You’ve seen the buildings of the Desert Lab and you’ve heard the story about how the Lab came to be. As we mentioned, the questions the early scientist at the Desert Lab were asking helped establish a new discipline of thinking - ecology.

Listen to the Introduction .mp3 file, or visit the Section Highlights for more information.

Audio file

But just what exactly is the science of ecology? As a general definition, ecology is the scientific study of how organisms – like plants, mammals and insects and bacteria –  interact with each other and with their environment. Scientists have demonstrated that all the species in a particular habitat are connected to each other, and ecologists study how they are connected.

There are many examples of ecology that you can see right here on Tumamoc Hill. Think about the saguaro cactus, and how the saguaro functions within the web of life – the ecological relationships – of the Sonoran Desert.

The Saguaro provides food and shelter for many desert creatures, and some of those creatures, in turn, help the saguaro live, grow, and reproduce. The cactus is woven into the ecology of the desert.

Walking on Tumamoc is a great way to experience the lives of saguaros and other desert plants as they change with the seasons.

Before we talk about saguaros, let’s talk about the big picture, the climate here in the Sonoran Desert. Nature moves in cycles, and usually we talk about the four seasons. Yet, the Sonoran Desert year falls into five seasons as part of the annual cycle. fall, winter, spring, the arid fore-summer and summer. That’s right, the desert actually has an extra season, with the extremely dry months of May and June being just as important as the other periods we traditionally think of.

Section Highlights

Each section highlight features a video about that topic.

Ants and Barrel Cactus

An intimate relationship between a giant cactus and a tiny ant hiding in plain sight.


How old is that saguaro? Scientific effort reveals the history of a saguaro’s life.


Don’t be alarmed, they’re not here to hurt you. 


A Tumamoc Mule Deer’s First Year

Matched Photos

Ever wondered what Tucson looked like 100 years ago? Wonder no more and explore the power of repeat photography.

Sonoran Strange

Spoken word poets Logan Phillips and Adam Cooper Terán walk through a series of questions that and make us ponder the complexities that arise when the past and present collide.