Identification of Key Habitats

In order to focus conservation actions on those habitats and communities most essential to conserving New Mexico's SGCN, we entered into a process of designating key habitats from among the 113 habitat types identified in New Mexico (89 land cover types mapped by SWReGAP, 23 aquatic habitats, and caves). We first aggregated several similar SWReGAP land cover types. Sixteen riparian land cover types were grouped into a Riparian class (Appendix F). Further, Rocky Mountain Montane Mesic and Dry-Mesic, Conifer Forest and Woodland were grouped into one habitat. The Chihuahuan Piedmont Semi-Desert Grassland and the Chihuahuan-Sonoran Desert Bottomland and Swale Grassland types were combined as Chihuahuan Semi-Desert Grassland. The Madrean Pine-Oak and Conifer-Oak Forest and Woodlands were also aggregated as one habitat type. For the aquatic habitats, several habitat types were also aggregated (Appendix G). Ephemeral ponds, small reservoirs and tanks were combined into one habitat type. Further, perennial spring/seeps and marsh/cienegas were combined. After aggregations were completed, there were still 83 possible habitat types in New Mexico. Those found by technical teams to have one or more of the following properties were designated as key habitats:

Key Habitats for the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategies for New Mexico

Type Key Habitat Habitat Description
Aquatic Ephemeral 1st / 2nd order stream Based on US Geological Survey maps (1:2,000,000 Digital Line Graph), approximately 80 percent of the drainages in New Mexico are ephemeral. More than 3900 miles of intermittent streams exist within geographically isolated, closed basins statewide (NMDGF 2003).
Aquatic Ephemeral Man-made Catchments In New Mexico, man-made depressions occur statewide and serve as ephemeral catchments for seasonal run-off waters. These depressions are variously termed dirt tanks, stock tanks, drinkers, and catchments. Roadside pools, created as borrow pits or storm water run-off storage basins, also are included in this category.
Aquatic Ephemeral Marsh/Cienega Ephemeral marsh/cienegas occur statewide as geographically isolated wet depressions or seeps that are hydrologically supported by seasonal discharge of shallow groundwater aquifers and precipitation events. These seasonally wet areas collect and hold water for sufficient periods that commonly support moisture-loving plants (e.g., marsh emergents), soils, and wildlife
Aquatic Ephemeral Natural Catchments Ephemeral natural catchments exist in all ecoregions of New Mexico (Cole 1996, Jones 1997) as geographically isolated wetlands that are commonly termed "playas" or "prairie potholes" (NMAC 2000). Ephemeral natural catchments vary in size from less than an acre to several hundred acres, and can occur at any elevation as a network of isolated wetlands within endorheic basins or flyways (Central or Intermountain West), or as isolated depressions found statewide. Playas of the Southern High Plains of eastern New Mexico and adjacent states (Colorado, Oklahoma,Texas) are perhaps the most recognized and well-studied type of ephemeral wetland in the state (Smith 2003), where it is estimated that some 2,460 playa lakes occur on the "Llano Estacado" south of the Canadian River drainage (Guthery and Bryant 1982). However, playa lakes represent but one type of a great diversity of ephemeral wetland habitat types found throughout New Mexico. Additional descriptive names of ephemeral natural catchments may include: salt basins (salterns, flats or lakes), alkali flats, tinajas (rock pools), grassland and woodland vernal pools, karst sinkholes, swales, among others (Witham 1998, Erikson and Belk 1999, Lang and Rogers 2002, Tiner et al. 200
Aquatic Perennial 1st / 2nd order stream Headwater streams are 1st order streams. When two 1st order streams join, they form a 2nd order stream. Perennial 1st and 2nd order streams occur in all watersheds except the San Juan.
Aquatic Perennial 3rd / 4th order stream When two 2nd order streams join, they form a 3rd order stream. Similarly, when two 3rd order streams join, they form a 4th order stream. Perennial 3rd and 4th order streams occur in all watersheds except the Tularosa.
Aquatic Perennial 5th order stream When two 4th order streams join, they form a 5PthP order stream. In New Mexico, 5PthP order streams are the Rio Grande, Pecos, San Juan and Gila River.
Aquatic Perennial Large Reservoir Large reservoirs (>1,000 ha) occur on many of New Mexico drainages. Elephant Butte, Navajo, Heron, El Vado, Abiquiu, Ute, Sumner, Brantly, Red Bluff, Caballo, Conchas, Cochiti, and Eagle Nest are large reservoirs in New Mexico. These reservoirs are managed for irrigation and/or flood control. They support a diverse sport fishery of primarily non-native fish. Dams associated with these large reservoirs alter the natural flow regime and influence up- and down-stream habitats.
Aquatic Perennial Marsh/Cienega/Spring/Seep Perennial marsh/cienegas occur statewide as geographically isolated wet depressions or seeps that are hydrologically supported by seasonal discharge of shallow groundwater aquifers and precipitation events. These wet areas collect and hold water that commonly supports moisture-loving plants (e.g., marsh emergents), soils, and wildlife.
Aquatic Perennial Tank Perennial tanks occur statewide and are hydrologically supported by natural springs, seepage from permanent streams, and precipitation events. These permanent tanks collect and hold water for sufficient periods to support wildlife and numerous emergent and submerged aquatic plants. Cattails and larger sedges often form thick mats on the stabilized banks that may extend some distance into the tank.
Terrestrial Chihuahuan Semi-Desert Grassland Chihuahuan Semi-desert Grasslands is a broadly defined desert grassland, mixed shrub-succulent or xeromorphic tree savanna that is typical of the Borderlands of Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico. This intermingled and naturally fragmented habitat type contains a highly varied flora with taxa from the lower and warmer elevations as well as taxa from the evergreen-oak woodland and chaparral of the higher and cooler elevations (McClaran 1995). It is found on gently sloping bajadas and on mesas, and steeper piedmont and foothill slopes in the Chihuahuan Desert. This habitat type also includes relatively small depressions on broad mesas and plains, and valley bottoms that receive runoff from adjacent areas. These depressions have deep, fine-textured soils that are neutral to slightly saline/alkaline. Vegetation on the bajadas, mesas, and piedmont slopes are typically characterized by diverse perennial grasses. Common grass species include black grama (Bouteloua eriopoda), hairy grama (B. hirsuta), Rothrock's grama (B. rothrockii), sideoats grama (B. curtipendula), blue grama, plains lovegrass (Eragrostis intermedia), bush muhly (Muhlenbergia porteri), curlyleaf muhly (Muhlenbergia setifolia), James' galleta (Pleuraphis jamesii), tobosagrass (Pleuraphis mutica), and alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides). Succulent species include Agave, Dasylirion, and Yucca. Vegetation in the depressions is typically dominated by tobosa swales or other mesic graminoids such as western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), vine mesquite (Panicum obtusum), alkali sacaton, or big sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii). With tobosa swales, sand-adapted species such as soaptree yucca (Yucca elata) may grow at the swale's edge in the deep sandy alluvium that is deposited there from upland slopes. Alkali sacaton and big sacaton are more common in alkaline soils (Johnson 1974, Dinerstein et al. 2000, NatureServe 2004b).
Terrestrial Inter-Mountain Basins Big Sagebrush Shrubland The Intermountain Basins Big Sagebrush shrubland is a cold desert located in the northwestern to north central part of New Mexico (Dick-Peddie 1993), and typically occurs in broad basins between mountain ranges, plains and foothills at altitudes of 4,920-7,545 ft (1,500-2,300 m). Soils are typically deep, well-drained and non-saline. These shrublands are dominated by basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentate tridentate) and/or Wyoming big sagebrush (A. t. wyomingensis), while scattered Juniper, greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) and saltbrush (Atriplex spp.) may also be present. Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentate), or mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus) may codominate disturbed stands. Perennial herbaceous components typically contribute less than 25% vegetative cover. Common graminoid species include Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), blue grama, streambank wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), needle and thread (Hesperostipa comata), basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus), James' galleta, western wheatgrass, Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), or bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) (NatureServ 2004b).
