mountain Ecosystem Management Plan and Environmental Assessment
- BLM Instruction Memorandum (IM) 2010-181, White Nose Syndrome
- USFWS White-nose Syndrome National Plan
- Arizona Bighorn Sheep Management Plan
- MOU Between BLM and USFWS for Conservation of Migratory Birds
- Grand Canyon — Parashant National Monument Resource Management Plan
- Mohave Desert Tortoise Revised Recovery Plan
- Conservation Agreement and Conservation Assessment and Strategy for the Relict Leopard Frog
- BLM Statewide Springsnail Strategic Conservation Plan (CCA format; 2022 Planned)
- Arizona Partners in Flight Bird Conservation Plan
- Arizona Bat Conservation Strategic Plan
- Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan