November 28, 2022
I wrote Sonoran Desert Journeys during the covid-19 pandemic, which gave me an empty calendar and lots of time to concentrate on writing – a good example of making lemonade out of lemons? At any rate, it gave me time to explore three topics that have been important in my scientific career: the history of life on Earth, how we have discovered this history, and the natural history and evolution of some of the species living together in the Sonoran Desert.
This book is thus built around two major journeys: (1) our intellectual journal of discovery about how life has evolved on Earth from the time of Carl Linnaeus to the present, and (2) the evolutionary journeys that have resulted in particular reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants living together in this desert.
Here are some of the species that I discuss in this book:
Examples of Sonoran Desert reptiles
Examples of Sonoran Desert birds
More Sonoran Desert birds
Examples of Sonoran Desert mammals
An iconic Sonoran Desert plant
All of these images are based on my photography and photo art.
In addition to describing the ecology and evolutionary history of these species, including their physiological adaptations and how they are likely to cope with a changing climate, I explore evolutionary topics of particular interest to me that are associated with them. Examples of these topics include how an individual’s sex or gender is determined in the desert tortoise; how male diamondback rattlesnakes deal with an operational sex ratio of three adult males to one adult female; how hummingbirds perceive their world; why adult female hawks and owls are always larger than their mates; why Harris’s hawks are social breeders and hunters; the importance of columnar cacti and century plants in the lives of lesser long-nosed bats; the evolution of warning calls in round-tailed ground squirrels; and why the saguaro cactus is considered to be a keystone species in the Sonoran Desert.
I’m also concerned with the conservation status of these and many other Sonoran Desert species so I end the book discussing this topic in considerable detail with particular emphasis on threats posed by invasive species, including Homo sapiens, and climate change. Finally, I highlight Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan as a model of how to use our scientific knowledge to develop a rational plan for preserving this unique habitat and its wildlife.
Theodore H. Fleming is a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Miami. He spent thirty-nine years in academia at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and the University of Miami, teaching ecology courses and conducting research on tropical rodent populations and plant-visiting bats and their food plants in Panama, Costa Rica, Australia, Mexico, and Arizona. He lives in Tucson.