Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill


Research at the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill aims to integrate culture, science, and community to advance knowledge on sustaining the future of life in the desert. This VIP will build on the long-term plant ecology research of Tumamoc Hill, starting with permanent plots first mapped 115 years ago. It will integrate these data with multiple inter-related research programs aimed at understanding the dynamics of how life adapts and responds to aridity and climate change. More specifically, students will answer one or more of the following questions:

  • How are desert plants responding to changing climate? 
  • How can we use modern technology to improve methods for documenting changes in vegetation?
  • What are the rates of recovery following extreme climate events?
  • What plant characteristics predict how different species respond to climate? 
  • How are interactions between animals and plants (for instance, pollination, seed dispersal, and herbivory) changing over time and in response to climate?

This project offers students from across campus the opportunity to conduct research with a diverse group of researchers from the Desert Laboratory and the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of Arizona. Students will ultimately be immersed in the larger Desert Lab community, providing the opportunity to interact with ecologists, wildlife biologists, artists, and archaeologists.

Students will gain hands-on experience in one or more of the following:

  • Self-led research
  • Creative and critical thinking
  • Project management
  • Fieldwork, working with vegetation, invertebrates, etc.
  • Data collection and management
  • Data analysis and visualization using a variety of software (e.g., R, Excel)
  • Science communication and public outreach
  • Community science

Issues Involved or Addressed

Fall 2021 Area of Focus: 

Assessing the impact of the 2020 Drought

From middle spring 2020 until late June 2021, nearly 18 months, the Sonoran Desert received almost no rain. This was punctuated by the lack of monsoonal rains in the summer of 2020 (the non-soon). With a productive summer monsoon, the impact of the drought is beginning to become clear. Many desert plants perished in the drought, with some species experiencing extreme mortality.

Monsoon on Horizon.png

Paul Mirocha

Desert Laboratory VIP students will work with Lab researchers to (1) assess and quantify the severity of the 2020 drought on plant mortality and (2) relate this mortality event to the 115+ year data set on Tumamoc Hill. Each student will focus on a species of interest and be in charge of data collection, analysis, and presentation of results while working in a team setting.

Students may be able to obtain course credit (1-3 credits) or a small stipend for their work on this VIP project. Please note your preference on the application. 

Specific areas of focus include:

  • Plant ecology
  • Ecological interactions
  • Functional traits and phenology
  • Climate change 
  • Remote sensing
  • Computer Programming
  • Data Analysis & Statistics
  • Public presentation of results 

Methods and Tech

  • Data visualization
  • Fieldwork 
  • Downloading and organizing data (Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, etc.)
  • Statistical data analysis and interpretation
  • Science communication and outreach

Academic Majors of Interest

Open to all years of study and majors, including:

  • Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • American Indian Studies
  • Plant Sciences
  • Mathematics and/or Statistics & Data Sciences
  • Environmental Science
  • Natural Resources
  • Computer Science and Engineering

Preferred Interests and Preparation

  • Basic understanding of ecology
  • Self-motivated
  • Openness to learning new things and techniques
  • Collaborative and works well in teams
  • Basic computer programming and Microsoft Excel experience
  • Project dependent: Interest in conducting field research
  • Project dependent: Comfort in work outside in desert conditions
  • Preferred: Knowledge of basic statistics

Team Advisors

Charlotte Brown, PhD

Deborah Goldberg, PhD

Students will also be able to interact with other members of the Desert Laboratory VIP:

Judith Bronstein, PhD

Brian Enquist, PhD

Trica Oshant Hawkins

Anna Seiferle-Valencia, PhD

Larry Venable, PhD

Benjamin Wilder, PhD

Application Process

To apply, please complete the form at

  • Application deadline: Monday, August 30 at 11:59 pm MST

Applications have closed for the Fall 2021 semester. Please check back to apply for future semesters.