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Ecosystems & Habitats

Tree Dominated Wildlife Habitats

Desert Riparian
(DRI) Tamarisk, Mesquite, Fremont Cottonwood


Structure-- Desert Riparian habitats are characterized as dense groves of low, shrublike trees or tall shrubs (Küchler 1977) to woodlands of small to medium-sized trees (Cheatham and Haller 1975). These habitats are found adjacent to permanent surface water (e.g., streams, springs) or in naturally subirrigated areas (Parker and Matyas 1981). Usually an abrupt transition occurs between this and adjacent shorter and more open desert habitats. Riparian vegetation height depends on constituent plant species, willow thickets range from 1 to 3 m (3 to 10 ft) in height (Cheatham and Haller 1975) whereas Fremont cottonwoods may exceed 24 m (80 ft).

Composition-- Dominant canopy species of Desert Riparian habitats vary. Overstory species include tamarisk, velvet ash, mesquite, screwbean mesquite, Fremont cottonwood, and willows such as Gooding, Hinds, and arroyo (Bradley and Deacon 1967, Cheatham and Haller 1975, Küchler 1977, Paysen et al. 1980, Parker and Matyas 1981). The subcanopy includes smaller individuals of the canopy species as well as quailbush, Mojave seablight, desert lavender, seep willow, and arrowweed (Bradley and Deacon 1967, Küchler 1977. Paysen et al. 1980, Parker and Matyas 1981).

Other Classifications-- Other names for Desert Riparian habitat include Cottonwood Series; Arrowweed Series (Payson et al. 1980, Parker and Matyas 1981); Tamarisk Series (Parker and Matyas 1981); Saltcedar Series; Mesquite Series; Willow Series (Paysen et al. 1980); Colorado River Bottomland Woodland 6.12; Willow Thickets - 6.24; Southern Alluvial Woodland - 6.31 (Cheatham and Haller 1975), and Alkali Scrub Woodland - 48 (Küchler 1977).

Habitat Stages

Vegetation Changes-- 1;24.S-D. Desert Riparian habitats may exist as a variety of habitat stages ranging from seedlings through tree/shrub to large tree. Canopy development and plant density depend on available water, plant species, and site characteristics.

Duration of Stages. The time required for Desert Riparian habitats to progress through successional stages is not known, but probably depends on factors such as water availability, fire, and floods.

Biological Setting

Habitat-- Desert Riparian habitats may be found adjacent to other desert habitats including Desert Wash (DSW), Desert Succulent Shrub (DSS), Desert Scrub (DSC), Joshua Tree (JST), Alkali Scrub (ASC), and Palm Oasis (POS). The taller, denser Desert Riparian habitats usually have an abrupt interface with most shrubby, sparse desert habitats.

Wildlife Considerations-- The importance of these relatively rare desert riparian systems to wildlife populations cannot be overstated. These habitats support more bird species at greater densities than other desert habitats (England et al. 1981)(No England et al. 1981 in Habitat Lit Cite. I used England et al. 1984 as Lit Cite at end.) with the possible exception of some Palm Oasis habitats. The dense shrubbery and permanent water provide food, cover, and water for additional wildlife forms.

Physical Setting

Soils vary from silty alluvial to rocky, sandy, well-drained substrates (Bradley and Deacon 1967, Cheatham and Haller 1975). Soils generally are moist, but some are dry~ at the surface with moisture beginning at a depth of several meters (Cheatham and Haller 1975). Desert Riparian habitats do not persist on saline soils (Parker and Matyas 1981), but are usually adjacent to permanent streams in canyons or on alluvial deposits in wider valleys. These habitats may be associated with a variety of topographic features wherever the water table reaches the surface. Hot, dry summers and cool to cold, moist winters are characteristic of Desert Riparian habitats. Highest July temperatures range from 30 to 42 C (86 to 107 F). Lowest January temperatures range between 7 and 6 C (19 and 42 F) (Rowlands et al. 1982, P. G. Rowlands pers. comm.). Most precipitation is in winter, but summer rainfall occurs especially in southeastern California. Total precipitation ranges from 8 to 25 cm (3.1 to 9.8 in) per year and potential evapotranspiration is 3 to 17 times as great as precipitation (Rowlands et al. 1982, P. G. Rowlands pers. comm.).


Desert Riparian habitats are found along permanent streams and at seeps and springs in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, and in desert canyons of the Peninsular ranges. These habitats generally are found at elevations less than 900 m (3000 ft); however, willow thickets may be found well above that level in mountains (Cheatham and Haller 1975).

Literature Cited

Bradley, W. G., and J. E. Deacon. 1967. The biotic communities of southern Nevada. Pages 201-295 in Cheatham, N. H., and J. R. Haller. 1975. An annotated list of California habitat types. Univ. of California Natural Land and Water Reserve System, unpubl. manuscript

England, A. S., L. D. Foreman, and W. F. Laudenslayer, J 1984. Composition and abundance of bird populations il riparian habitats of the California deserts. Pages 694-70! In R. E. Warner and K. M. Hendrix. California riparian systems: ecology, conservation, and productive management. Univ. of California Press, Berkeley.

Kuchler, A. W. 1977. Appendix: the map of the natural vegetation of California. Pages 909-938 In M. G. Barbour and J. Major, eds, Terrestrial vegetation of California. John Wiley and Sons, New York.

