Deserts

Deserts are areas of the country which receive less than 10 in (250 mm) annual precipitation. In the United States, we have four distinct major deserts. Three are “hot deserts” because they receive precipitation in the summer months (Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan) and one “cold desert” because it receives precipitation during the winter (Great Basin).

Sagebrush Ecosystems

Sagebrush covers millions of acres of the Great Basin Desert from Oregon to Wyoming and provides crucial habitat for more than 350 species. USGS research is at the core of understanding the sagebrush ecosystem at landscape and local scales including:

  • how the cumulative effects of disturbances are influencing the structure and function of sagebrush ecosystems and
  • how future landscapes landscape condition and configuration might influence long-term conservation of the greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats.

Working with Partners

Sagebrush Ecosystems: Landscape-Scale Modeling to Address Management Priorities for Sagebrush Habitats and Sagebrush-Obligate Wildlife Species

Energy, Land Use, and Sagebrush Ecosystems: Finding the Delicate Balance

Lead Scientists

Pat Anderson
Fort Collins Science Center
p: (970) 226-9488
e: andersonpj@usgs.gov

Cameron Aldridge
Fort Collins Science Center
p: (970) 226-9433
e: aldridgec@usgs.gov


Desert Restoration

Quantifying the condition of the deserts is critical for land and resource managers who make decisions about conservation and restoration. USGS scientists provide essential information about the current state of rangeland as well as the information necessary for making restoration decisions including:

  • collaborating with the Agricultural Research Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Resource Conservation Service to jointly develop a system to gauge attributes of rangeland health: soil and site stability, hydrologic function, and biotic integrity.
  • understanding the environmental conditions that may lead to invasive annual grasses dominating native species to provide early warning indicators of potential conversions from native shrub grasslands to annual grasslands.
  • providing land managers with handbooks to use in making restoration decisions at local and landscape scales.
  • developing “seed transfer zone” maps to define the geographical locations within which seeds from a source population may be safely transferred without genetic risk at the transplanted location, parcticularly in the Mojave Desert.

Working with Partners

Restoration of Shrub Steppe Ecosystems

Development of Native Plant Materials for Rehabilitation of Disturbed Mojave Desert Shrublands

Lead Scientists

David Pyke
Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
p: (541) 750-0989
e: david_a_pyke@usgs.gov

Lesley Defalco
Western Ecological Research Center
p: (702) 564-4507
e: ldefalco@usgs.gov


Climate Effects

USGS scientists are using observational and experimental methods to improve our understanding of how deserts are responding to changes in climate such as:

  • providing critical information on the response of sagebrush-steppe rangelands to hydroclimate changes.
  • evaluating how changes in seasonal timing of precipitation may affect widespread species like big sagebrush, crested wheatgrass, or cheatgrass.
  • forecasting the effects of climate change on sagebrush habitat.

Working with Partners

Climate Responses of Dominant Wildland Species and Ecosystems

Climate Change May Pose Substantial Future Risk to Sagebrush Habitat in Southwestern Wyoming

Lead Scientists

Matthew Germino
Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
p: (208) 426-3353
e: mgermino@usgs.gov