RIM Program: Dragonfly Project

by Joanne Roberts

Feature StoryArizona State Parks protects and conserves numerous parks lands and natural areas. The resources managed by State Parks are extremely diverse and geographically dispersed. To meet the responsibility of our vision and mission requires that we greatly improve our knowledge, understanding, and stewardship of our parks resources. To this effort, the Research, Inventory and Monitoring (RIM) Program launched pilot projects in 2005 through 2007 that engaged the services of volunteers with professional, para- professional and/or well-respected and recognized amateur credentials into research projects. The program consists of projects that will have specific requirements for volunteer involvement. Recruitment takes place for each project. Each project could contain either or all of three identified volunteer levels. The Arizona State Parks Dragonfly Project is a multi-year, multi-property investigation conducted by RIM volunteers.

Checkered Setwing dragonfly
A male Checkered Setwing dragonfly. Photo courtesy Doug Danforth, RIM Program volunteer.

Many of the properties managed by State Parks contain either flowing or impounded water, in one form or another. Aquatic insects, as the name implies, rely on water for development of their larval stages. By monitoring aquatic insects, it is anticipated that some sense of the species richness of the insects will be reflected in the diversity of the water itself. Ecosystem health is not the primary target of this project but when an order of aquatic insect is investigated in depth, as is planned here, it is assumed that some educated connections will be made.

In 2007, three investigators (RIM volunteers) were involved in the study. They were Rich Bailowitz, Doug Danforth, and Sandy Upson. The odonate list for the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area and Dead Horse Ranch State Park region stands at 34 species and the odonate list for Red Rock State Park. stands at 23 species. The total species list for the two parks combined is 39 species, approximately 61% of the total list for Yavapai County and approximately 31% of the total list for the state of Arizona. Photo-specimens were taken for all species observed.

The species richness of Verde River Greenway and Dead Horse Ranch was to be expected. At low altitudes, with permanent riverine habitat, and with one or more established ponds, a species list of 30+ is not unusual. What was surprising was the somewhat low diversity at the Oak Creek site at Red Rock. It is possible that this is a temporary situation, attributed to several severe floods in recent years. If habitat alteration is severe enough following flooding, it is possible that insect repopulation may take decades or more to return (e.g., upper Tonto Creek).

The most startling disclosure of the project was discovering Checkered Setwing (Dythemis fugax) at the ponds at Dead Horse Ranch. During the August visit about 2 dozen individuals of this southern Great Plains species were observed. This species is established in east-central Arizona in several areas, usually in association with ponds formed by or near artesian springs. In Arizona, there were previously known populations at Safford, at St. David, and in east Tucson. This is easily the western-most known population in the United States. A number of species with northern affinities should also wander into the region on occasion. With additional field-work, it is believed the species list for the these Park properties could approach 50 species.

The dragonfly inventory project continued in 2008 as RIM Volunteers investigated Roper Lake State Park, Dankworth Ponds, and adjacent ponds to State Parks properties.

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The views, conclusions, findings and opinions expressed in this Feature Story are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Arizona State Parks, the Arizona State Parks Board, or the government of Arizona.