Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year. Wetlands are scattered throughout Arizona and can be categorized into various forms, including wet meadows, vernal pools, and ciénegas (marshes). Wetlands typically have emergent aquatic vegetation such as rushes, cattails, and sedges. Wetlands with perennial water also tend to have a variety of submersed and floating aquatic vegetation. These increasingly rare wetland habitats can also support riparian vegetation which is often more diverse than surrounding vegetation. Wetlands, whether perennial or intermittent, provide water for all wildlife. Vegetation associated with wetlands provides food and habitat for a wide variety of wildlife including birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. Some of the deeper and perennial ciénegas are inhabited by fish (Minckley et al. 2013).
The statewide status of wetlands is not well documented, but most are thought to be greatly reduced from their pre-settlement conditions (Trombalak and Frissel 2000). The distribution of ciénegas has shrunk from formerly widespread to small, scattered remnants due to grazing and streambed modifications (Hendrickson and Minckley 1984). A follow-up study reported more than 20% of known/named ciénegas had lost their ecological function, in that they no longer provide any provisioning, critical habitat, or other original services. In addition, groundwater withdrawals for agriculture, and the sinking water table that results, has been identified as another stressor to wetlands (Minckley 2013). The remaining wetlands are often subject to intensive utilization.
Vernal pools are temporary wetlands that occur seasonally. These habitats are covered by shallow water during wet periods of the year but may completely dry out during other periods. These intermittent pools support wildlife that would not be successful in permanent waters where predators such as fish occur. Many of Arizona’s amphibians utilize these temporary aquatic habitats for reproduction and development of their young. A variety of invertebrates, such as fairy shrimp, clam shrimp, tadpole shrimp, water fleas, and insects also utilize these pools. These pools also provide temporary local water sources for a variety of wildlife.
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:
Wet meadows and vernal pools typically have surface water only during the wetter periods of the year and do not usually support fish unless they are connected to perennial water. These habitats are important for amphibians such as leopard frogs and tiger salamanders, because their early life stages can thrive when free of fish and other predators.
Emergent vegetation found in and around ciénegas provides important nesting habitat for a wide variety of nesting birds, such as waterfowl, rails, redwing blackbirds, and marsh wrens. Foods for these species are also found in the vegetation or in the water. Mammals such as muskrat, also find food and shelter in ciénegas.
Ciénegas provide still or slow-moving water with abundant vegetative cover that can support a variety of native fish species such as Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, Quitobaquito pupfish, and Gila chub.
The following list represents SGCN in this habitat type that AZGFD actively manages or are watching closely due to some level of concern:
Chiricahua Leopard Frog, Lowland Leopard Frog, Sonoran Tiger Salamander
American Bittern, California Black Rail, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Common Gallinule, Western Least Bittern, Snowy Egret, Sora, Virginia Rail, Ridgway's Rail
Beautiful Shiner, Desert Pupfish, Gila Chub, Gila Topminnow, Sonoyta Pupfish, Yaqui Catfish, Yaqui Chub, Yaqui Topminnow
Arizona Cotton Rat, Arizona Montane Vole, New Mexican Jumping Mouse, Western Water Shrew, Western Harvest Mouse
Mexican Gartersnake, Painted Turtle, Sonora Mud Turtle, Sonoyta Mud Turtle, Yellow Mud Turtle
Sensitive Plant Species
The following list represents plant species that are known to occur in this habitat type:
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.
Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren
Virile or Northern Crayfish
Rocky Mountain Elk, Common Muskrat
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.
