Ciénegas - Vanishing Climax Communities of the American Southwest




Hendrickson, Dean A.
Minckley, W.L.

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Desert Plants


The term is here applied to mid-elevation (1,000-2,000 m) wetlands characterized by permanently saturated, highly organic, reducing soils. A depauperate flora dominated by low sedges highly adapted to such soils characterizes these habitats. Progression to ciénega is dependent on a complex association of factors most likely found in headwater areas. Once achieved, the community appears stable and persistent since paleoecological data indicate long periods of ciénega conditions, with infrequent cycles of incision. We hypothesize the ciénega to be an aquatic climax community. Ciénegas and other marshland habitats have decreased greatly in Arizona in the past century. Cultural impacts have been diverse and not well documented. While factors such as grazing and streambed modifications contributed to their destruction, the role of climate must also be considered. Ciénega conditions could be restored at historic sites by provision of constant water supply and amelioration of catastrophic flooding events.


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Hendrickson, Dean A., and W.L. Minckley. 1985. “Ciénegas-Vanishing Climax Communities of the American Southwest.” Desert Plants 6 (3): 131–175.