Dynamics of the Black Rock Playa: Relationships between Use, Physical Processes, and Biological Environments

Affiliation(s)PIProject periodFunded by
DEES Adams, Kenneth D
Donald W. Sada
04/01/2006 - 09/30/2009 DOI - Bureau of Land Management

Black Rock playaKeywords: Black Rock Desert, playa

Project Description

A study to document the physical and biological processes of the Black Rock Desert playa, assess the impacts of recreational OHV use on those processes, and recommend management actions to better manage human uses of the playa.

Problem Definition

The Black Rock Playa (BRP) in northwestern Nevada is one of the largest, flattest, subaerial surfaces on Earth. A number of large mountain ranges and other areas of natural and cultural interest surround the playa, together forming an expansive area of natural scenic beauty now recognized as the Black Rock Desert–High Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NCA). Natural attributes of the BRP and surrounding Black Rock Desert are increasingly attractive to a variety of user groups, but the cumulative effects of all of these users are presently unknown.

The BRP at first glance appears as a barren, inhospitable substrate for biological activity. However, there is a variety of aquatic invertebrates that become active when the playa surface floods. The macroinvertebrate fauna of the Black Rock Desert is poorly understood, but it is probably comprised of crustaceans in the Class Branchiopoda and Orders Anostraca (fairy shrimps), Conchostraca (clam shrimps), and Notostraca (tadpole shrimps). These groups all occupy ephemeral lakes and ponds in the western U.S. where adults are aquatic and emerge from cysts that persist for years in dry playa sediments. These organisms are important food sources for migrating birds, and many are narrowly distributed in localized habitats. Virtually nothing is known about BRP Branchiopods, including species composition, distribution, abundance, and their relationships with sediment geology, processes, and chemistry.

This project is addressing specific questions about the dynamic physical processes that occur on the BRP, how these processes affect the ecology of the playa, and how humans are affecting these processes and the BRP.