• Sunrise at the Cholla Cactus Garden

    Joshua Tree

    National Park California

Environmental Factors

Except for the occasional spectacular wildflower bloom, the desert appears to the casual visitor as an unchanging landscape. In reality it is a dynamic, constantly shifting ecosystem shaped primarily by wind and rain.

Geologic processes are continually at work as well, but are so slow that we only notice their presence in the occasional earthquake. While wildfire and human caused factors such as air pollution and off-road vehicle use can change the landscape very quickly.

The park is a “living laboratory” that helps us understand how environmental factors have shaped this desert ecosystem and how they may be changing it at present. It also shows the sharp contrast between a less-disturbed ecosystem and the completely human-shaped one in the urban areas nearby.

Park staff carefully monitor the effects of changes in air quality, and the effects of nitrogen deposition, wildfires, and invasion by nonnative plant species. Their watchful eyes can alert managers and the public to threats to desert resources in time for useful action.

Did You Know?