Ecology of the DSC
The communities and habitats immediately surrounding the DSC contain 176 species of plants, 29 species of reptiles and amphibians, 39 species of mammals (including 10 migratory bat species), over 250 species of birds, and many hundreds of invertebrates.
Marshes, seeps, and springs
The Desert Studies Center sits at the abrupt transition between the salt flats of Soda Dry Lake, at 930' above sea level, and the crest of southern Soda Mountains, at 2,180'. The ground water seeps along this portion of the western shoreline produce islands of salt marsh vegetation. In some of these marsh areas, shallow depressions form vernal pools from November through May, when the seepage rate to the surface exceeds the evaporation rate. This provides watering sites for some local wildlife, as well as habitat for migratory waterfowl, and the Pacific tree frog, Hyla regilla.
Alluvial fans, bajadas, and dunes
The shoreline abruptly transitions to the alluvial slopes and wave-cut features of the Soda Mountains. Vegetation on the slopes begins with a relatively narrow zone of salt bushes (Atriplex spp.), and other evergreen shrubs tolerant of poorly drained alkaline/saline soils (alkaline scrub community). This zone rapidly gives way to a creosote bush scrub community, dominated by creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) and white bursage (Ambrosia dumosa). This plant community dominates the alluvial fans and bajada slopes, as well as the rocky slopes above.
The alluvial fans are well developed and complex, with inter-braided and incised drainages, and more stable surfaces between the drainages, some developing distinctive aeolian silt soil horizons, resulting in patches of relatively barren "desert pavement" surfaces. The alluvial fans of the Soda Mountains have been intensively studied in terms of their geomorphic evolution, and their response to paleo-climatic change.
The lakes at Soda Springs
There are aquatic habitats at the DSC in the form of two man-made ponds and natural pools. Both Lake Tuendae and West Pond harbor the endangered Mojave Tui Chub (Siphatales bicolor mohavensis), a minnow native to the Mojave River drainage, as well as the Saratoga Springs pupfish ( Cyprinodon nevadensis nevadensis ) native to Death Valley to the north. The Mojave Tui Chub, once thought to be extinct through hybridization with introduced coastal chubs in the Mojave River, were rediscovered in a small spring pool, now called Mojave Chub Spring. A short walk from the DSC buildings, this spring's fish were the seed population from which other refugia in the Mojave have been stocked in an effort to conserve this rare species.
These aquatic habitats attract seasonally migrant waterfowl, as well as resident American coots and pie-billed grebes. Excellent bird habitat is found amongst the native mesquite trees (Prosopis spp.) dotting the area, as well historic tamarisk, fan palms, and date palms around the facilities.