Desert Studies

Exploring the Fragile Ecosystems of California’s Mojave Desert




The CSU Desert Studies Consortium is a collection of seven campuses–Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pomona and San Bernardino–and operates the CSU Desert Studies Center (DSC), located in the Mojave National Preserve in southeastern California. Nearly four decades old, the DSC continues to serve as a premier location and resource for research and education in geology, hydrology, and biology–among many other topic areas–of California’s desert and the American West.

Ideal Research Location

At the DSC, undergraduate and graduate research projects are coupled with multi-million dollar endeavors led by globally recognized scientists. Its location within a 1.5 million acre national preserve allows for a sustainable, isolated and protected research location for long-term projects and studies on fragile ecosystems.

Many Specialties, One Home

The Desert Studies Consortium provides opportunities for CSU students, faculty and staff to engage in unique research projects and develop deep connections between the harsh Mojave Desert environment and the people of California. This includes:

  • Long-term projects are among the many specialties of the DSC. For the last two decades, professors from Cal Poly Pomona have studied the population dynamics of the Desert Holly, a silvery-gray and drought-tolerant shrub native to the area. The DSC is also overseeing the longest-known record of a reptile community in the Mojave Desert, led by DSC Director and Cal State Fullerton Professor Bill Presch.
  • April Newlander, a graduate student from Cal State Fullerton, evaluated the impacts of surface-water diversion on desert plant spatial distributions and water use at the DSC. Her project, funded by a $70,000 grant from the USGS Priority Ecosystems program, engaged at least six other CSU students in her field and laboratory research–establishing the foundation for two additional student research projects. The project resulted in two peer-reviewed publications and ten presentations at national academic society meetings.
  • The desert is a harsh environment for animals and their struggle for survival is the research focus of Dr. Rulon Clark from San Diego State. Funded by a $390,000 National Science Foundation grant, Dr. Clark and his students undertake research at the DSC on predator-prey interactions between small mammals and rattlesnakes. In total, 16 undergraduate students and four graduate students have been involved in the project. Some have also been supported by the DSC-administered Judith A. Presch Desert Research Award.

The successes of these studies, as well as more than 50 others over the past 10 years, rely on the infrastructure provided by the DSC and its cooperative agreement with the Mojave National Preserve.