The Jornada experimental range

The Jornada LTER just after a thunderstorm.

The image above shows a view across the landscape at the Jornada experimental range or Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in the northern Chihuahuan Desert, approximately 25 km northeast of Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA (+32.5 N, -106.8 W, elevation 1188 m), the largest desert in North America and one of the largest deserts in the world.

The Jornada LTER was established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1912 on Presidential Executive Order, with four main research goals:
1. Methods for assessment and monitoring of rangelands at landscape, watershed, and regional scales
2. Ecologically-based technologies for remediation of degraded rangelands
3. Animal behavior-based strategies for livestock management
4. Predictive models of ecosystem responses to changes in climate and other management-dependent and independent drivers.

My current research focusses on phenology and vegetation growth in arid ecosystems, including rangelands such as those at the Jornada LTER. The image above shows the thunderstorms and associated showers passing across the landscape in the distance, lit by a low evening sun. Unlike forest ecosystems these shrub- and grassland ecosystems derive much of their growth from these intermittent pulses of rain, which allow for fast vegetation growth. However, the pulses of water are not well retained as they are quickly used by the vegetation, evaporated from the surface, drained away. As quick as the growth of these ecosystems can progress just after the rain, is their demise when a few weeks without rain pass.