National Park Service

Sonoran Desert I&M Network (SODN)

Vegetation and Soils

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Monitoring Reports

Monitoring Protocol

Park Floras (draft)

Vegetation Mapping

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Terrestrial Vegetation and Soils


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 vegetation 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 Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and Apache Highlands ecoregions.

Parks Monitored

Casa Grande Ruins NM, Chiricahua NM, Coronado NMem, Fort Bowie NHS, Gila Cliff Dwellings NM, Montezuma Castle NM, Organ Pipe Cactus NM, Saguaro NP, Tonto NM

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)

Potential Measures

  • 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)
  • 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.

Protocol Status

This protocol was completed and published in 2012.

Status & Trends

Insufficient data will be available to identify trends until several years of data have been collected. Status is reported in the documents provided under "Available Information," above.

Project Cooperators

Chihuahuan Desert Network

Project Contacts

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Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster