Conservation in Action: Tom Van Devender

Right now, the Rainforest Site is working to raise the funds required to allow a team of scientists to travel to the Sierra de Huérfana. Their goal: to collect the data necessary to ensure 32,000 acres in and around Sierra de Huérfana are protected forever.

One of the scientists who will be participating in the expedition is Tom Van Devender, a biologist and manager of the Madrean Archipelago (MABA) at Sky Island Alliance. Check out this interview to learn more about Tom and his role in the protection of Sierra de Huérfana!

Can you please introduce yourself and explain your role with the Sky Island Alliance?

Tom Van Devender My name is Tom Van Devender. I am the Manager of the Madrean Archipelago (MABA) at Sky Island Alliance in Tucson, Arizona. MABA is an ambitious program to document the distributions of all species of animals and plants in the Madrean Archipelago, also known as the Sky Island Region. All observations and images are available for use in conservation, research, and education in a public online database (

How did you get interested in studying botany and herpetology? Why does the Madrean Archipelago in particular hold such attraction to you?

I became interested in natural history when I was young through Boy Scouts, fishing, and chasing reptiles and amphibians in Texas. The Huachuca Mountains and other Sky Islands in Arizona held an almost mythical attraction. After I came to graduate school at the University of Arizona in Tucson, I was able to visit many of them and the mainland Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico. The diversity is so vibrant that I still see new things and learn more about them on each visit today.

What is your favorite Sky Island species and why?

Caracara Común-Caracara cheriway-SJacobsAs a natural historian, I have many favorites. I love to see the big saturnid moths at lights at night in the summer rainy season. It’s always exciting to see rattlesnakes, especially the ridge-nosed rattlesnake, and Arizona mountain kingsnakes. My favorite birds are the Crested Caracara and Elegant Trogon. A few of my favorite plants are the Mexican yellowshow (Amoreuxia palmatifida), Mexican gamagrass (Tripsacum lanceolatum), rainbow cactus (Echinocereus rigidissimus), hierba de piojo (Mandevilla foliosa), and Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii).

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