Bursera microphylla in South Mountain Municipal Park: evaluating its habitat characteristics
ABSTRACT The elephant tree, Bursera microphylla, is at the northern limit of its range in central Arizona. This species is sensitive to frost damage thus limiting its occurrence in more northern areas of the southwest. Marginal populations of B. microphylla are found in mountain ranges of Central Arizona and are known to occur in the rugged mountain range system of the South Mountain Municipal Park (SMMP). Little is known of the distribution of this species within the park and details relevant to the health of both individual plants and the population such as diameter and number of trunks, height, and presence of damage have not been examined. This study was designed, in part, to test the hypothesis that favorable microhabitats at SMMP are created by particular combinations of abiotic features including aspect, slope, elevation and solar radiation. Data on abiotic factors, as well as specific individual plant locations and characteristics were obtained for 100 individuals. Temperature data was collected in vertical transects at different altitudinal levels. Some of these data were used in spatial analyses to generate a habitat suitability model using GIS software. Furthermore, collected data was analyzed using Matlab© software to identify potential trends in the variation of morphological traits. In addition, for comparative purposes similar information at one hundred computer-generated randomly chosen points throughout SMMP was obtained. The GIS spatial analyses indicated that aspect, slope, elevation, and relative solar radiance are strongly associated as major climatic components of the microhabitat of B. microphylla. Temperature data demonstrated that there are significant differences in ambient temperature among different altitudinal gradients with middle elevations being more favorable. Furthermore, analyses performed using Matlab© to explore trends of elevation as a factor indicated that multiple trunk plants are more commonly found at higher elevations than single trunk plants, there is a positive correlation of trunk diameter with elevation, and that canopy volume has a negative correlation with respect to elevation. It was concluded that microhabitats where B. microphylla occurs at the northern limit of its range require a particular combination of abiotic features that can be easily altered by climatic changes.