Madrean Discovery Expeditions
Madrean Discovery Expedition
The Madrean Sky Islands, also known as the Madrean Archipelago, are a series of 57 isolated mountain ranges that stretch from Arizona and New Mexico to Sonora, Mexico. Each Sky Island contains a plethora of miniature ecosystems, making them some of the most biologically rich and diverse regions around the world.
These hot spots are home to more than a hundred mammals ranging from elusive jaguars and ocelots to endangered bats, turtles, butterflies, lizards, and more.
Sky Islands are isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments. Pine-oak forests sit on each mountaintop in the Madrean Sky Islands, but they are located in and surrounded by the hot and arid deserts of the Sonoran Southwest. That's what makes them so unique.
Unfortunately, the ecosystems located in Mexico are vastly understudied, endangering the land and species that exist there. We work to spread awareness about these areas by visiting the students closest to them.
The Madrean Education Program encourages older students to get involved with the scientists on vital expeditions, and inspires younger students to engage in their surrounding ecosystem.
Thomas R. Van Devender (pictured right) was the Senior Research Scientist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for 25 years, where he conducted natural history research. He has published well over a hundred publications on a range of topics, including natural history, paleoecology, desert grasslands, desert tortoise ecology, and more.
The first step in conservation is the observing, studying and recording of a region’s flora and fauna. Without this critical piece, a region’s plants and animals cannot be accurately protected.
Twice a year, a multinational group of scientists, land managers, students, and photographers embark on a multi-day expedition to one of the understudied Sky Island mountain ranges in Sonora. MDE’s scientific team also conducts one mini-expedition to an additional Sky Island each year. Each day, the group observes and records the findings within the natural habitat. So far, a total of 20 Sky Island sites have been observed and recorded by the MDE team, but our ultimate goal is to visit and document all 57 islands.
Madrean Education for the next generation
The Madrean Education program brings knowledge of the Madrean Discovery Expeditions and the natural history of Sonora directly to the local community. By educating local students and involving communities in expeditions and conservation efforts, the fragile Sky Island ecosystems have a greater chance to survive and thrive.
Madrean education encourages older students to get involved with the scientists on vital expeditions, and works with younger students to inspire students to understand and engage in their surrounding ecosystem. Environmental education specialists bring hands-on learning and experiences to rural middle and high schools. These visits include a biodiversity presentation, natural history of Sonora booklets, hummingbird feeders, seeds for butterfly gardens, and bird field guides. Each classroom bubbled with excitement, as this was the first time that any of the schools had environmental education presentations from visitors. By teaching students about the plants and animals in their own backyard, the next generation of environmental leaders in Sonora is beginning to blossom!
Access our database compiled from years of expeditions and research. The findings from our expeditions are stored in this public database and used to identify new species, advocate for land conservation, and establish new protected areas. We make this information completely free to the public so we can spread awareness for these unique species. The database contains a total of over 34,000 records and has been used as a reference in scientific publications over 60 times.
The MDE Wildlife program records secretive and nocturnal mammals in high priority areas using wildlife cameras. We currently have 45 active MDE Wildlife camera studies underway in 7 mountain ranges, 5 ranches, and the Mesa Tres Ríos. These studies have also provided records to the MDE database, including 3 new localities for the jaguar and 15 for ocelots. These cameras are crucial for studying the Sky Islands and verifying species records before adding them to our database.