It’s not obvious at first glance, but the Cape Lowlands of Baja California Sur are a dynamic and sensitive place. Situated above the dusty coastline and below the Sierra de las Cacachilas and Sierra de la Laguna, the Lowlands are rich with subtle beauty.
For nine months of the year, enormous cacti poke out of a gnarled forest of unique trees, shin-daggers, and crispy thorn scrub. When rain comes in late summer and fall, the entire landscape transforms into an unrecognizable tangle of green. Leaves, vines, and flowers swell to meet the wet season. Dozens of species of birds call these Lowlands home—some, like the gray thrasher, stay all year, others leave for summer. Beautifully colored whiptail lizards slide and skitter through the brush in search of a meal. An incredible variety of insects—some still unknown to science—pollinate and munch on the diverse plant life. Many of these organisms—from the plants to the predators—are endemic to the cape region, meaning they don’t exist anywhere else on Earth.
One of the obvious threats to this rich ecosystem is overgrazing by livestock. In areas with many years of grazing pressure, the landscape becomes severely eroded and denuded, causing cascading effects throughout the ecosystem. Local ranches are attempting various restoration practices, including reduced grazing, erosion control, and groundwater recharge. How well might this ecosystem respond to these restoration efforts?
Pronatura Noroeste and the San Diego Natural History Museum have teamed up to measure how local plants and animals respond to restoration management. The ultimate goal is to get a better understanding of ecosystem-level resiliency—the ability to bounce back from disturbance—and restoration effectiveness as development expands and climate change continues.
To do this, we must identify the species living in the region (many remain undescribed), document their natural history, understand the human impacts to biodiversity on the landscape, and learn how our management practices affect these species and communities as we work toward healthy, human-occupied ecosystems.
Successful long-term conservation requires involvement and support from the very people who live on, steward, and benefit from the ecosystem being conserved. Thankfully, Baja California Sur is rich with generational knowledge and researchers who want to protect their unique home. As part of this multi-year research project, Pronatura Noroeste and The Nat are partnering with local naturalists and university students in the field and are providing a suite of wildlife science lessons for local school children.