Parker, I., and W. J. Matyas. 1981. CALVEG: a classification of Californian vegetation. U.S. Dep. Agric., For. Serv., Reg. Ecol. Group, San Francisco.

Paysen, T. E., J. A. Derby, H. Black, Jr., V. C. Bleich, and J. W. Mincks. 1980. A vegetation classification system applied to southern California. U.S. Dep. Agric., For. Serv., (Berkeley, Calif.) Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-45.

Rowlands, P., H. Johnson, E. Ritter, and A. Endo.1982. The Mojave Desert. Pages 103- 162 In G. L. Bender, ed. Reference handbook on the deserts of North America. Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn.

California Wildlife Habitat Relationships System, California Department of Fish and Game, California Interagency Wildlife Task Group, Desert Riparian - William F. Laudenslayer Jr.

Riparian Habitat of Grand Canyon Wildlife
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Optimal habitats are desert scrub, sagebrush, alkali desert scrub, Joshua tree, bitterbrush, and pinyon-juniper. Fairly common in desert riparian, ...

Western Whiptail Lizard, Aspidoscelis tigris
Aspidoscelis tigris, Western Whiptail, Lizards in the desert. ... chamise-redshank chaparral, mixed chaparral, desert riparian, desert scrub, desert wash, ...

Roadrunner - Desert Wildlife
Density estimates range from 1 pair per 100 ha (250 ac) in desert riparian habitat in southern Nevada (Austin 1970) to 12 males per 100 ha (250 ac) in ...

Costa's Hummingbird - Birds, Wildlife in the Mojave Desert
Primary habitats are desert wash, edges of desert riparian and valley foothill riparian, coastal scrub, desert scrub, desert succulent shrub, ...

Ladder-backed Woodpecker - Birds, Wildlife in the Mojave Desert
Preferred nesting habitats include desert wash, desert riparian, and palm oasis, but also ranges into Joshua tree and occasionally pinyon-juniper (Grinnell ...

Desert Food Chain
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Grand Canyon Pictures
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Oasis of Mara
In an otherwise hot and sparse environment, palm oases provide the luxury of shade and ... - Riparian Habitat Desert Riparian habitats are characterized as ...

Bighorn Sheep
The Desert Bighorn Sheep, scientific name, common name, description, behavior, ... palm oasis, desert riparian, desert succulent shrub, subalpine conifer, ...

Whiptail Lizard - Desert Wildlife
Western Whiptail, lizards in the desert. ... mixed chaparral, desert riparian, desert scrub, desert wash, alkali scrub, and annual grassland. ...

Joshua Tree National Park Wildlife
Reptiles are closely associated with the desert in many peoples minds. .... Desert riparian, pinyon-juniper and Joshua tree woodland; creosote bush and ...

Gambel's Quail
A common resident of Colorado and Mojave Desert regions of southeastern California. Preferred habitats include desert riparian, and a wide variety of other ...

Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
It occurs in a wide variety of desert habitats, both on flats and in foothills, and prefers brushy areas. It is often common in riparian habitats. ...

Mojave River
A lush desert riparian habitat can be found at the upper narrows lying between present day Victorville and Apple Valley. An underground geologic formation ...

Camp Cady
"Half a days pull through heavy sandy and gravelly wastes brought us to this ..."

Mourning Dove - Desert Wildlife
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura ... Basin and desert habitats, open hardwood, hardwood-conifer, riparian, and low-elevation conifer. ...

Grand Canyon Wildlife
As a result, three broad wildlife habitats exist: the Colorado River corridor and inner canyon riparian areas (Riparian), inner canyon desert uplands ...

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The desert springs ecosystem and Mojave Riparian Forest here are considered to be some of the best in California. In addition, the area is of botanical . ...

Western Scrub Jay - Birds, Wildlife in the Mojave Desert
Occurs irregularly in fall and winter in desert areas (Garrett and Dunn 1981). ... in arid woodlands and shrublands; also frequents riparian woodlands. ...

Grand Canyon Wildlife - Mammals
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Mountain Lion - Desert Wildlife
Wildlife in the Mojave Desert, the Mountain Lion. ... Most abundant in riparian areas, and brushy stages of most habitats. Recent studies by the California ...

Mule Deer - Desert Wildlife
Desert Wildlife: Mule Deer Family: Cervidae Order: Artiodactyla Class: Mammalia ... dense herbaceous stands, and high-elevation riparian and mountain shrub ...

Great Horned Owl - Birds, Wildlife in the Mojave Desert
Commonly feeds and breeds in riparian, conifer, chaparral, and desert habitats. SPECIFIC HABITAT REQUIREMENTS Feeding: Usually makes low, rapid flight from ...

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Plants more typical of the riparian type include mesquite, catclaw acacia, salt cedar and desert willow. In moister areas or along stream banks, cattails, ...

Grand Canyon Wildlife - Insects, Spiders, Centipedes, Millipedes
Numerous species of spiders and several species of scorpions including the bark scorpion and the giant hairy scorpion inhabit the riparian zone. Desert ...

Sonoran Desert Ecological Subsections
Sonora Desert ecoregion, ecosections, part of the Basin and Range ... Series restricted to riparian settings: Arrow weed series, Black willow series, ...

Mojave Desert Ecological Subsections
... Series restricted to riparian settings: Arrow weed series, Black willow series, Fremont cottonwood series, ...

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