Terrestrial Madrean Encinal Madrean Encinal occurs on foothills, canyons, bajadas and plateaus in southern New Mexico. These woodlands are dominated by Madrean evergreen oak species. Emory oak (Quercus emoryi) is the most common tree species in Madrean Encinals, and is found in associations with varying intermixtures of Mexican blue oak (Q. oblongifolia), gray oak (Q. grisea) silverleaf oak (Q. hypoleucoides), and Arizona white oak (Q. arizonica) (Ffolliott 1980, Brown 1982, McPherson 1992, McPherson 1997, McLaren and McPherson 1999). Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica), pinyon, and juniper trees may be present, but do not codominate. Tree stand density and openess of the landscape is related to local site characteristics such as soils, fire disturbance and land use histories (Gottfried et al. 1995, Ffolliott 2002). Lower elevation stands are typically open woodlands or savannas where they transition into desert grasslands, chaparral, or desertscrub. Chaparral species include pointleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens), alderleaf mountain mohagany (Cercocarpus montanus), cliffrose and bitterbrush (Purshia spp.), Wright's silktassel (Garrya wrightii), Sonoran scrub oak (Quercus turbinella), beechleaf frangula (Frangula betulifolia), and sumac (Rhus spp.)(NatureServe 2004b). The three-needled Mexican pinyon (Pinus cembroides), alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana), and red berry juniper (J. erythrocarpa) are often found in Madrean Encinal habitats of southern New Mexico and Arizona (Gottfried et al. 1995). Madrean Encinal also includes seral stands dominated by shrubby Madrean oaks typically with a strong graminoid layer that is dominated by warm-season grasses such as threeawn (Aristida spp.), blue grama, sideoats grama, Rothrock's grama, Arizona cottontop (Digitaria californica), plains lovegrass, curly-mesquite (Hilaria belangeri), green sprangletop (Leptochloa dubia), muhly (Muhlenbergia spp.), James' galleta, or Texas bluestem (Schizachyrium cirratum) (NatureServe 2004b). Common grass species include gramas (sideoats, blue, hairy and purple (Bouteloua radicosa)), lovegrasses (plains and Mexican (Eragrostis mexicana)), and muhlys (bullgrass (Muhlenbergia emersleyi) and longtongue (M. longiligula)) (Brown 1982, McClaren et al. 1992, McPherson 1992, McPherson 1994, McPherson 1997, McLaren and McPherson 1999).
Terrestrial Madrean Pine-Oak/Conifer-Oak Forest and Woodland Madrean Pine-Oak Conifer-Oak Forest and Woodland occurs on mountains and plateaus in southern New Mexico and are composed of Madrean pines (Arizona (Pinus arizonica), Apache (Pinus engelmannii), Chihuahuan (Pinus leiophylla), or southwestern white (Pinus strobiformis) pines) and evergreen oaks (Arizona white, Emory, and gray oaks) intermingled with patchy shrublands on most mid-elevation slopes (4,920-7,545 ft; 1,500-2,300 m). Other tree species include Arizona cypress, alligator juniper, Mexican pinyon, border pinyon (Pinus discolor), and ponderosa pine (with Madrean pines or oaks). Soil moisture could at times be the principal limiting factor for vegetation in this dry region (Felger and Johnson 1995). Subcanopy and shrub layers may include typical encinal and chaparral species such as Agave spp., Arizona madrone (Arbutus arizonica), Pringle manzanita (Arctostaphylos pringlei), pointleaf manzanita, Wright's silktassel, beargrass (Nolina spp.), and Sonoran scrub oak. This habitat type can also be characterized by large- and small-patch forests and woodlands dominated by Douglas fir, Coahuila fir (Abies coahuilensis), or white fir (Abies concolor) and Madrean oaks such as silverleaf oak and netleaf oak (Quercus rugosa). Some stands have moderate cover of perennial graminoids such as bullgrass, longtongue muhly, screwleaf muhly (Muhlenbergia virescens), and Texas bluestem (NatureServe 2004b). Fires are frequent with perhaps more crown fires than ponderosa pine woodlands, which tend to have more frequent ground fires on gentle slopes. The current distribution of Madrean pine-oak and oak-conifer forests and woodlands is the result of shifting climatic conditions over the past 24,000 years (Jackson 1970). During the late Quaternary, 8,000 to 35,000 years before present, temperatures in the southwestern US were 5-6 degrees cooler and precipitation was 20-25% greater than current conditions (Merrill and Pewe 1977). Analysis of plant matter in ancient packrat middens has allowed documentation of the changing distributions of vegetation types over the past 22,000 years in the Apache Highlands ecoregion (Van Devender and Spaulding 1979). The study of ancient pollen grains from the region indicates an upward vertical movement of vegetation zones of at least 3,000-4,000 ft (915 to 1,220 m) during pluvial times (Hevly and Martin 1961). This displacement allowed Rocky Mountain forest flora to spread southward into the Madrean pine-oak and oak-conifer forests and woodlands of the Southwestern US In general, these highest forest zones are more representative of Rocky Mountain flora, with the lower elevation Madrean Encinal more representative of the Madrean flora of Mexico. Climatic patterns at local and regional scales have influenced the establishment and survival of these vegetational systems over the last 24,000 years (Gottfried et al. 1995).
