Madrean Discovery Expeditions
Documenting the biodiversity of the Sky Island mountain ranges in Sonora, Mexico
The Madrean Archipelago
The Madrean Archipelago is a core area of the Mexican Pine-oak Forest global biodiversity hotspot, stretching from Arizona and New Mexico to the Sierra Madre Occidental in Sonora, Mexico. There are 55 isolated Sky Island mountain ranges in the Madrean Archipelago, 32 of which are in Mexico. Each Sky Island is an isolated mountain surrounded by desert and grasslands. Elevation and weather can be vastly different from one part of the mountain to the next, creating a plethora of miniature ecosystems. These rich habitats are home to a tremendous diversity of local and transient species, including half the bird species of North America, more than a hundred mammals ranging from elusive jaguars to endangered bats, and turtles, butterflies, lizards, and more.
However, until recently, there was virtually no information on the flora and fauna native to these Sky Islands in Mexico. This unmatched diversity demands study. Without data, research, education, and conservation efforts are very limited in size and scope. We must understand the complexities of the Sky Island ecosystems in order to protect them.
Madrean Discovery Expeditions leads two major and multiple mini expeditions each year. These expeditions are a unique gathering of entomologists rubbing shoulders with herpetologists, botanists, ornithologists, students, policy professionals, and photographers; of Mexican nationals working alongside North Americans (and a smattering of Canadians).
So far, MDE has led three major expeditions to Sierra Buenos Aires (August 2016), Sierra Elenita (April 2016), and Sierra el Tigre (August 2015); and five minor expeditions to Sierra de la Madera (September 2015), Sierra Buenos Aires (July 2016), Sierra Elenita (August 2016), Rancho el Hoyo (October 2016), and Rancho Pueblo Viejo (November 2016). Additionally, GreaterGood.org fully funded three Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessments to Sierra de los Ajos (August 2014), Sierra Huérfana (April 2014) and Sierra la Púrica (August 2013). All together, these expeditions drive discovery at an incredible pace.
The Madrean Discovery Expeditions database (madreandiscovery.org) is a free, publicly available database with 15, 024 records of flora (8,618) and fauna (6,418) for Sonora. The database has been used for conservation, research, and education – serving as a resource for private reserves (Cuenca los Ojos Foundation, Northern Jaguar Reserve, Rancho Esmeralda, Rancho el Aribabi), two CONANP reserves (Ajos-Bavispe and Sierra de Álamos-Río Cuchujaqui), El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, the proposed Sierra Huérfana CONANP Reserve, various areas proposed as state áreas naturales protegidas by CEDES, and more. Additionally, this database has been used for records in various museums, scientific publications, and books on the dragonflies, amphibians and reptiles of Sonora.
Meet Tom Van Devender, Director
Thomas R. Van Devender (pictured right) was the Senior Research Scientist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for 25 years, where he conducted research on a broad range of natural history topics. He has published well over a hundred publications on a range of topics, including natural history, paleoecology, desert grasslands, desert tortoise ecology, local floras, ethnobotany, herpetofaunas and the Madrean Archipelago.
In May 2015, Tom began as the Director of Biodiversity Programs at GreaterGood.org, where he organizes biodiversity inventories to Sonoran Sky Islands in the Madrean Discovery Expeditions (MDE) program, which documents the diversity of animals and plants in the 35 isolated Sky Island ranges and complexes in Sonora, Mexico, and manages Project Wildcat, our predator projection program. From 2009 to 2014, Tom was the Manager of the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment (MABA) project at Sky Island Alliance. At MABA and MDE, Tom has organized ten binational expeditions with large volunteer groups of taxonomic specialists, land managers, college professors and students, local residents, photographers, and journalists to make new observations in high-diversity areas in Sky Island ranges in Sonora.