By Garry Rogers
Checklists of plant and animal species one might see in a particular place make useful notebooks for recording sightings. Sometimes called life lists, the species names in such notebooks are comparable to the stamps, coins, and arrowheads collected by others. Though their objects are different, all collectors want to protect their collections. They are all curators or conservationists. Checklists are one of the basic tools for nature conservation.
The photograph shows a Rock Squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus) on a fence post. Rock Squirrels prefer rocky areas and we often see them serving as sentries atop boulders. This one lives in a colony near my home on the floodplain of the Agua Fria River in Dewey-Humboldt, AZ. Only one boulder, a stone the size of a large watermelon, can be found anywhere on my 20 acres. So the squirrels lookout from fence posts, tree branches, and tractor seats.
Species presence is the most basic inventory datum a field biologist might collect. Comparisons of repeated surveys of species presence show changes over time. For example, the Audubon Society recently reported that comparisons of 40 years of Christmas Bird Counts showed steep declines of many bird species. Such information alerts land use managers and ecologists to begin searching for explanations.
Comparisons of checklists from different locations show where species are most abundant. This is essential information for conservation strategists attempting to choose the most important areas for protection.
Most of the available wildlife checklists are for large areas such as counties or states. Lists of species found in smaller areas are available for some species groups. Ideal checklists cover just the area of interest, a valley, mountain, town, or backyard, and they include such things as dates, numbers, and preferred habitats. For instance, the Arizona vertebrate checklists published in 1964 (Lowe 1964) included observation dates and places for some species, and a history of range shifts for others. The book even includes a checklist of major Arizona habitats.
Nature conservation requires better knowledge of the species distribution. Individual sighting records can help, and may be the only way enough information can be gathered to conserve wildlife in most regions. Statewide checklists for some Arizona animal groups are presented in this blog. To find them, search for checklists using the search field at the right of the menu.
You can build a checklist for your location. Chose a group such as birds, buy a field guide to use for identification, and begin a list of the birds you see. Include the date of each siting, and within a short time you will have created a basic conservation resource.
- Arizona Wildlife Checklists (scroll down to the Arizona Wildlife list)
- Audubon Society: http://birds.audubon.org/common-birds-decline.
- Lowe, C.H., ed. 1964. The vertebrates of Arizona: Landscapes and habitats, fishes, amphibians and reptiles, birds, and mammals. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ. 270 p.
- Rogers, Garry. 2014. Arizona Wildlife Notebook.