Parsons Field Institute
Citizen Science News
Dear Parsons Field Institute and Citizen Science Friends,

Spring is our busiest time of year for field work.

This year, we've faced plenty of challenges - both from rain and the global health crisis. BUT -

Thanks to our hard-working and enthusiastic Stewards and partners, we developed ways to maintain social distancing and continue our fieldwork, albeit with smaller teams.

Below you'll read about some of our recent successes and ways that you can still be involved in our work - remotely! Thank you for supporting the Parsons Field Institute. Stay healthy!
Invasive plant removal experiments
We are in the third year of our invasive species removal experiments, in which we are testing several methods to control fountain grass and buffelgrass.

Each spring, we survey plants and apply removal treatments within our plots at Quartz Wash (fountain grass experiment) and Brown's Mountain (buffelgrass experiment).

This year we completed plant sampling and treatments at both sites in record time.

In addition to experiments, we continue to survey and remove non-native plants across the Preserve using individuals or small groups of people.

Photo: Parsons Field Institute manager Tiffany Sprague and Citizen Science chair Paul Staker apply treatments (while at least 2 meters apart) in our Brown's Mountain buffelgrass plots. Photo credit: Mary Fastiggi
Soil crust, trail restoration, and more!
We've also been busy working on restoration projects:

We conducted our first annual plant sampling at all four of our RestoreNet restoration sites (Preserve, Tonto National Forest, Lake Pleasant Regional Park, and Scottsdale Community College).

We also completed our first annual plant sampling in our soil crust field experimental plots...

...and finished our final plant sampling for trail restoration at our "2C" plots in the far north of the Preserve.
Photo: RestoreNet plot, by Mary Fastiggi
Social (distancing) butterflies
Spring 2020 is the Parsons Field Institute's 6th year for conducting butterfly surveys across the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

On April 4th, we were able to continue these important surveys but took special precautions to maintain social distancing in the field.
Photo: Grey hairstreak in the Preserve, by Liz Makings

We reduced teams to one butterfly expert, a Steward lead, and a data recorder across five sites in the Preserve.

Our teams were smaller, but our species count was not! We found 23 species of butterflies and a total of 747 individual butterflies.

Thank you to those who were able to participate, especially Dr. Ron Rutowski and Doug Jensen for their leadership.

We can't wait for the Fall count - when we hope to be able to have more volunteers participate.
Mountain Lion recently photographed!
Recently, we also serviced all of the wildlife cameras in the Preserve and obtained hundreds of thousands of pictures -- most of which are "blank" (no animals), but many of which are of really cool critters.

And wow! Among other findings, our corridor viability project team discovered a photo of an elusive Preserve resident - a mountain lion walking through a wash on January 1st, 2020.

Shout out to photo processing lead, Ralph Lipfert, for sharing this great photo.
What's Happening in the Field?
I'm Native! Please Don't Pull Me
Native New Mexico thistle ( Cirsium neomexicanum ) visited by a bee and a black swallowtail butterfly during our April 4th butterfly survey at Brown's Ranch in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Photo credit: Dr. John Weser
You may have noticed an abundance of thistles in McDowell Sonoran Preserve this year. These tall purple-flowered beauties are native and should not be removed! The   New Mexico thistle  ( Cirsium neomexicanum ) is native to the desert Southwest and is a vital part of the ecosystem. Hundreds of species rely on this plant, including butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, beetles, and more. Removal of these plants negatively affects wildlife and the overall desert.

Three species of non-native thistles have been identified in the Preserve:  Maltese star-thistle  ( Centaurea melitensis ),  prickly Russian thistle/tumbleweed  ( Salsola tragus ), and  common sowthistle  ( Sonchus oleraceus ). All of these are easy to distinguish from our native thistle.

Help protect our precious desert! Don't remove New Mexico thistle or other native plants. Thank you!
Phenology Fun Fact
In April the desert “bean” trees (legumes such as blue palo verde, catclaw acacia, and mesquite) begin to open yellow creamy blooms, and the cacti begin to bloom as well, with a few of the prickly pears, chollas, and hedgehogs starting off.... Velvet mesquite may bloom again in the summer. Source: A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert
Phenology fun fact compiled by Karen Fieldstad, Steward lead at the Jane Rau Trail Phenology site. Photo: Velvet mesquite flower buds and young leaves, by Karen Fieldstad.
Looking for projects to help with remotely?
Data Entry!
After so many field days, it's time to start taking the information we gathered outside and transcribe data to our databases. If you are interested in helping with data entry, we have many projects that could use your help!

Please reach out to Tiffany Sprague at or Mary Fastiggi at to find out more.
"Visit" NAU's Virtual Research Symposium!
Every year, Northern Arizona University hosts an undergraduate research symposium. Although the campus is closed, student research continues!

This year, all of us, near and far, have the chance to attend - virtually! From April 20th-24th, the public gallery will be open.

Dr. Helen Rowe is mentoring several teams of students who will be presenting their work. These teams' projects advance our restoration and invasive species management work at the Parsons Field Institute.

Check out their video presentations to learn more about their topics, including work on the IUCN Sonoran Desert Plant Species Specialist Group, drafting a regional invasive species management plan, developing HOA outreach materials, and engaging in citizen science.
Explore on your own
The Preserve is still open for hiking, providing you maintain appropriate social distancing and stay on trail. If you are looking for a fun and rewarding activity outdoors, download iNaturalist . Snap photos of flora and fauna in the Preserve and share these on the app!
Dr Helen Rowe
Parsons Field Institute Associate Director
Mary Fastiggi
Parsons Field Institute Coordinator
Tiffany Sprague
Parsons Field Institute Manager
Paul Staker
Citizen Science Chair
John Zikias
Citizen Science Assistant Chair