You've Helped Us Study a Unique Ecosystem in Mexico, Laying the Groundwork for Conservation

You've Helped Us Study a Unique Ecosystem in Mexico, Laying the Groundwork for Conservation

The rock horned lizard, also called the Ditmars’ horned lizard, was originally discovered in the 1890s but eluded scientists for the next 70 years. This sneaky fellow can be found in the Sonoran Sky Islands, and with your help, we’ve long been studying the species and other plants and animals in this unique ecosystem. Another trip is just about to begin as we close out October.

Global Discovery Expeditions, a program of Greater Good Charities, works to survey the life found in biodiversity hotspots, including the Sonoran Sky Islands. Stretching from southeastern Arizona into northern Mexico, these isolated mountain ranges host life that can only survive in this ecosystem, and not in the harsh desert that surrounds it. The habitat in the mountains themselves varies quite a bit, too.


Casey Paholski, Senior Program Manager of Pet and Planet Programs at Greater Good Charities, says, “One thing that makes this area unique is the diversity of habitats. You can go from thorn scrub, to oak forest, to tropical, and that brings out a wide array of flora and fauna.”


Since Greater Good Charities began surveying the area, they’ve observed thousands of plants and animals and logged this information onto a public database available for other scientists to draw from. To date, there are more than 60,000 entries. This includes information on the rock horned lizard, which has been a focus of past expeditions and will be again as a team visits the Sky Islands from October 27 through November 1.


Paholski says, “For the past three years, we have been working on finding, collecting biometrics, and preforming behavior studies on the Ditmars’ horned lizard. Our group has put the most work into researching these lizards.”

Though the species has now been found in more than 20 different locations, all are still within the Sonoran Sky Island region, highlighting the uniqueness of the plant and animal species found there. Unfortunately, the area faces threats including mining and overgrazing by livestock. Trips like these, that help document the wildlife in the ecosystem, are important for subsequent conservation efforts.


Global Discovery Expeditions also expanded into another biodiversity hotspot earlier this year: Vietnam. Over the summer, a group of scientists did survey work in the Sao La Nature Reserve in the Thua Thien Hue province. This effort was in partnership with Vietnam conservation organization Wildlife at Risk, with whom Greater Good Charities has worked to rehabilitate pangolins rescued from trafficking.

Vietnam is home to more than 50,000 plant and animal species and hosts a wide variety of wildlife, due in part to its varied elevations, its moisture, and rain shadow effect. As a result, survey work in this country can help safeguard many species. In the first go around, more than 30 amphibians and reptiles were observed, as were nearly 40 mammals.


Greater Good Charities CEO Liz Baker says, “By expanding into key biodiversity areas like Vietnam, we can document the ecosystems there and make that data available to anyone who needs it. This expansion represents our commitment to studying and protecting the planet for the good of people and pets everywhere. We are laying the groundwork for conservation efforts now and into the future and look forward to amplifying the good in other biodiversity hotspots around the world.”

The next Vietnam trip, set for March 2024, will be to islands within Bai Tu Long National Park. One of the species of interest will be the tiger gecko, which is threatened due to habitat loss and the pet trade.

This work is all made possible through your support. If you’d like to continue to help scientists survey and document areas with strong biodiversity, and protect the unique life they contain, click below!

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

Back to blog