In 1908, pioneer ecologist Joseph Grinnell inaugurated the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) at the University of California, Berkeley, with an expedition to the San Jacinto Mountains. Until his death in 1939, he continued his mission to document the fauna of western North America before it was forever transformed by human population growth and land-use changes. Some of the many areas he and his colleagues studied were the desert regions of the southwest.
A century later, biologists from the San Diego Natural History Museum are partnering with colleagues from MVZ, University of New Mexico, and University of California, Santa Cruz to retrace the steps of Grinnell and his students to document the changes in California’s desert fauna. We hope to tease apart the relative roles of climate, physiology, and habitat in shaping changes at the levels of both the species and the community.
Museum fieldwork for the Grinnell Desert Resurvey project, which was made possible in part by funding from the National Science Foundation, started in fall 2015 and will be completed in spring 2019. Highlights so far include notable range extensions or increases for the Zone-tailed Hawk, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Baja Pocket Mouse, and declines in the chipmunks and several woodland birds in Joshua Tree National Park.