Desert Pupfish Conservation

The Living Desert is home to the vulnerable desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius), the only native fish species in the region. The Living Desert hosts three distinct populations of the species, from Salt Creek, San Felipe Creek, and the north Salton Sea. Salt Creek and San Felipe Creek are the only two natural bodies of water in which the desert pupfish naturally occur. The Living Desert’s Sonoran Pond was built when the Zoo opened in 1970, and just two years after completion, desert pupfish from Salt Creek were introduced. The second pond, Sharon Pond, was built in 2019 to support a pupfish population of several thousand from north Salton Sea. The new behind-the-scenes Preserve Pond will be home to pupfish from San Felipe Creek.

Protecting the Salt Creek and San Felipe ecosystems is crucial to the survival of the remaining pupfish in these creeks. The highly invasive tamarisk tree (Tamarix ramosissima) or salt cedar, was introduced into the area initially as a wind block for the railroad; however, it quickly became a detriment to local species. Tamarisk trees outcompete native plants for water and space, overshading the creek and creating an unsuitable habitat for pupfish who thrive in warm, unshaded waters. The Living Desert began restoration efforts in Upper Salt Creek in 2020 by removing tamarisk trees, often requiring saws to cut down the stands. In early spring 2021, the team planted 710 native plants in places where tamarisk had been removed to slow the trees from resprouting. These plants were grown from seeds collected by The Living Desert from the restoration sites and propagated in The Living Desert’s Desert Plant Conservation Center. Currently, the restoration site has remained almost entirely tamarisk-free, as the native plants planted there outcompete the cut tamarisk roots. Consequently, the desert pupfish habitat in the creek has markedly improved, restoring a crucial part of the desert for this imperiled fish.

Your support enables The Living Desert to continue its vital restoration work for the desert pupfish, focusing on habitat improvement and the removal of invasive species to ensure the survival of this vulnerable fish. Donate now to make a difference.

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