Equines find water in the desert!






I knew this because many years ago, a graduate student in Nevada sent to me his research papers about wild desert donkeys finding water.  He had it on video… and was writing his thesis.  But he didn’t want me to post it until his thesis was accepted.  And then I never heard from him again.

The research below was done by an Australian team.  But I’d like to think our friend the Nevada grad student tipped them off…

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Wild horses and donkeys are able to survive in the desert by using an innate instinct they have to find water buried up to 6ft below the ground, a new study reveals.

This same instinctive radar for underground water drives them to dig wells that in turn help other animals and plants that live within the same arid ecosystem.

That is according to a team from the University of Technology Sydney who surveyed a number of dryland ecosystems in the Sonoran Desert of North America.

Lead author Erick Lundgren says well digging horses and donkeys are an ‘often overlooked form of ecosystem engineering’ that can buffer water shortages.

Wild horses and donkeys are able to survive in the desert by using an innate instinct they have to find water buried up to 6ft below the ground, a new study reveals

This same instinctive radar for underground water drives them to dig wells that in turn help other animals and plants that live within the same arid ecosystem
Video playing bottom right…Click here to expand to full page

Sometimes feral equines become the only source of water within a local ecosystem, and when a well dries up it can become a nursery for important tree species.

Large terrestrial herbivores play crucial roles in their environments, but the understanding of their role in dryland biomes has been limited, the team said.

Since the late Pleistocene, up to about 12,000 years ago, megafauna, very large animals, have experienced drastic declines in abundance worldwide.

That is according to a team from the University of Technology Sydney who surveyed a number of dryland ecosystems in the Sonoran Desert of North America

Lead author Erick Lundgren says well digging horses and donkeys are an ‘often overlooked form of ecosystem engineering’ that can buffer water shortages
This has led to the loss of many of their functions, resulting in more closed forests, wildfires and reduced plant seed dispersal in temperate and tropical systems.

In dryland environments, where water is the primary limiting resource, some larger animals like wild donkeys, horses and elephants regularly dig wells.

These wells go up to 6ft deep to expose subsurface water within the ground.  To evaluate the impact of well-digging on the broader landscape, Lundgren and colleagues surveyed several sites in the Sonoran Desert of North America.

They observed well-digging by the region’s feral horses and donkeys, and found that the equid-engineered wells increased water availability.

This was particularly important for a number of native desert species as it decreased the overall distances between important water sources during dry periods, and at times provided the only water present locally.

Sometimes feral equines become the only source of water within a local ecosystem, and when a well dries up it can become a nursery for important tree species

Large terrestrial herbivores play crucial roles in their environments, but the understanding of their role in dryland biomes has been limited, the team said
According to the authors, species richness and activity were higher at equid wells than nearby dry sites.

By mimicking natural flood disturbance, abandoned wells occasionally became nurseries for important riparian tree species, they found.

These are species that grow at the interface between land and water.

The findings have been published in the journal Science.



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