TECOPA, Calif. — Under a canopy of gleaming stars, Janet Foley made her way across a dab of marshlands surrounded by harsh Mojave Desert terrain, her headlamp fixed on a live trap the size of a loaf of bread.

TECOPA, Calif. — Under a canopy of gleaming stars, Janet Foley made her way across a dab of marshlands surrounded by harsh Mojave Desert terrain, her headlamp fixed on a live trap the size of a loaf of bread.


She peered inside, smiled and said, "Hi there, cutie." The creature staring back at her was a federally endangered Amargosa vole, one of the rarest mammals in North America. Foley recorded its vital statistics, attached an identification tag to its right ear and released it back into the wild.


The vole is one of several species struggling to survive in U.S. deserts in the face of the double-whammy of lengthy drought and climate change. In the shrinking wetlands east of Death Valley National Park, the vole that Foley tagged is one of about 200 clinging to existence.


With development and groundwater pumping altering the Mojave, many voles exist only in highly restrictive habitats prone to disease, inbreeding and predation. Now, longer droughts and rising temperatures from climate change are upsetting the delicate balance between life and death conditions in those habitats too.


"Marshes that once were robust, green and 10 meters wide are now brown and shrinking," said Foley, an epidemiology professor at UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine. "The voles we’re finding are distinctly thinner."


She and state and federal biologists are trying to reverse the trend. The voles and other threatened and endangered desert species are under consideration for emergency translocation, habitat restoration and captive breeding programs to save them from extinction.


About 25 miles north of the voles’ stronghold, the imperiled Devil’s Hole pupfish population, which has survived in a remote rock tub since the Ice Age, has plunged to an all-time low of 60. The geothermally heated water has been a constant 93 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the upper physiological limit for the inch-long fish long regarded as a symbol of the desert conservation movement.


But average ambient temperatures in the region have risen about three degrees, and a recent study by Mark Hausner, a research biologist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, warns that another degree or two higher could destroy Devil’s Hole pupfish reproduction and egg development.