Rain Gods in a Desert Sea: New Book Celebrates Southern Arizona's Mountains

Coveted by southern Arizona residents as refuges from the summer heat, the sky island mountain ranges are hot spots of biodiversity. (Photo: Shelley Littin/UANews)
Coveted by southern Arizona residents as refuges from the summer heat, the sky island mountain ranges are hot spots of biodiversity. (Photo: Shelley Littin/UANews)

University of Arizona scientists Wendy Moore and Richard Brusca have published an illustrated book to celebrate and share the rich and unique natural history of southern Arizona's mountains – the "sky islands" – with a general, non-scientific audience.

Moore, assistant professor in the department of entomology in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and curator of the UA Insect Collection, said the book came about through field research she began two years ago when she founded the Arizona Sky Island Arthropod Project (ASAP). For her field research, Moore enlisted the help of Brusca, who is her husband as well as executive director emeritus of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and an adjunct research scientist in the UA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology.

"We collected a lot of background information about this region and needed to understand more about its biodiversity," she said. "We needed to take photos of the flora and fauna, and so we decided to turn all that into a book for the public. A book for the people who live in this area, so they can appreciate this landscape more fully by understanding this beautiful place in which we live."

Although "A Natural History of the Santa Catalina Mountains" focuses on the Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson, its scope includes all "sky island" mountain ranges in southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico.

"Our book uses the Catalina Mountains as the archetypical mountain range for southern Arizona because it is the one that's best known and most accessible, but you could take it to any mountain range in our area," Brusca said.

Especially in the summer, the sky islands lure visitors looking to escape from the heat of the lowland desert in southern Arizona. That's because for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, the reader learns, the temperature drops about 4 degrees, and annual precipitation increases about 4.5 inches – the equivalent of driving 300 miles north.

The magic of the sky islands lies in what biologists call stacked biomes. The mountains contain the same variety of climate, vegetation and fauna one would encounter while traveling from Mexico to Canada, all compressed into several narrow ranges of elevation, rising from the subtropical desert around Tucson to subalpine forests at the top of Mount Lemmon at 9,157 feet.

Read the rest of this July 11, 2013 UANews article at the link below.

Date released: 
Jul 17 2013