Terrestrial Riparian Riparian habitats are assemblages of plant, animal, and aquatic communities whose presence can be either directly or indirectly attributed to stream-induced or related factors (Kauffman and Krueger 1984). These habitats tend to support a greater diversity of plants and animals than upland habitats. A significant percentage of all wildlife in the Southwest uses riparian habitat (Thomas et al. 1979, Johnson et al. 1977) and approximately 80% of all sensitive and specially classified vertebrate species in New Mexico depend upon riparian or aquatic habitat at some time during their life cycle (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish 2000). Wetlands and riparian ecosystems comprise less than 1% of New Mexico (Dahl 1990, Henrickson and Johnston 1986, Allen and Marlow 1992). Riparian habitats occur where water is perennial, intermittent, or ephemeral. Their relatively small size, elevational continuum, complexity, and variation present a significant challenge to mapping their aerial extent. Thus, there are no reliable estimates for the acreage of riparian habitats in New Mexico. Dick-Peddie (1993) classified riparian habitats in New Mexico into: 1) alpine riparian, 2) montane riparian, 3) floodplain-plains riparian, 4) arroyo riparian, and 5) closed basin riparian. Alpine riparian areas are similar to subalpine grasslands (Dick-Peddie 1993) communities and are discussed in the Alpine Wet Meadow section in the Southern Rocky Mountain Ecoregion. We grouped arroyo riparian and closed basin riparian types because of their similarity in New Mexico. Sixteen SWReGAP land cover types illustrate riparian habitats in New Mexico (Table 3-4). Floodplain-Plains riparian communities occur primarily along the major rivers of New Mexico. Xeric riparian communities included basins, playas, alkali sinks, and arroyos. Many of New Mexico's riparian communities have been altered by invasive species. Their presence in riparian communities is sufficient enough to be mapped using remotely sensed data (SWReGAP: While this community is likely more prevalent in the floodplain-plains riparian communities, invasive riparian communities are present throughout New Mexico riparian systems.
Terrestrial Rocky Mountain Alpine-Montane Wet Meadow Rocky Mountain Alpine-Montane Wet Meadows are high-elevation communities found throughout the Rocky Mountains and Intermountain regions, dominated by herbaceous species found on wetter sites with very low-velocity surface and subsurface flows. They range in elevation from 3,280-1,800 ft (1000-3600 m). Soils of this system may be mineral or organic and display hydric soil characteristics, including high organic content and/or low chroma and redoximorphic features. The most important factor controlling the distribution and growth of alpine plants is soil moisture (Billings and Mooney 1968). These habitat types can occur as large meadows in montane or subalpine valleys, as narrow strips bordering ponds, lakes, and streams, and along toe slope seeps and are typically found on flat areas or gentle slopes, but may also occur on sub-irrigated sites with slopes up to 10%. In alpine regions, sites typically are small depressions located below late melting snow patches or on snow beds. his habitat often occurs as a mixture of several plant associations, often dominated by graminoids, including slimstem reedgrass (Calamagrostis stricta), white marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala), heartleaf bittercress (Cardamine cordifolia), sheep sedge (Carex illota), smallwing sedge (Carex microptera), black alpine sedge (Carex nigricans), mountain sedge (Carex scopulorum), Northwest Territory sedge (Carex utriculata), native sedge (Carex vernacular), tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa), fewflower spikerush (Eleocharis quinqueflora), Drummond's rush (Juncus drummondii), icegrass (Phippsia algida), alpine yellowcress (Rorippa alpine), arrowleaf ragwort (Senecio triangularis), Parry's clover (Trifolium parryi), and American globeflower (Trollius laxus). Often alpine dwarf-shrublands, especially those dominated by willow (Salix), are immediately adjacent to the wet meadows. Wet meadows are tightly associated with snowmelt and typically not subjected to high disturbance events such as flooding (NatureServe 2004b).
