Recoverability and Vulnerability of Desert Ecosystems

U.S. Geological Survey
Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5064
version 1.0

Monitoring Ecosystem Quality and Function in Arid Settings of the Mojave Desert

By Jayne Belnap, Robert H. Webb, Mark E. Miller, David M. Miller, Lesley A. DeFalco, Philip A. Medica, Matthew L. Brooks, Todd C. Esque, and Dave Bedford


photo of desert scene


Monitoring ecosystem quality and function in the Mojave Desert is both a requirement of state and Federal government agencies and a means for determining potential long-term changes induced by climatic fluctuations and land use. Because it is not feasible to measure every attribute and process in the desert ecosystem, the choice of what to measure and where to measure it is the most important starting point of any monitoring program. In the Mojave Desert, ecosystem function is strongly influenced by both abiotic and biotic factors, and an understanding of the temporal and spatial variability induced by climate and landform development is needed to determine where site-specific measurements should be made. We review a wide variety of techniques for sampling, assessing, and measuring climatic variables, desert soils, biological soil crusts, annual and perennial vegetation, reptiles, and small mammals. The complete array of ecosystem attributes and processes that we describe are unlikely to be measured or monitored at any given location, but the array of possibilities allows for the development of specific monitoring protocols, which can be tailored to suit the needs of land-management agencies.

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For questions about the content of this report, contact Jayne Belnap

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