3. Climate Change and Severe Weather
5. Disease, Pathogens, and Parasites
7. Human Intrusions and Disturbance
8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species
9. Natural System Modifications
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
- Acquire land and water rights and pursue conservation agreements and easements in and around COAs and other priority areas. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 9.1)
2. Land and Water Management
- Remove non-native, undesirable, and/or invasive wildlife and plant species. Monitor the success of removal efforts. (Threats 5, 8.1)
- Improve, restore, or maintain high-quality aquatic habitat to support SCGN aquatic species. Develop and maintain refuge habitats. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 9.1)
- Improve, restore, or maintain high-quality emergent wetland habitat to support wildlife and pollinator species. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 8.1, 9.1)
3. Species Management
- Develop and implement projects for repatriation of wildlife species populations that are currently unsustainable or extirpated, or to improve genetic resilience throughout their historical range (including refuge populations). (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 5, 7.1, 8.1, 9.1, 9.2)
- Establish and maintain hatchery or other captive populations and provide progeny to meet conservation needs. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 5, 7.1, 8.1, 9.1, 9.2)
- Rescue (salvage) native aquatic wildlife at risk from imminent threats and return salvaged wildlife when conditions are appropriate. (Threats 3.1, 3.2, 5, 9.1)
4. Education and Awareness
- Make presentations at scientific conferences, training workshops, and other professional meetings, field trips, wildlife fairs, media events, educational presentations, workshops, and public events, to increase awareness of effects of threats to aquatic and riparian wildlife species and habitats with an emphasis on how the threats can be reduced. (Threats 1.1, 1.3, 3.1, 5, 7.1, 8.1, 9.1)
- Expand wildlife viewing programs to improve associated infrastructure (signs, platforms, etc.) and to reach larger and more diverse audiences. (Threats 4.3, 7.1)
6. Livelihood, Economic and Other Incentives
- Engage landowners and partners to participate in Safe Harbor Agreements, Habitat Conservation Plans, Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCA), and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAA). (Threats 1.2, 3.1, 9.1)
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.
Restore and maintain diverse habitats to support broad species assemblages that account for range shifts.
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:
- Manage recreational activities and OHV use of wetlands to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.
- Conduct surveys and monitor populations of SGCN as specified in work plans and job statements.
- Identify the suitability of wetlands for potential reintroduction or release.
- Collect specimens or samples for taxonomic analysis, genetics, research, and/or disease testing.
- Test novel husbandry techniques, new technology, and/or life history research on native aquatic wildlife to improve survival, growth, production, health, condition, transportation, release and post-release performance of captive progeny.
- Fund or work with partners to conduct conservation-related aquatic species research.
- Engage in water management public processes, such as certificated water rights and severe and transfer review and protest processes.
Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs)
The following represents identified COAs where conservation efforts would benefit wildlife and their habitats.
- Appleton-Whittell and Las Cienagas
- Central Arizona Springsnails
- Lake Havasu
- Lower Gila River
- Lower Salt and Gila Rivers
- Nutrioso Rudd
- Rim 2 River
- San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
- San Rafael Grasslands
The following is a list of the organizations and agencies that AZGFD regularly partners with on conservation efforts in this habitat type:
- Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
- Coconino National Forest
- Coronado National Forest
- Kaibab National Forest
- Prescott National Forest
- Tonto National Forest
- BLM Arizona Strip District Office
- BLM Colorado River District Office
- BLM Gila District Office
- BLM Phoenix District Office
- National Parks Service
- USFWS Arizona Ecological Services
- USFWS Arizona Fish and Wildlife Conservation offices
- USFWS National Wildlife refuges
- US Bureau of Reclamation
- Salt River Project
- AZ Department of Environmental Quality
- AZ Department of Water Resources
- AZ State Parks and Trails
- AZ State Land Department
- Arizona State University
- University of Arizona
- Northern Arizona University
- Pima County
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
- Phoenix Zoo
- Arizona Field Ornithologists
- Arizona Monarch Collaborative
- Southwest Monarch Study
- Gila Watershed Partnership
- Spring Stewardship Institute
Important Conservation Resources
The following are relevant conservation agreements, plans, and other documents or particular interest regarding wildlife in this habitat type:
- Chiricahua Leopard Frog Recovery Plan
- Safe Harbor Agreement for the Chiricahua Leopard Frog in Arizona (2006)
- Fishes of the Rio Yaqui Recovery Plan
- Desert Pupfish Recovery Plan
- Gila Topminnow Recovery Plan
- Safe Harbor Agreement for Topminnows and Pupfish in Arizona (2007)
- Arizona Partners in Flight Bird Conservation Plan
- Sonoran Joint Venture Conservation Plan
- New Mexico Jumping Mouse Recovery Plan
- Huachuca Springsnail Candidate Conservation Agreement
- Arizona Bat Conservation Strategic Plan
- Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan