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The desert’s abundant life

The desert’s abundant life

By Mary Lane Poe, 
GBI Seed Collection Technician, 

My crew lead Melissa Sanders and I are a two-person Great Basin Institute seed collection team based in Las Vegas. We spent the past two months scouting southern Nevada for our priority species and are now out in the field collecting seeds. These seeds will be used in future restoration projects in burned areas and for desert tortoise habitat restoration.

When I initially came to the desert, I expected it to be hot, dry, and lifeless year-round. I thought there was just one type of ecosystem here: desert. Now that I have (literally) explored every inch of southern Nevada, I know that within this seemingly endless desert there are actually numerous ecosystems and plant communities. Some places have an abundance of life everywhere you look.

Cactus flowers in the spring are my favorite; they are so colorful and vivacious in a landscape that seems like it shouldn’t have any life. They are a constant reminder that anything that wants to survive can with enough effort.













I love working in areas where burros and wild horses roam. I also love spotting the occasional desert tortoise or snake.

I have seen wild horses before, when I lived in Montana, but I never expected to see them in the desert. Where do they get their water!? It is always baffling to me.










Our work collecting the seeds of native desert plants is very important in a changing landscape, where wildfires, commercial development and drought are constantly threatening our ecosystems. Last year, I worked in Yosemite on the Invasive Plant crew and I have seen first-hand how damaging invasive and exotic plant species are to native plant communities. When invasives get out of control they crowd out native plant species that wildlife feed on and create monocultures of plants that wildlife cannot always digest and that are in general a nuisance on the landscape.

I think it’s wild how many species of plants grow in the Mojave. If you had asked me at the beginning of my internship, I would have guessed (looking out at the landscape) that there were about 10-20 species of plants. I am now aware that there is an entire 600-page manual detailing desert species of plants and I am amazed everyday at how different each one is. While there are many similarities between species, there are also incredible differences within these plant communities.

Here’s the author, gathering seeds in the wild. Every plant we have worked with has totally different seeds. Some are so small you almost cannot see them and some are huge. The diversity in the plant communities here is just really interesting.











I have definitely had a great season working for GBI. Our little team of two got a lot of work done in a short amount of time, and I am grateful for having a positive and fun co-worker in Melissa. I am now moving to a position in Rocky Mountain National Park as the Program Coordinator for their Volunteer-in-Parks Program, where I will work with volunteer groups from local communities on ecological restoration projects.

Photos by Mary Lane Poe and Melissa Sanders.



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