Southwest Biological Science Center

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Sonoran desert scene, complete with prickly pear, saguaro, and cholla cactus species.
October 31, 2017

Sonoran Desert Cactus Guild

The iconic Sonoran Desert is home to many species of cactus, vascular plants, and wildlife, including the giant saguaro, cholla, and prickley pear cacti seen here. Plants and animals have adapted to living in such a harsh dry environment. For example, the plants in this photo have grown up in the shade of one another, and survived due to protection from the hot sun. The

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View of the lush green San Rafael grasslands of southern Arizona and northern Mexico, framed by a cloudy blue sky.
August 31, 2017

The Sonoran desert has grasslands, too.

The San Rafael grasslands are a diverse ecosystem in southern Arizona along the U.S./Mexico border region, a part of the Madrean Archipelago ecoregion. The USGS RAMPS program conducts collaborative

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Two researchers aligning a 2 meter by 2 meter PVC square for an experimental restoration plot within a fenced area.
July 31, 2017

Setting up experimental restoration plots.

Field crew install a Restoration Field Trial Network garden in the rangelands of Northern Arizona. Each garden in the network is examining seedlings and seeds in conjunction with restoration treatments to better

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Photo of seeding experiment to improve restoration outcomes in the Southwest.
July 17, 2017

Seeding experiment to improve restoration outcomes in the Southwest.

USGS ecologists Molly McCormick (left) and Katie Laushman (right) conducting a seeding experiment that is a part of RAMPS, a new USGS-led initiative to improve restoration outcomes in the Southwest. 

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Drylands landscape in the four corners region
July 9, 2017

Drylands landscape in the four corners region

Landscape view of the arid southwest in the four-courners region.

Blowing dust in a fallowed agricultural field in central Arizona.
June 30, 2017

Bare Ground = Blowing Dust

Across the desert Southwest, ground void of plant material is prone to soil erosoin and dust storms. In this fallowed agricultural field, we see that a spring breeze can carry away fertile top soil and create air quality concerns. USGS RAMPS defines causes of environmental hazards created by degraded land, and creates collaborative solutions to reduce these types of risks

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Oil pad near Vernal, Utah
June 30, 2017

Oil pad near Vernal, Utah

Oil pad near Vernal, Utah

An extremely rare Mojave River western pond turtle was recently observed in the Mojave Desert.
May 4, 2017

An extremely rare Mojave River western pond turtle

An extremely rare Mojave River western pond turtle was recently observed by USGS scientists and staff from The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in the Mojave Desert. Turtles of this population have rarely been seen since the late 1990s.

Person taking data in grassland with biocrust
December 29, 2016

Biocrusts in healthy grassland data collection

Person taking data in a healthy dryland grassland with dark biocrusts between bunchgrasses and cacti in Utah.

View from Canyonlands Research Center
September 29, 2016

View from Canyonlands Research Center

View from Canyonlands Research Center. 

Photo of footprint damage to biocrusts.
September 29, 2016

Footprint damage to biocrusts

Many human activities can be unintentionally harmful to biological crusts. The biocrusts are no match for the compressional stress caused by footprints of livestock or people or tracks from vehicles.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that

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Photo of biocrust
September 29, 2016

Biocrust

On the Colorado Plateau, mature biocrusts are bumpy and dark-colored due to the presence of lichens, mosses, and high densities of cyanobacteria and other organisms. Disturbed biocrusts are lighter in color, looking more like the underlying sand than undisturbed ones, and are less capable of stabilizing soils or providing soil fertility.

Arid and semiarid ecosystems

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