Areas of Research

Understanding desert plants and habitats.

Publications Citing DES

The Desert Botanical Garden’s Research, Conservation and Collections Department takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the plants and environments of the desert regions of the world. Research specialties at the Garden include:

Conservation Biology

Science that seeks to understand the complexity of the fantastic diversity of life on Earth in order to protect, conserve and restore this diversity for the benefit of future generations. Conservation has been a part of Desert Botanical Garden’s mission since its founding in 1939.

The Earth currently supports over one and a half million described species of plants, animals and micro-organisms, and scientists predict that there are at least another one and a half million species in existence that have yet to be discovered.

Plant Systematics

Study that aims to document, explain and classify the tremendous diversity of plants that we see today, forming the basis for most conservation efforts. Plant systematists working at the Garden use traditional methods, such as morphology and cytology, as well as the modern approaches of DNA sequencing and fingerprinting technologies.

Modern approaches in plant systematics not only attempt to provide detailed descriptions, useful classifications and scientific names, but also to thoroughly understand all this in the context of the evolutionary history of plants.

Evolutionary Biology

The study of the processes, mechanisms and outcomes of inherited changes in organisms over time.

Evolutionary biology is an interdisciplinary field of study incorporating diverse disciplines, especially taxonomy, systematics, paleontology, biogeography, genetics, molecular biology and ecology.

Ecology

Study of the relationships of organisms with their physical environment and each other.

Ecology is one of the most complex and challenging sciences. The study and understanding of these complexities is essential for devising effective means to conserve the world’s biodiversity.

Ongoing Research at the Garden

  • Investigations of the spread and ecological impacts of non-native species
  • Impacts of fire on Sonoran Desert ecosystems
  • Study of the ecological consequences of various land uses, including grazing
  • Documentation of long-lasting environmental changes, including soil erosion that occurred in pre-Columbian times
  • Systematics of the agaves of Arizona
  • Systematics of the cacti of Arizona

Recent ecological research by Garden scientists includes:

  • Study of plant responses to climate variation, including extreme drought
  • Investigations of ways in which plants in arid regions modify the physical environment
  • Plant-soil relationships
  • Paleoecological studies that investigate past vegetation changes in the Sonoran Desert region
  • Natural history and ecology of long-lived desert plants
  • Plant-animal interactions including seed dispersal and pollination