The availability of water is a limiting resource for many wildlife species in arid and semi- arid environments. Free water is essential for critical life stages for numerous species, including migration, reproduction, survival, and habitat selection. Riparian areas in the desert occur relatively infrequently, but support a disproportionally large percentage of plant and wildlife species found in arid environments. Our study covered two aspects of water use in the west desert of Utah. The first was assessing the impacts of nonnative ungulates (specifically feral horses and cattle) on natural springs, and how they influenced water quality, vegetation, and wildlife diversity at those springs. We found that these ungulates reduced plant cover and plant species richness at our sites. Additionally, we found that the number of plant species positively correlated with wildlife diversity. This indicates that further management of these nonnative ungulates may be warranted. In our second chapter we investigate how Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) use water by quantifying seasonal use, behavior, and testing a hypothesis that a ‘runway’ with drop in elevation is needed for eagles to have a quick exit. We found that eagle use of water resources was strongly concentrated in the summer months during the hottest temperatures. Adult birds used water features more often than younger birds. The most common behavior exhibited at water features was drinking, followed by bathing and preening. We found that there was a positive relationship between the number of visits and the maximum slope at each site, supporting the idea that the ‘runway’ is not required but is preferred at water sources. Overall, our results indicated that Golden Eagles use water regularly in arid environments, particularly during summer months. This research provides insight into how species are using desert riparian areas and how these species and habitats should be managed in future decades.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Golden Eagle, desert springs, nonnative ungulates, water, wildlife



Included in

Life Sciences Commons