Terrestrial Rocky Mountain Montane Mixed Conifer Forest and Woodland Rocky Mountain Montane Mixed Conifer Forest and Woodland is a highly variable habitat of the montane zone of the Rocky Mountains. These are mixed-conifer forests occurring on all aspects at elevations ranging from 3,900-10,800 ft (1,200-3,300 m). Rainfall averages less than 30 in (75 cm) per year with summer "monsoons" during the growing season contributing substantial moisture. Douglas fir and white fir are most common canopy dominants, but Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), or blue spruce may be present, with ponderosa pine being present to codominant. Douglas fir forests occupy drier sites, and white fir-dominated forests occupy cooler sites, such as upper slopes at higher elevations, canyon sideslopes, ridgetops, and north- and east-facing slopes which burn somewhat infrequently. Blue spruce is most often found in cool, moist locations, often occurring as smaller patches within a matrix of other associations. This system also includes mixed conifer/aspen stands. As many as seven conifers can be found growing in the same occurrence, and there are a number of cold-deciduous shrub and graminoid species common, including a few maple (Acer spp.) and blueberry (Vaccinium) species, gray alder (Alnus incana), kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), water birch (Betula occidentalis), redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea), Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica), fivepetal cliffbush (Jamesia Americana), creeping barberry (Mahonia repens), Oregon boxleaf, (Paxistima myrsinites), Kuntze mallow ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus), New Mexico locust (Robinia neomexicana), mountain snowberry, and Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii). Herbaceous species include fringed brome (Bromus ciliatus), Geyer's sedge (Carex geyeri), Ross' (Carex rossii), dryspike sedge (Carex siccata), screwleaf muhly, bluebunch wheatgrass, sprucefir fleabane (Erigeron eximius), Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), smallflowered woodrush (Luzula parviflora), sweetcicely (Osmorhiza berteroi), bittercress ragwort (Packera cardamine), western meadow-rue (Thalictrum occidentale), and Fendler's meadow-rue (Thalictrum fendleri) (NatureServe 2004). Naturally occurring fires are characterized by a high degree of variable return intervals and lethality due to the range of moisture found in this habitat.
Terrestrial Various Terrestrial for SGCN Other habitat types associated with 8 SGCN (habitats other than key habitats).
Terrestrial Western Great Plains Sandhill Sagebrush Shrubland Western Great Plains Sandhill Sagebrush is found mostly in southeastern areas New Mexico. The climate is semi-arid to arid. Soils are somewhat to excessively well-drained, deep and sandy and are often associated with dune systems and ancient floodplains. This habitat type is characterized by a sparse to moderately dense woody layer dominated by sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia). In some areas, this habitat may actually occur as a result of overgrazing in prairie habitats, leading to decreasing dominance of some of the grass species such as sand bluestem (Andropogon hallii), giant sandreed (Calamovilfa gigantean), and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). Associated species can vary with geography, amount and season of precipitation, disturbance and soil texture. These species include several graminoid species, such as sand bluestem, little bluestem, sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus), giant sandreed, needle and thread, and grama spp.; other shrub species, such as soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca), honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata), and Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia); and, in the southern range, Havard oak (Quercus havardii). Havard oak is able to resprout following a fire and thus may persist for long periods of time once established. Fire and grazing are the most important dynamic processes for this type, although drought stress can impact this system significantly in some areas (NatureServe 2004).
Terrestrial Western Great Plains Shortgrass Prairie Western Great Plains Shortgrass Prairie is found primarily in the eastern third of New Mexico and occurs primarily on flat to rolling uplands with loamy, ustic soils ranging from sandy to clayey. This habitat forms a matrix system with blue grama dominating. Associated graminoids may include purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea), sideoats grama, hairy grama, buffalograss, needle and thread, prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), western wheatgrass, James' galleta, alkali sacaton and sand dropseed. Although mid-height grass species may be present especially on more mesic land positions and soils, they are secondary in importance to the sod-forming short grasses. Sandy soils have higher cover of needle and thread, spike dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus), and soaptree yucca. Scattered shrub and dwarf-dwarf species such as sand sagebrush, prairie sagewort (Artemisia frigida), big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentate), fourwing saltbrush (Atriplex canescens), spreading buckwheat (Eriogonum effusum), broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), wolfberry (Lycium palida), may also be present. High variation in amount and timing of annual precipitation impacts the relative cover of cool and warm season herbaceous species. Large-scale processes such as climate, fire, and grazing influence this habitat. Fire is less important than other prairie habitats because the often dry and xeric climate conditions can decrease the fuel load and thus the relative fire frequency. The short grasses that dominate this habitat type are extremely drought- and grazing-tolerant. These species evolved with drought and large herbivores and, because of their stature, are relatively resistant to overgrazing (NatureServe 2004).