Southwest Research Station


View from the SWRS in the fall.

Felicity Arengo

The Southwestern Research Station (SWRS) is a year-round field station owned and operated by the American Museum of Natural. Since 1955, it has served biologists, geologists, and anthropologists interested in studying the diverse environments and biotas of the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The SWRS welcomes scientists and advanced students from all parts of the country and from abroad to carry out their research projects. The SWRS is located at an elevation of 5,400 feet in riparian habitat, surrounded by oak-juniper-pinyon pine woodlands.

Five "life-zones" (environments that are characterized by particular groupings of plants and animals) can be encountered on the slopes of the Chiricahua Mountains: Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian, and Hudsonian. Biogeographically, the station is located at a crossroads between distinct desert and mountain biotas, providing access to a wide range of biotic communities influenced by the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts to the east and west, and the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Madre Occidental to the north and south.


Elegant trogon ( Trogon elegans ), a main attraction for bird-watchers.

Kevin Frey

Scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, as well as from other institutions across the country and from around the world, conduct research at the SWRS. Research facilities include a library and plant/animal collections, and a laboratory. An outdoor aviary complex, animal behavior observatory, and a multi-room live animal holding facility afford outstanding facilities for behavioral ecology studies.

Fields of research include entomology, herpetology, ornithology, mammalogy, botany, geology, arachnology, animal behavior; and population, behavioral, physiological, and conservation ecology. Numerous long-term studies are in progress, including: communal breeding in Mexican Jays, evolution of unisexual parthenogenetic lizards, spadefoot toad reproduction, horned lizard ecology and behavior, sexual selection and behavior in striped plateau lizards, and the evolution of social behaviors in ants. To date, scientists working at the SWRS have produced well over 1,000 publications on research conducted there.

Classes and Workshops

SWRS hosts several advanced training courses and professional workshops, including:

Species Distribution Modeling for Conservation Biologists

Models that predict species' potential distributions by combining observed occurrence records with digital data layers of environmental variables have great potential for application across a range of ecological analyses. The course focuses on the theoretical and practical aspects of this approach (sometimes termed "ecological niche" or "bioclimate envelope" modeling) and is designed for students, researchers, and practitioners of conservation biology.

Bat Conservation International

BCI presents a comprehensive curriculum for an introductory field workshop designed to train serious students of bat conservation in the current research and management techniques for the study of bats.

The Ant Course

This course is designed for systematists, ecologists, behaviorists, conservation biologists, and other biologists whose research responsibilities require a greater understanding of ant taxonomy. Emphasis is on the classification and identification of more than 50 ant genera present in North America.

The Bee Course

Designed primarily for botanists, conservation biologists, and pollination ecologists. This course emphasizes classification and identification of more than 50 bee genera of North and Central America (both temperate and tropical).

Cave Creek Canyon, the backdrop for the station, affords some of the finest bird-watching in North America. As space permits, naturalist guests stay at the SWRS to enjoy the magnificent scenery, a multitude of wildlife, and numerous hiking trails. The SWRS has recently begun offering six-day "Bird and Nature Tours" and has received excellent feedback from participants.

"Greening" the Station

Constructed wetlands treat wastewater and provided habitat at the SWRS.

Dawn Wilson

The CBC and the SWRS developed a master plan for the physical structures of the station, in a way that complements the area's ecological systems. Toward this goal, a comprehensive workshop was held in June 2006 to discuss plans for a much-needed new education building and to lay the groundwork for a master plan. Architects, systems ecologists, engineers, and local stakeholders worked with Museum staff to develop a plan for a new building that utilizes solar panels, daylighting, and environmentally friendly building materials. The building serves to "teach" about conservation and sustainability, with the goal that visitors will come away with a sense of the ecological workings of the area as well as the part we play in sustaining them. Another outcome of the workshop was the decision to replace traditional wastewater systems with subsurface constructed wetlands. Constructed wetlands are more sustainable and require less maintenance than a traditional treatment system, as they mimic natural wetlands' biological capacities for filtration. The SWRS constructed wetland provides habitat of birds and insects.