By Lisa Ellis, Ph.D.
Department of Biology, University of New Mexico
The cottonwood forest that borders the Rio Grande in central New Mexico is a remnant of a unique and diminishing habitat. Known locally as the bosque (pronounced boh-skay), a Spanish word for "forest"; these riparian, or riverside forests provide valuable resources for animals and plants living in the arid Southwest. Unfortunately, the Rio Grande and its bosque have been heavily altered by human activities, especially during the last century.
- Regulation of water flow in the river has not only impacted the organisms that live in the water, but has also changed the mosaic of vegetation types once present in the valley.
- Wetlands, once common in the floodplain, have been greatly reduced and the cottonwood forests are dying out.
- Non-native plants and animals have spread throughout the valley, often displacing the native species; without changes in current water-management practices, nonnative trees and shrubs will soon dominate the bosque.
Fortunately, many citizens of the valley recognize the ecological, cultural and aesthetic values of the bosque and surrounding wetlands. Active restoration of native habitats is underway and local people are joining together to save the forests that remain. With our help, the bosque has a future. The first step to help the bosque is to learn its ways, to understand the complexity of this ecological system and to share this knowledge with others. This brief introduction provides you with the background information to support the activities that follow.