Sevilleta LTER

Cold desert biome, Sevilleta LTER, New Mexico.

Key Research Findings:

SEV scientists discovered a relationship between atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the carbon isotope content of soil carbonates, a key proxy for estimating past atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The work showed that greenhouse climates in the geologic past had CO2 concentrations similar to those predicted to occur in A.D. 2100.
SEV scientists determined that regional carbon storage is likely to decrease in all biomes under predicted climate change scenarios because the fraction of plant carbon uptake released as respiration increases with rising temperature and drying soil. This has important implications for modeling feedbacks between ecosystem carbon storage and atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
Long-term observations and experiments by SEV scientists revealed an important link between human hanta-virus outbreaks and the population dynamics of small mammals in the southwestern U.S. as affected by changes in climate systems such as El Nino. The discipline of the ecology of infectious diseases that this research helped to establish is now a recognized area of ecological research.


The Sevilleta LTER Project is located about 80 kilometers south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in and around the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The Refuge, which is managed by the US Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and its surroundings, are positioned at the intersection of several major biotic zones: Chihuahuan Desert grassland and shrubland to the south, Great Plains grassland to the north, PiƱon-Juniper woodland in the upper elevations of the neighboring mountains, Colorado Plateau shrub-steppe to the west, and riparian vegetation along the middle Rio Grande Valley.

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The Sevilleta LTER was initiated as the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, a former Spanish land grant now administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The research area encompasses approximately 3,600 square kilometers and ranges from Rio Grande riparian forests (bosque) and Chihuahuan Desert up to subalpine forests and meadows. Because the Sevilleta LTER is a transition zone for a number of biomes, the area cannot be easily or conveniently characterized. This convergence of biomes, however, has created an important research area for geology, hydrology, archeology, atmospheric science, biology, and ecology for many decades.

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Research Topics:

Population dynamics in a biome transition zone; climate change and disturbance effects on ecosystem processes; biospheric/atmospheric interactions; biotic and abiotic controls on landscape heterogeneity

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