National Park Service

Chihuahuan Desert Network (CHDN)

CHDN upland icon symbol

Uplands Soils & Vegetation Monitoring

Sotol grasslands at Big Bend National Park
Sotol grasslands at Big Bend National Park.

Inventory Reports

Monitoring Reports

Protocol Documents

Vital Signs Included in Protocol

  • Bare Ground
  • Biological Soil Crusts
  • Soil Erosion (Wind and Water)
  • Soil Hydrologic Function
  • Plant Community Composition


Project Contacts

Cheryl McIntyre, Physical Scientist
Chihuahuan Desert Network

Sarah Studd, Vegetation Ecologist
Sonoran Desert Network

Project Cooperators

Sonoran Desert Network


Generating over 99.9% of the Earth's biomass, plants are the primary producers of life on our planet. Vegetation, therefore, represents much of the biological foundation of terrestrial ecosystems, and comprises or interacts with all primary structural and functional components of these systems. Vegetation is highly influenced by environmental factors, such as soil texture, depth, and landform type. Especially as they relate to water, these influences are magnified at local scales in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Monitoring Objectives

  1. Determine the status of and detect trends in vegetative cover (%) of common (>10% absolute cover) native and non-native perennial plant species that occur in terrestrial ecosystems.
  2. Determine the status of and detect trends in the frequency (%) of uncommon (10% cover) native perennials, all annual lifeforms, and all non-native species in terrestrial ecosystems.
  3. Determine the status and detect trends in the density (individuals/hectare) of columnar cacti and ocotillo.
  4. Determine the status of and detect trends in soil cover (% by type) and cover and frequency of biological soil crusts (% by lichen growth form and morphological group for cyanobacteria and bryophytes).
  5. Determine the status of and detect trends in surface soil aggregate stability (by stability category, 1–6).
  6. Determine the status of and document dramatic shifts in soil bulk density (mass per unit volume of the bulk soil matrix).


Foliar cover (%) of perennial plant species and lifeforms within four height strata, soil cover (%) by substrate type, biological soil crust cover (%), average soil aggregate stability (index), and soil bulk density

Management Applications

Vegetation manipulation is the primary approach for most biological resource management; modifying vegetation is a proven and practical method for achieving wildlife management goals (via habitat manipulation), fire management goals (via fuels modification) and plant ecology goals (via direct or indirect alteration of plant interactions). Accounting for soil dynamics provides an important perspective on management issues and stressors that may have long-term consequences for terrestrial ecosystem structure and function, such as erosion.

Protocol Status

This protocol was completed and published in 2012. The protocol was implemented in all CHDN parks in 2011, except for Carlsbad Caverns NP, which was implemented in 2012.

Status and Trends

Insufficient data will be available to identify trends until several years of data have been collected. Status for Fort Davis NHS is reported in the documents provided under "LOCATION," above.

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Last Updated: February 13, 2014 Contact Webmaster