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Ann Zwinger Joshua trees stalk the desert from horizon to horizon. No wonder they, despite their rather limited range, dominate visually, a dominance more perceived than true, for several shrubs and herbs exceed them in number and cover. Because they require more moisture, they grow along the cooler, higher, and wetter periphery of the Mojave Desert, sometimes along with species of the desert scrub from the Great Basin Desert, or in patches in northwestern Arizona where, with Mojave Desert scrub, they form two islands that extend eastward from the Hualapai Mountains. Here they often intermix with saguaro .... —The Mysterious Lands When I was in graduate school in art history, I helped write an ecology paper on the Indiana Sand Dunes on Lake Michigan for an overworked friend. No naturalist then, my idea of nature likely ran to the two predatory cats staring at the tethered bird held by a red satinsuited little boy with the impressive name of Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, that Franciso de Goya painted. I laboriously banged out the paper on a portable typewriter, looking up facts as I went. Because I learn by drawing, I did some simple illustrations, such as portraying the different depths at which various creatures managed to survive in a world of sand. The paper received a good grade with a comment that the illustrations were a helpful addition. My acquaintance with the word "ecotone " dates from that paper. From a selfish point of view a good many years later, that paper was a superb introduction to some of the basic tenets of ecology, for to my surprise, I found myself fascinated by the infinite and appealing logic of ecological concepts, the experiments, the research about what defined a habitat, and the glimpses of creatures surviving in a dry and unstable environment and how they did so. I did not relive that same fascination until years later when I became involved in writing Beyond the Aspen Grove, a book about a classic Montane Zone ecosystem in the Rocky Mountains, on forty acres that has belonged to my family for over forty years. There began my 57 Ecotone: reimagining place intrigue with edges and changes, of what lives and waddles and flies and crawls and spooks and tests the limit of their quotidian existence in an ecotone. The classic illustration of an ecotone, the place where two ecosystems meet, is where open meadow meets forest, a fairly easy concept to visualize because almost everybody either knows or can visualize a forest and a meadow. The idea that ecotones are often richer than the ecosystems on either side was a new and intriguing idea. I now marvel at these places of intermixing and interwoven species, places where mushrooms and shade-loving plants creep out to join sun-loving plants and sun-lovers essay a foot into the woods, all testing the rigor of their leaves and roots and mycelia in a new habitat. As I've spent more time in the field doing research for various books, I've found myself trying to identify those interesting segments of landscape that both plants and animals exploit. The movement of opportunistic plants into an ecotone, the differences in their appearance and character, are mysteries that only extended observation and knowledge skills can speak to. My next book happened to be about the alpine tundra of the United States, Land above the Trees, written with a masterful alpine ecologist, Dr. Bettie Willard, who literally gave me a graduate seminar in the subject. I was totally intrigued by the dwarf timber— krummholtz—that separated the Subalpine Zone from the Alpine Zone. Wonderfully picturesque trees flagged by the wind, twisted and ice-trimmed, moved a little bit up or a little bit down depending upon the severity of the winters. Characteristic of ecotones, they narrow when the terrain is steep and widen where the terrain is flat. There was no strict crossover "line" but a highly dynamic, changeable zone, where an assertive tree may move half an inch down one year, a reluctant two inches up the next. But that's what ecotones are all about, the "whither" of whither thou goest, and shall I take a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-2651
Print ISSN
1553-1775
Pages
pp. 57-63
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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