Biologist, Natural Heritage New Mexico, UNM Biology Department
Bandolier National Monument, New Mexico
Paul Arbetan is a professor of biology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He has taught ecology to every Semester in the West class, and spent a week with us travelling through New Mexico and Arizona studying how plant and wildlife differ with altitude and climate.
Paul met us in the Jemez Mountains just outside of Bandolier National Monument near Los Alamos, much of which burned in the Los Conchas fire in 2011, and made our way South. Walking through Bandolier, Paul pointed out subtle changes in vegetation as we moved between north- and south-facing slopes and different elevations. Outside of Santa Fe on one of Paul’s test sites, we surveyed the cover of different grass species. In Albuquerque, we studied trees in the Bosque (forest along the river) on the Rio Grande, which has declined since the river was channelized to prevent flooding. “Seeds are everywhere,” Paul often said. In the Bosque, those seeds are distributed on the floodplain during high water events. Thanks to channelization and over-allocation of the water, the river will likely never see such big floods again, and much of that forest will not be reseeded. In the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona, we studied the effects isolation can have on evolution. The mountain range is a “sky island,” isolated from other mountain ranges when the climate warmed and the intervening flatlands became the Chihuahuan Desert.
Paul punctuated lessons on forest ecology with stories about his old friend and our professor, Phil’s, college days, when the two were roommates, or else complimenting his six-year-old daughter, Isa, on her skill at catching grasshoppers.
By: Eric Niehaus