by Erick Lundgren as published on Indiegogo
“We are not soliciting funds for this study nor are we fiscally supporting this but we DO believe that this research bears looking at in more details as the BLM treats the wild burros far worse than they mismanage wild horses…hard to believe, but they manage to do it. Good read!” ~ R.T.
New perspectives on wild burro ecology
- Wild introduced burros dig wells of more than a meter deep to reach subterranean water in the Sonoran desert.
- Several species use these wells for drinking water
- This behavior has never been described in the literature, likely due to prevailing negative attitudes towards introduced species
- My research is motivated by the desire to understand these species as they are – and may reveal novel ecological relationships.
Four years ago I was camping on a beautiful river in the Sonoran desert of Arizona. This river winds through a brutally gorgeous landscape that looks like melted wax; old multicolored volcanic debris, steep canyons, saguaros and cottonwoods. As a field biologist, I was becoming interested in how ecologists understand and describe invasive species. I was beginning to realize that to demonize a species because it doesn’t belong may prevent us from seeing what it actually does. It was on this trip that I began seeing, after years of working and camping on this river without noticing, these strange features: wells.
Three years later, I have documented the origin of these wells, and confirmed my suspicions: burros dig wells. Burro well-digging has never been described in the scientific literature. Burros are introduced species that are commonly described by the scientific community as “scourges”. Nearly all primary scientific effect-studies about them focus on how burros overgraze and outcompete native species. Yet these studies have failed to yield generalizable understandings because of weak methodologies and their failure to consider the ecological context of apex predator control. This is the essentialist paradigm that this well-digging phenomena forcefully brings into question.
I am now doing my PhD research on this phenomena, which connects to a growing body of scientific thought that is shifting our paradigms about introduced/invasive species. As this paradigm changes conservation biology may transition from a field focused in many ways on ‘belonging’ and ‘nativity’ to one focused on process and ecological context.
From my preliminary data, it appears that burros are significantly increasing water access across the desert. I have found sites that are very arid, with limited and seasonal surface water, where burro-wells maintain access to subterranean water throughout the year. Furthermore, in certain contexts, these burro-wells appear to function as vegetation nurseries; significantly more cottonwood and willow seedlings germinated in abandoned burro-wells than in adjacent riverbank zones.
With a small grant from ASU I was able to buy several trail cameras and have documented 13 species using these wells, including bighorn sheep, and I am surely missing many smaller bodied species. In fact, javelina and cattle appear to use these wells at a greater frequency than even burros…(CONTINUED)