Ecology for Students


Ecosystems: Nature's Neighborhoods

Stand of ponderosa pine trees are angled upwards towards a crisp blue sky
Ponderosa Pine Forest

NPS Photo

From snow-covered forests to hot, dry deserts, Grand Canyon contains many outdoor neighborhoods, called ecosystems, in which plans and animals live. These living things and non living things, such as air, water, soil, and sunlight, depend on each other to survive.

Boreal and Ponderosa Pine Forests

Elevation: 10,000 to 7,000 feet (above sea level)
Winter brings cold temperatures and snow to the forests along the rim, or edge, of the canyon. Pine, aspen, spruce, and fir trees fill the landscape. Deer and squirrels forage for leaves and seeds, while mountain lions hunt for prey.
A stand of pinyon pine and utah juniper trees with brown dirt below.
Pinyon-Juniper Woodland

NPS Photo

Pinyon-Juniper Woodland

Elevation: 7,300 to 4,000 feet (above sea level)
Utah juniper and pinyon pine trees grow in rocky soils along lower parts of the rim. They thrive in warm, sunny summers and cold, snowy winters. Pinyon jays and other birds eat nuts and berries from the trees.

Learn about some of Grand Canyon's plant life through coloring! Coloring sheets include an outline to color and information to learn more each plant.

Green spiky paddle cactus in front of a desert scrub habitat with shrubs and trees with minimal leaves.
Desert scrub habitat in the inner canyon.

NPS Photo

Learn more about Grand Canyon ecology through Canyon Field School @Home activities, partnered with the Grand Canyon Conservancy!

Desert Scrub

Elevation: 4,500 to 1,500 feet (above sea level)
Scorpions, snakes, and bighorn sheep wander amidst cacti, agave, and Mormon tea plants in the desert scrub. This ecosystem begins about halfway down into the canyon and continues to the bottom near the Colorado River. It is known for hot and dry summer weather.

Green vegetation borders a creek that opens up into the Grand Canyon.
Riparian habitat along a creek which merges with the Colorado River.

NPS Photo


Elevation: Depends on location
Riparian ecosystems provide homes for plants and animals that need a lot of water, such as cottonwood trees and frogs. They are found along the edges of springs, creeks, the Colorado River, and other sources of water. Learn more about the plants and animals in riparian habitats:

A image that rapidly flashes photos of animals including: bat, rattlesnake, squirrel, bighorn sheep, scorpion, mouse.
A sampling of the biodiversity of wildlife at Grand Canyon.

NPS Photos


With so many ecosystems, Grand Canyon has high biodiversity, or the number of species that live here. Just how many plants and animals live at Grand Canyon?

  • 450 bird species
  • 91 mammal species
  • 18 fish species
  • 58 reptile and amphibian species
  • 1,443 invertebrate species
  • 1,747 plant species

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    Last updated: June 13, 2023

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