Schwinning Lab

Plant Ecology

Yang Tse

Restoration Ecology

Larrea seedlings
Creosotebush (front) and burroweed (back) transplants in a common garden near Joshua Tree National Park
Baby globemallow
The fate of this desert globemallow has been followed for two years

Arid lands have come increasingly under pressure from global changes, including the introduction of invasive species, wildfire, recreational land use and oil and gas exploration. Although deserts may seem like highly resilient ecosystems, they are in fact quite vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbances. That is because perennial species, particularly shrubs, rarely recruit from seed. It could take many decades for a denuded shrubland to recover naturally, far longer than it takes invasive species such as Bromus tectorum to invade and change the ecosystem from a native shrubland to an exotic annual grassland for good. This would destroy the habitat for many native species, including one of only three terrestrial tortoises of North America. Therefore, management interventions to expedite the re-establishment of native desert vegetation after disturbance is a high research priority for the arid West.

A concerted effort is underway, involving the US Geological Servey (USGS), The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS) and many universities and non-profit organizations to develop tools for improving the restoration of aridlands. In collaboration with Dr. Lesley DeFalco (USDA, Las Vegas), graduate student Nathan Custer is contributing to this effort by tracking the growth and survivorship of creosotebush, burroweed and desert globemallow populations collected from across the Mojave Desert in three common-gardens. The goal is to identify the genetic materials most suited to revegetating Mojave Desert shrublands. The project is funded by USGS and the DOD Legacy Program.


Jones, L.C., Schwinning, S., Esque,T.C. 2014. Seedling ecology and restoration of blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosossima) in the Mojave Desert, United States. Restoration Ecology 22: 692-700 pdf




Lab News

Recent student presentations

Beth Crouchet and Nathan Custer presented on their research at the 2015 International Research Conference for Graduate Students at Texas State University, November 17 - 18, 2015:

Site factors influencing tree mortality during drought in Texas. Beth Crouchet, Susan Schwinning, Jennifer Jensen, Benjamin Schwartz.

Determining seed transfer zones for Mojave Desert shrubs. Nathan A. Custer, Susan Schwinning, Lesley A. DeFalco, and Todd C. Esque.

Highlighted publications

Scott Havill's paper on "Fire effects on invasive and native warm-season grass species in a North American grassland at a time of extreme drought" was highlighted in the October 2015 issue of Applied Vegetation Science (link).

Other lab news

The following students received awards and recognitions in the academic year 2015/16:

Beth Crouchet and Nate Custer received the Biology Department's "Certificate of Excellence"

Beth Crouchet was inducted into the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi

Beth Crouchet received the the Graduate College Scholarship - Science & Engineering and the Lamar and Marilynn Johanson Graduate Endowment Award.

Wesley Collins received a Freeman Center Scholarship.

The lab was awarded two federal grants in 2015:

NSF proposal : DEB-1557176: "Collaborative Research: Hydrological tipping points and desertification of semi-arid woodlands".

The DOD Legacy Award HQ0034-16-2-0006: "Characterizing Mojave Desert shrub ecotypes to establish seed transfer zones for military range restoration".

Podcast interview

In September 2013, Susan was interviewed by Alan Knapp on a paper published in Functional Ecology. Listen to the podcast here.

Contact information
Susan Schwinning
601 University Drive
312 Supple Science Bldg
Texas State University
San Marcos, TX 78666, USA
Phone: (512) 245-3753
Fax: (512) 245-8713

Back to:

Biology Department
Texas State University

Friend websites:


Comments on the contents of this site should be directed to Susan Schwinning