A unique combination of ecology and culture, the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill is an 860-acre ecological preserve in the heart of Tucson. Its innovative, sustained, long-term environmental studies have made it a US National Historical Landmark. A 2,500-year-old village sits atop Tumamoc Hill and the rich cultural context of four millennia of human society lie at its feet. The Hill's name derives from the Tohono O'odham place name Chemamagi Do’ag—Hill of the Horned Lizard— which signifies the profound cultural importance of this site.
Tumamoc's Desert Laboratory (1903) gave birth to the sciences of plant physiology, ecology, and arid land studies. Its permanent study plots include the world's longest continously monitored vegetation plots, active since 1906. It is also the world's first and oldest restoration ecology project: cattle were excluded from the site in 1907. Today, researchers continue to track these changes as well as delve deeper into the functioning, origin, and future of the Sonoran Desert.
In 2020, the Desert Laboratory completed a science and educations strategic plan, The Future of Life in the Desert, with the support of the Tumamoc Hill Advisory Council and the strategic plan committee. The plan provides an overview and framework for the Lab's role to build on the complementary strengths of culture, science, and community rooted at Tumamoc Hill and the larger Sonoran Desert to become an integrative hub of novel research, education, and outreach about how linked human and natural systems face the future of life in the desert. Grounded in community needs and solution driven, the work of the Desert Laboratory will involve diverse stakeholders to collaboratively meet challenges that affect all life in the desert.
To achieve this vision, the Lab will conduct and facilitate research and outreach through four complementary mechanisms.
1. Increase support for place-based field research that integrates long-term data with novel research questions at Tumamoc Hill, the larger Sonoran Desert, and arid lands generally. This work will be conducted by a community of researchers anchored at the Desert Laboratory with diverse funding bases and home units.
2. Convene transdisciplinary working groups to address priority issues facing the future of life in arid environments. The Desert Laboratory will solicit proposals for new collaborations with diverse stakeholders that will accelerate innovative solutions to the challenges of future life in the desert, while building on the Desert Lab’s core strengths. The University of Arizona through the Desert Laboratory will provide resources and space for concentrated collaboration on specific issues in the form of multiple intensive meetings over a period of six months to two years.
3. Establish the Tumamoc Institute of Science, Culture, and Art. The public prominence of Tumamoc Hill affords the Desert Laboratory a remarkable opportunity to communicate the results of its research, as well as involve the public. The Tumamoc Institute coalesces the Lab’s suite of public programs into a self-sustaining financial model.
4. Offer undergraduate and graduate education courses on the future of life in the desert. Training the next generation of researchers and thinkers is fundamental to the University and the Desert Laboratory. Undergraduate and graduate experiential courses will root students in a sense of place and help develop core competency in resilience thinking and science.
The full strategic plan can be downloaded here: desert_lab_strategic_plan_1july2020.pdf