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Sofia Salazar is a third-year Ph.D. student in Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences. She was awarded a $500 student grant for her project to identify and describe the oribatid mites that inhabit the Madrean Sky Islands in southern Arizona. Sofia's project will help us to understand the vast underground biodiversity in Arizona's southern mountains, and will inform our advocacy for protecting soil habitats in the Sonoran Desert.

Iris Garthwaite is a first year Master's student in the Northern Arizona University's School of Earth and Sustainability. She was awarded a $500 student grant for her project that will use innovative methods to assess the adaptability of the Fremont cottonwood tree, an important and widespread species in riparian areas in the Sonoran Desert, to the impacts of climate change.


FRIENDS OF THE SONORAN DESERT (FSD) is pleased to invite applications for our student grant program. Grants will be awarded to students for proposals that will increase our understanding of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem and facilitate our mission to protect and conserve the Sonoran Desert throughout its range.

Qualified applicants include advanced undergraduate students and graduate students currently enrolled in a university. In 2021 two awards will be made of $500 each.

Criteria used to evaluate applications:

     1. Overall quality of the proposed project

     2. Match of the proposal with FSD ongoing programs

    The proposed project can be part of a larger student-driven project (honors thesis; MS thesis; etc.).               

    Applicants should make clear how FSD funds will advance the completion of their project.

Applications must include:

     1. Title of project

     2. 500 word summary of proposed project

     3. Project budget and brief justification

     4. Name and contact information of two references, including the student’s academic supervisor

Grant Program Timeline:

     Call for proposals: 1 February 2021

     Deadline for proposal submission: 19 March 2021

     Award notification: 19 April 2021

     Short update of findings due: 15 September 2021

     Final report due: 1 December 2021

Short Update and Final Reports

     Grant recipients will submit a short update on their findings, a final project report, and 3 high-quality images     

     (JPEGs) with permission for FSD to use these photos to promote their work: one image will be of the student

     investigator, preferably in the field (required); and two from the following list, as applicable: the species being     

     studied; the​ habitat in which the study was conducted; workshop; product produced; etc.





P.O. BOX 25592

TEMPE, AZ 85285

Student Grant Application

PAGE 1 (of 2)

Applicant Name:  

Affiliation (university/department):  

Grade Level:  

Contact Information – e-mail address and phone number:  

Reference 1:  Supervisor's name:  

Affiliation (university/department):  

Contact Information – e-mail address and phone number:  

Reference 2:  Name:  

Affiliation (university/department):  

Contact Information – e-mail address and phone number: 

Project Title:  

Budget plus justification of expenses (use remainder of Page 1):

     Budget guidelines: no salaries allowed.  Allowed expenses include $15/day per diem;       

     $0.25/mile mileage allowance; supplies and minor equipment.

PAGE 2 (of 2)

Project Description:

     500 words maximum/no longer than 1 page

     Single spaced; include up to 3 relevant citation references.

     Address overarching issue, how you will address the issue, and relevance of the issue to the     

     goals of FSD.



Miguel Grageda studies endangered Sonoran pronghorn in the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve in Sonora, Mexico, to see how nearby human development (roads, other barriers, and livestock grazing) might affect their population. 

Miguel's 81 camera traps cover 200,000 acres, a significant portion of the pronghorn habitat within the Reserve. He recorded an increase in camera-trap records (each time an individual or a group of individuals was obtained at a specific time and location) from 123 in 2019 to 137 in 2020. The sex ratio was approximately two males for every female. 

One of Miguel's most exciting findings for 2020 was a group of fawns born during the first week of March, demonstrating recruitment of pronghorn into this area. These animals were also recorded in September and October, thus they survived the harsh summer in the region. Overall, six independent records of fawns were recorded in 2019, and 11 in 2020.

While pronghorn were distributed throughout the Reserve, 37% of records (51/137) were made at four camera-trap locations along Highway 2, in proximity to the international border. The majority of these records (92%) were made at a distance of either 750 m or 1500 m from the highway, rather than close to this disturbance.​ These records were made in February, May, and November 2020, suggesting that pronghorn were present in the area for most of the year.

Miguel plans to collect data throughout 2021 in order to compare his findings over a three-year time span.


Julie Rakes studies biocrusts, the topsoil microbial communities found atop desert soils. It is important to understand what affects the health of biocrusts as they provide nutrients to soils in nutrient-poor regions such as the Sonoran Desert.


Recent field surveys of biocrusts have revealed the presence of virulent predatory bacteria (the “plaques” seen in Julie's photo), which infect healthy biocrusts. Julie's research involves analyzing the effects of rainfall and temperature on the health of biocrusts in desert soils.


Julie's data show that increased rainfall facilitates the rate of infection by predatory bacteria, killing up to 28% of the biocrusts that they inhabit. Intense sunlight has the opposite effect, killing about half of the infectious bacteria on the soil surface.


By learning more about what factors influence the health of biocrusts, we will be able to develop better management plans to protect them.



Julie Bethany Rakes is a Ph.D. student in ASU's School of Life Sciences. She was awarded a $500 grant to help her complete her studies on a predatory bacterium found in the the soil crusts of the Sonoran Desert. Julie's work will increase our understanding of how desert microbes impact topsoil communities in arid, desert environments.


Miguel Angel Grageda Garcia is a Ph.D. student in the University of Arizona's School of Natural Resources. He was awarded a $500 grant to continue his camera trap studies on the endangered Sonoran pronghorn in the El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve in Sonora, Mexico. Miguel is examining how obstacles like roads and physical barriers affect the movements and range of Sonoran pronghorn, as well as their ability to compete with livestock for food and space.