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Mystery _4—The Mystery of Desert

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The Desert Detective Series for High School/College: #3—The Mystery of Desert
Preservation

    Detectives solve mysteries and so do scientists. This Desert Detective Mystery will
help you discover the Mystery of Desert Preservation. Most of the answers can be found
on the Center for Desert Living trail at the southwest corner of the garden. As you go
through the Desert Botanical Garden, feel free to look, wonder and enjoy. Two simple
rules you must follow:
    1. Stay on the paths
    2. Do NOT touch the plants.
 Good luck in your explorations!

The Mystery Introduced
        Good Morning, Inspector! We’re glad you’re here at the Desert Botanical Garden
to help us solve the mystery. Here is the problem:

         The Sonoran Desert is home to many unique plants like the Saguaro cactus and
the ironwood tree, which are native to nowhere else on Earth. This great variety of plant
life is declining because of urban development in the desert. As the Phoenix area
continues to grow, desert is replaced by homes and stores. Especially destructive to
plants and animals is the breaking up of large pieces of the desert into many smaller ones,
habitat fragmentation. Often these smaller pieces of desert cannot support the critical
interactions needed between plants and pollinators. Urban growth can also break up
migratory paths of animals (i.e., animals cross a busy highway at their own peril).

        Your goal, Inspector, if you choose to accept it, is to discover what can be done to
preserve the desert. How can those of us who live in the desert lessen our impact in order
to preserve it?

Mystery #1 What living and non-living features are found in the desert?

Assignment #1 As you walk along the paths of the Desert Botanical Garden, look around
you. List some of the specific plants, animals, and other features that make up a desert.

Feature observed                                 Animal, plant, non-living?
1. air                                           Non-living
2.

3.

4.

5.




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Mystery #2 What human activities are harmful to the Sonoran desert?

Assignment #2 Before we can preserve the desert, we need to think about how we are
harming the desert. Think about what you have observed on the outskirts of the Phoenix
area. List some of the human activities that may be harmful to the desert.

Human activity that is harmful to the            Place you observed this
desert
1.

2.

3.


Mystery #3 What can you do to preserve water in the Sonoran desert?
        About half the water city dwellers use goes for landscaping. By using less water
in your landscape, you can preserve that water for the native plants and animals.

Assignment #3 Bring the Sonoran desert into your urban landscape.

a. List a variety of Sonoran desert plants that are low water users. Think about what kind
of function each plant could provide in your landscape. For example, a low growing
cactus would not provide shade but might provide a place for wildlife and beauty in your
yard.
Plant name                                       Function (shade, color, food, wildlife,
                                                 beauty)
1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.


b. There are two places where drip irrigation systems are demonstrated at the Desert
House, in the Technical Exhibit and in the yard just northeast of the Desert House.
Explain why drip irrigation is better than sprinklers.




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c. Explain why desert plants are better than grass.




Mystery #4 What can you do to use less water?

Assignment #4 Go into the Desert House technical exhibit and into the Information
Center across from it. List some strategies for saving water in a house. Besides
technology, think about changes in your behavior that could result in saving water.
Method to save water                           Technology or Behavior?
1. Low flow showerhead                         Technology

2. Taking a quicker shower                    Behavior

3.

4.

5.


6.




Mystery #5 How do you design a house that causes less air pollution?
        During the winter, thermal inversions trap polluted air over Phoenix causing a
layer of smog, the “brown cloud”. The smog irritates the eyes and lungs of wildlife and
people. This brown cloud is generated by pollutants that come from the cars we drive
and the energy that we consume. By consuming less energy, we reduce pollution and
preserve desert habitat.




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Assignment #5—
a. Walk completely around the desert house. List some of the features it has to conserve
energy. You may wish to go back into the Technical Exhibit or the Information Center
across the courtyard. Think especially about our biggest energy user, air conditioning for
cooling. Some hints to observe:
     Orientation of the house
     Color
     Window location (which side of the house has fewest)
     Shading by trees
     Building materials and insulation
     Location of the garage (occupied by Technical Exhibit)

Features of house                     Explain how this feature conserves energy
1.

2.

3.

4.

5.


     b. Since most of us will never be able to design our own desert house, list some
        behavioral changes that could conserve energy in our own lives, both houses and
        cars.
     To save energy, I can                       Explain how this saves energy
     1.

     2.

     3.

     4.




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Teacher’s Follow-Up Exercise: Preserving the Desert

1. Your new neighbor wants to re-create his yard in Minnesota with grass, fountains, and
high water use trees. Explain to your neighbor why this is not a good idea.




2. Explain why living in the suburbs and working in the city might be harmful to the
desert.




3. Give two advantages of bringing the Sonoran desert into your urban landscape.




4. On a separate paper, design a Desert Landscape in your own yard. Be sure to think
about shading and wildlife. Some common mistakes to avoid are putting spiny plants too
close to walkways and planting trees that will be too large for an area when fully grown.




5. Marvin lives in an apartment building downtown. Serena lives in an individual house
near the Superstition Mountains. Both work together downtown. Who is living a more
energy efficient lifestyle? Defend your answer.




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   Teacher’s Pre-lab for the Mystery of Desert Preservation

1. Many people think of the desert as a barren wasteland of sand devoid of plant and
animal life. Based on what you have seen in the Sonoran desert, do you agree with this
description?




2. What kinds of activities have you done in the desert? Do you think these activities
were harmful, helpful or perhaps neither?




3. Where does our electricity come from that runs our air conditioners? Electricity is a
non-polluting energy source. What types of pollutants are created by the plants that
produce the electricity?




4. Where does our water come from? Could we live here in Phoenix if we did not have
access to water?




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