This is a proposal for science monitoring seasonal surface water availability in New Mexico.
Despite encompassing a small fraction of the landscape (< 2%), riparian systems in arid regions act as keystone features that concentrate biological diversity. These habitats are particularly important to waterbirds during migration and act as critical resting and refueling stopovers in otherwise waterless environments. Migratory bird conservation has often undervalued the importance of migratory connectivity and instead focused on strategies targeting breeding or wintering grounds. Migration pathways dependent on a small number of important stopover sites make some waterbird species vulnerable to landscape change as minimal loss of important riparian and wetland habitats have the potential to alter broader population trends. Changing climate and water use demands in arid regions now raise concerns over the emergence of new and powerful bottlenecks to continental waterbird migration (Donnelly et al. 2020). Offsetting potential impacts to waterbird populations will require novel conservation strategies considerate of migratory connectivity in water-limited ecosystems.
In New Mexico, water use has long been tied to ecologically important riparian and wetland resources. Water developed through these systems acts as drivers to irrigation and urban development supporting the state’s metropolitan centers and agricultural economies. While most of the state’s riparian habitats have been significantly altered, they remain fundamental to biological processes supporting fish and wildlife populations. The resiliency of these systems are increasingly under threat as forecasts of more frequent and severe drought coupled with climbing urban water demands restrict already limited water availability. Long-term maintenance of New Mexico’s riparian and wetland resources will require a better understanding of human and climate impacts to inform policy and conservation measures that balance economic and ecosystem demands.
To understand ecosystem change influencing New Mexico’s riparian and wetland resources, NRCS and Audubon New Mexico have partnered with the Intermountain West Joint Venture to monitor seasonal surface water availability across the state. Data will provide the foundation to assess riparian and wetland resiliency as a tool to identify and prioritize conservation actions benefiting migratory birds and other riparian and wetland associated wildlife. Monthly patterns of surface water extent will be reconstructed from 1984 to 2020 using satellite imagery. Products and results will be made available to practitioners through a web interface being developed independently, but in parallel to this effort.
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