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Botanists are exploring the US-Mexico border to study an overlooked ecosystem divided by a massive wall

Botanists on the yellow blooms (Via Damian Stubbs/Shutterstock)

Close to the towering border wall and a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle, botanist Sula Vanderplank heard a quail in the scrub call out “chi-ca-go,” a sound they make when they’re separated from mates or groups.

A quail on the Mexican side responded, creating a back-and-forth of sounds that seemed fitting yet sad in an ecosystem divided by a man-made barrier. Vanderplank joined other botanists and citizen scientists for the Border Bioblitz near the Mexican town of Jacumé, about 60 miles east of Tijuana.

Around 1,000 volunteers, using the iNaturalist app on their phones, are in May documenting as many species as they can along the U.S.-Mexico border. Photos uploaded to the app help identify plants and animals while recording the location coordinates.

The goal is to gather information that could lead to more protections for the region’s natural diversity, often overshadowed by news of drug trafficking and migrant smuggling.

Dr. Georges Seingier (Via Damian Stubbs/Shutterstock)

During a recent day, Bioblitz volunteers examined a bright yellow carpet of common Goldfields in stark contrast to the sturdy steel bollards of the border wall topped with razor wire. Some carefully moved around piles of discarded water jugs, a hoodie, and empty cans of tuna beneath native plants like the Tecate Cypress.

“There’s a remarkable amount of biodiversity here that hasn’t received much attention,” said Vanderplank from the binational program Baja Rare.

These efforts began as a response to former President Donald Trump’s construction of hundreds of miles of border walls that destroyed numerous saguaro cacti in Arizona and cut through the biodiversity hotspot of Baja California.

“When the border wall construction started, we realized how little solid data we had, particularly regarding plants and small organisms,” Vanderplank noted. “We don’t fully grasp what we stand to lose.”

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