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Life Zones, it’s Founder and the Grand Canyon

Clinton Hart Marriam was born in New York City and was an American zoologist, mammalogist, ornithologist, entomologist, ethnographer,and naturalist. At a young age he was introduced to the outdoors and began to learn the basics of taxidermy from a retired army surgeon. He continued his education and had many career interests that he practiced throughout his life, which led him to the concept of life zones.

In 1889, Merriam made an observation of different plant and animal communities, here in Flagstaff, Az,  that seemed to change as the elevation changed. He used this as a way to describe areas with homogenous plant and animal communities and proposed that they could be grouped together as a zone. He also denoted that the changes that occured vertically could be seen on a continental scale from south to north. 

According to his concept, there are 6-7 life zones that he concluded in his observations. These levels are the lower sonoran which are low, hot desert areas. Upper sonoran which can be described as desert steppe or chaparral and Transition which are like open woodlands. Canadian are fir forests and hudsonian are spruce forest. So what do the life zones at the Grand Canyon look like?

The Grand Canyon has an elevation of 7,400 feet, giving it 5 distinct life zones that are indicated by each zone’s dominant plant life. It is a concept that helps in understanding how the wild communities of plant life and animals relate to their environment. The first life zone is the riparian level of the Grand Canyon, which consists of western honey mesquite, arrowweed, and catclaw acacia plants, all commonly found in the area. There is also continuous flowing streams along with the Colorado River that help sustain native fish that tend to be affected by the Glen Canyon Dam. 

The next known level of the Grand Canyon is the Great Basin and Mohave desert level that is located away from the Colorado River, along the eastern canyon which has an elevation of 1,500 feet. The plants found in this area are the creosote, western honey mesquite, blackbrush, and big sagebrush, just to name a few. Above this level before the next one, is where you can find the Pinyon-juniper level that grow in an open woodland area. In these open spaces between the trees are where the banana yucca, big sagebrush, utah agave, Mormon tea vegetation can be found. The transition level an open, park like forest is created from the tall ponderosa pine trees. The Canadian level, just below the rims are a mix of plush Douglas fir, Colorado blue spruce, and with this is the forest floor that contains grass, yarrow, lupines and asters.

So you see, the Grand Canyon is a magnificent, bio diverse region in our own backyard. Take the time to explore it and you will never be disappointed by all the beautiful flora and fauna that continue to flourish in the area. Join us on our next Grand Canyon Day Tour or our Private Grand Canyon Day Hike to make observations of your own.

Beautiful Landscape of Grand Canyon from Desert View Point with the Colorado River visible during dusk