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Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research Site

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Sevilleta LTER IV: Abiotic Pulses and Constraints: Effects on Dynamics and Stability in an Aridland Ecosystem  (University of New Mexico)

Research Focus

The Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Project is located near Albuquerque, New Mexico, in and around the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge and its surroundings are positioned at the intersection of several major biotic zones: Chihuahuan Desert grassland and shrubland to the south, Great Plains grassland to the north, Piñon-Juniper woodland in the upper elevations of the neighboring mountains, Colorado Plateau shrub-steppe to the west, and riparian vegetation along the middle Rio Grande Valley.

Because of the confluence of these major biotic zones, the refuge presents an ideal setting to investigate how climate variability and climate change act together to affect ecosystem dynamics at biotic transition zones. Moreover, the rapid growth and expansion of the City of Albuquerque and its suburbs to the north increasingly will have an impact on ecosystem processes at the Sevilleta, and these urban forces will interact with climatic variation to catalyze change in this aridland region.

Research Outcomes

The Sevilleta LTER helped solve a medical mystery in the Four Corners area when people suddenly started dying of a mysterious respiratory disease. Blood tests of the victims revealed that people had become infected with a previously undetected kind of hantavirus. Hantaviruses were known to spread from rodents to humans in Asia and Europe, but hadn’t been seen in the U.S. prior to the 2003 outbreak. Sevilleta LTER researchers answered key questions about the sudden appearance of the virus and how it spread. They found that El Nino, a periodic pattern of change in the circulation of oceans and atmosphere, had substantially boosted plant productivity after several years of drought, leading to a larger rodent population which in turn increased the probability that the public would be exposed to infected rodents.

In another study, related to invasive plant species--a serious environmental, economic and social problem worldwide--researchers found that plant abundance at home predicts plant abundance away.

Education & Outreach

The Sevilleta's Schoolyard LTER Program focuses on the Rio Grande riparian cottonwood-forest ('bosque') corridor through central New Mexico (including the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge). The program’s four main educational goals are to involve students and citizen volunteers of all ages in the coordinated monitoring of the ecosystem; to enable participants to 'learn by doing' about natural history and ecology; to communicate the scientific and social significance of long-term environmental research; and to give students and informed citizens an opportunity to become involved in the management of a critical environmental resource.

The Sevilleta’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program trains undergraduate students to conduct independent research under the guidance of University of New Mexico faculty in Biology and Earth & Planetary Sciences. The summer program includes a seminar series, a journal club, an annual symposium, professional development workshops, ethics training, and fieldtrips. Students conduct independent research at the Sevilleta and present their results at the annual research symposium. They also have the chance to interact with visiting speakers. Working at the LTER site requires close interactions among participants, faculty, and graduate students which leads to numerous opportunities to share ideas and explore issues within and across disciplines. The REU program aims to increase the number of students, particularly underrepresented minorities, pursuing careers in bio-geosciences. The program provides exposes students to a large and inspiring multidisciplinary research program and prepares them for the rigors of graduate school, professional research, and responsible citizenship.

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Images (1 of )

  • landscape photo of canyon
  • prairie dog looks up at camera
  • roadrunner on windowsill
  • scenic canyon
Sepultura Canyon. The Sevilleta LTER is positioned at the intersection of several major biotic zones: Chihuahuan Desert grassland and shrubland to the south, Great Plains grassland to the north, Piñon-Juniper woodland in the upper elevations of neighboring mountains, Colorado Plateau shrub-steppe to the west and riparian vegetation along the middle Rio Grande Valley.
Parmenter, Robert
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Gunnison's prairie dog, Cynomys gunnisoni.
Johnson, Jennifer
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Greater roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus. This roadrunner was in the window of a maintainance shop office.
Prichard, Dennis
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Cibola Springs, Sevilleta LTER.
Delin, Kevin
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