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Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB) provides a habitat refugium for mesquite woodlands in the western Mojave Desert of the Antelope Valley. Although many mesquite communities in the arid southwest are considered invasive as they reduce the extent of grazing lands, the community at EAFB is composed primarily of large, widely spaced trees that provide food and shelter for local wildlife species and recreational opportunities for base personnel. Unfortunately, the range of these mesquite trees appears to be contracting as mature and old individuals dominate the community. Although anecdotal evidence suggests that the fall in the local groundwater table is responsible for the decline of the mesquite community at EAFB, no research has been carried out to confirm this. Our results corroborate the hypothesis that the groundwater table at EAFB has declined in the second half of the 20th century and that the area of the mesquite community is diminishing. Although the mesquite community expanded vigorously from 1956 to 1968, it contracted considerably from 1984 to 2000. The evidence for this observed decline is reinforced by the results of the age-class analysis as the community in 2003 is made up largely of mature, old, dying and dead trees. Few saplings (older than 2 years) and no new seedlings (1–2 years) are present in the study sites, suggesting that the mesquite community may not be able to replenish itself.

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© 2017 Jonathan Campbell

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