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 four years
Oil and Gas Exploration
Oil and gas exploration produces innumerable islands of bare, compacted and depaupered soil.

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 highly resilient, having adapted to deep drought, they are in fact quite vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbances that reduce vegetation cover and disrupt soil structure. Successional dynamics are slow, as perennial species, particularly shrubs, rarely recruit. 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 annual grassland for good. This transformation would destroy habitat for many native animal species, including one of 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 Western deserts.


The US Geological Servey (USGS), The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), the Department of Defence (DOD) and many universities and non-profit organizations have joined forces to develop improved methods for expediting the restoration of aridlands. Our lab, in collaboration with Drs. Lesley DeFalco and Todd Esque (USDA, Henderson, NV) is contributing to this effort by identifying ecotypes and species traits that maximize establishment success across the climate zones of the Mojave Desert. A multiple common garden experiment has been underway to quantify the growth and survivorship of creosotebush, burroweed and desert globemallow ecotypes across climate gradients. The goal is to identify heritable traits most suited to meeting restoration goals within given climate brackets. This project has been funded by USGS and the DOD Legacy Program.

In addition, we are starting a new project with USGS focussed on the restoration of abandoned oil and gas exploration sites on the Colordao Plateau. The focus here is on developing restoration "best practices" that are effective and affordable in dealing with the specific challenges imposed by oil and gas exploration, which include loss of top soil and soil compaction.


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

Nathan Custer presented on his research at the Ecological Society of America Meeting in Portland. The title of his presentation was "Effect of transplant size on early survivorship". The paper was presented in a session on "Multiple Common Garden Experiments for Meeting Restoration Challenges: Difficulties and Potential Pitfalls" organized by Susanne Schwinning and Lesley DeFalco.

Highlighted publications

Schwinning, S., Meckel, H., Reichmann, L.G., Polley, H.W., Fay, P.A. 2017. Accelerated development in Johnsongrass seedlings (Sorghum halepense) suppresses the growth of native grasses through size-asymmetric competition. PLOS ONE 12, 20176042 pdf

Dammeyer, H.C., Schwinning, S., Schwartz, B., Moore, G. 2016. Effects of juniper removal and rainfall variation on tree transpiration in a semi-arid karst: Evidence of complex water storage dynamics. Hydrological Processes 30: 4568-4581. pdf

Other lab news

The lab welcomes two new graduate students:

Kayla Sustaita will examine the effects of adaptive rotational grazing on soil characteristics.

Logan Maxwell will investigate best restoration practices for abandoned oil and gas exploration fields in Utah.

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".

In the media

In August 2016, Susan was interviewed by Salwa Khan for the Wimberley Valley Radio show "Mothering Earth" Listen to the podcast here.

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

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Biology Department
Texas State University

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