The University of Arizona

Current Research

Ecological Research

The Desert Laboratory

flowersThe Desert Laboratory permits and coordinates research projects in the Tumamoc Ecological Reservation.

Tumamoc's Desert Laboratory (1903) was an early pioneer of physiological ecology and plant ecology. It gave birth to arid land studies. Its permanent study plots include the world's nine oldest (1905). It is the world's first and oldest restoration ecology project (1906).

The Desert Lab continues its active scientific research work, conducting a wide array of field studies on Tumamoc Hill. Investigators on Tumamoc track and model dozens of plant species. Its winter-annuals (wildflower) permanent study plots began in 1982 and are among the world's oldest and most important. The long-term record of the lives of these plants provides a supersensitive biological monitor of climate change.

Another key part of Desert Lab ecological research, of utmost concern, is the increasing encroachment from urbanization, and the inadvertent damage to field plots associated with public access and occasional work along utility easements.

Tumamoc's giant Saguaro cactus plots provide most of the science regarding this Arizona icon. Current work is extending this knowledge and bringing together a century of research into a modern computer-accessible database that will be available for research worldwide.

Other recent ecological research areas based at Tumamoc Hill include:

  • Barrel Cactus/Ant Mutualisms
  • Physiological Ecology and Ecosystem Studies
  • Phenology, Reproductive and Population Ecology in Desert Plants
  • Plant Community Structure and Scaling Studies
  • Mapping of Invasive, Non-native Species
  • Blue Paloverde Riparian Study
  • Desert Tortoise Disease Study

Contact Dr. Larry Venable, Principal Ecologist of The Desert Laboratory, ( for more information on research at Tumamoc Hill.

The Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology

hummingbirdsTumamoc's Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology develops the science and social capital that will a build a future as green as the past. It develops and practices Reconciliation Ecology which means learning how to spread habitat in places where people continue to live and work.

ARE seeks to spread habitat everywhere. It designs novel ecosystems that can co-exist with residences, schools, churches, hospitals and businesses, wherever people live and work. The job of each ecosystem is providing habitat in which designated plant and animal species can maintain sustainable populations. Then ARE works with landscape architects to make the ecosystem into a pleasant habitat for people to enjoy.

ARE works with private organizations such as the Tucson Audubon Society, with the City of Tucson, with neighborhoods and neighborhood institutions to advance the cause of welcoming nature back into our everyday lives.

Many of ARE's projects involve citizen science. In these, citizen-volunteers are trained to perform some of the observations and manipulations of ARE's experimental ecosystems. The citizen scientists work in their own backyards or on the Hill's small amount of disturbed land. The direct ancestor of ARE's citizen-science projects is the Tucson Bird Count, which we believe to be the world's best urban bird census. Results from the TBC help us to understand how we can tailor urban habitats so that they support dozens of bird species that have largely retreated to the natural areas around the city.

Other citizen-science projects include The Tucson Hummingbird Project, in which citizen scientists discovered how to overcome the aggressiveness of Anna's hummingbird in order to increase the number of hummingbird species that can reproduce in local Tucson areas. Most recently, some walkers on the Hill have joined Dr. Gary Nabhan's effort to monitor the flowering activities of the Hill's many plant species.

ARE also emphasizes cooperation with schools (such as Brichta Elementary and Manzo Elementary) in giving young people a better appreciation of their natural world and how it can be spread to their own neighborhoods. During the current school year (2010-11), 27 schools will participate in field trips to Tumamoc Hill.

Contact Ms. Pamela Pelletier, Community Planner of The Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology, (

Archaeological Research

petroglyphsFor the past five decades, archaeologists have been hard at work trying to understand Tumamoc Hill in the context of regional prehistory and history. Every facet of the ecological setting of Tumamoc Hill is intertwined with the cultures and people who used the hill over the millennia. This makes the hill a remarkable setting for anthropological and archaeological research.

Tumamoc Hill is one of the most extensive trincheras sites (pre-Hispanic hilltop settlements with masonry architecture) in southern Arizona. Massive encircling walls and terraces, numerous smaller terraces, more than 150 structures, and an extensive array of petroglyphs are served by an elaborate prehistoric trail system. During both of two occupations in the Cienega phase (500 to 300 B.C.) and again in the Tortolita phase (A.D. 400 to 550), the hilltop location of the Tumamoc village was unique among contemporary settlements.

Although currently the Tumamoc Hill archaeological site presents more questions than answers, the surveys and excavations conducted confirm the site's data potential. So, on April 5th, 2010, after years of study and preparation, the Department of the Interior of the United States entered the 860-acre Tumamoc Hill Archaeological District into the National Register of Historic Places.

Contact Dr. Suzanne or Dr. Paul Fish (,, Principal Archeologists of Tumamoc: People & Habitats, for more information on Tumamoc Hill archaeological work.