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Steven D. Warren

Disturbance Ecologist
Maintaining Resilient Dryland Ecosystems
735 North 500 East
Provo, UT 84606-1856
United States
Current Research
  1. Discovery and description of the soil cyanobacterial community in the driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile, where annual precipitation averages less than 1 mm (funded by the National Science Foundation).
  2. Measurement and monitoring of plant biodiversity on a U.S. Army training facility in Germany using satellite imagery.
  3. Measurement of the effects of 75+ years if varying grazing strategies on plant diversity at the Desert Experimental Range in western Utah.
Past Research
Much of the U.S. population views deserts as empty, sterile wastelands. My research has shown that, in fact, deserts soils are teeming with life, even in very harsh conditions. This may give us clues into survival strategies under aridification and climate change. Most Americans view disturbance as universally negative. My research has shown that disturbance is often essential to the survival of many organisms, including a large number of threatened and endangered species. Disturbance that is heterogeneously distributed spatially, temporally, and in intensity and kind, promotes maximum biodiversity. This provides a fresh perspective on the repercussions of forest fires, logging, grazing by domestic livestock, off-road vehicle traffic and other 'disurbances' that are often viewed as universally negative.
Research Interest
My research interests include the ecology and management of biological soil crusts, disturbance-dependent species, the role of disturbance in ecosystem functioning and biodiversity, and remote sensing applications to biodiversity.
Why This Research Is Important
Much of the research I have conducted has been as an employee of or contractor to the Department of Defense. Major endeavors include:
  1. Co-developed a new-generation GIS-based 3-dimensional soil erosion and sediment deposition model. Validated the model with globally extant 137Cs radioisotopes remaining from post WWII nuclear testing and fallout.
  2. Conducted research into the ecological roles of biological soil crusts on arid soils, and developed strategies for their restoration.
  3. Developed and tested the 'heterogeneous disturbance hypothesis' to explain enriched biodiversity of both flora and fauna on heterogeneously disturbed landscapes.
  4. Documented the dependence of endangered plants, insects and amphibians on severe landscape disturbance.
  • Brigham Young University, B.S., Botany and Range Science, 1980
  • Brigham Young University, M.S., Wildlife and Range Resources, minor in Entomology, 1982
  • Texas A&M University, Ph.D., Watershed Management, 1985
Professional Experience
  • Research Ecologist (disturbance ecology),  US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Shrub Sciences Laboratory,  2010 - Current
    - Conducted research related to desert ecology and management - Conducted research into the effects of disturbance, both positive and negative, on threatened and endangered species, ecological processes, and ecosystem stability
  • Program Manager: Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems Program,  US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,  2009 - 2010
    Managed a team of scientists in 7 locations devoted to research improving the management of grassland, shrubland and desert ecosystems.
  • Senior Research Ecologist: Associate Director (1998-2007); Director (2007-2009),  Colorado State University, Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands,  1998 - 2009
    - Managed a research and extension program focused on sustainable use of military lands - Part of an 8-person management team that administered a budget of $20-$40M annually, derived entirely from contracts and grants. The team managed over 500 employees ranging from senior research scientists to students and summer field technicians - Developed and tested a ‘heterogeneous disturbance hypothesis’ to explain enriched biodiversity of both flora and fauna on disturbed landscapes - Developed a research program in the area of reclamation, rehabilitation and sustainable management of disturbed lands - Conducted research into the ecological roles of biological soil crusts and methods for their restoration on desert soils - Conducted research into the diversity of cyanobacterial species in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile - Co-developed a new-generation GIS-based 3-dimensional soil erosion and deposition model. Validated the model utilizing globally extant 137Cs radioisotopes remaining from WWII-era nuclear testing and fallout; applied the model in various settings to develop sustainable land management strategies that minimize the risk of soil erosion - Developed erosion-control master plans for severely disturbed lands - Taught “Principles of Rangeland Management” and “Fundamentals of Ecology” - Mentored graduate students
  • Research Ecologist,  US Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory,  1985 - 1998
    - Developed and conducted a comprehensive science and technology program comprised of basic research, exploratory development, and demonstration projects designed to assist land managers to effectively plan, utilize, manage, and rehabilitate disturbed landscapes - Through cooperative research with several universities, federal agencies, and private industry, developed rationale, protocol and techniques to incorporate biological soil crust organisms into reclamation prescriptions for arid lands - In cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the US Geological Survey, developed the web-based VegSpec decision support system for selecting appropriate plant species for revegetation projects - With the University of Illinois, developed and applied advanced GIS tools for calculating and visualizing the extent and spatial distribution of soil erosion and deposition in complex terrains - Integrated erosion prediction models with satellite imagery, ground-truthed data and GIS to develop an erosion-based land capability classification system - Co-developed a system for scheduling military training exercises based on annual climatic patterns and associated environmental risk - Developed an objective GIS-based system for allocating land condition field inventory sites based on satellite imagery and digital soil surveys - Prepared restoration plans for severely damaged lands. - Co-developed field methods that were subsequently adopted as the Army standard to evaluate the condition and trend of military lands, including soils, flora and fauna - Taught rangeland inventory methods at land management workshops
Professional Organizations
  • Member,  Society for Range Management,  1980 - Current
    Joined as a student and active thereafter. President North Central Section 1993; Associate Editor Journal of Range Management 2001-2006
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Plateaus Science Synthesis: A Scientific Foundation for Future Land Management Planning

Year: 2020
The Northeastern California plateaus bioregion science synthesis (Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-409) has a northeastern California focus on sagebrush rangeland, dry pine forestland, juniper forests, habitat and wildlife, society, and response to disturbances, particularly those related to climate.

Examining the eastern edge of greater sage-grouse habitat

Year: 2010
Efforts to aid greater sage-grouse survival, a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection, will be enhanced by a project coordinated at the Rocky Mountain Research in Rapid City, South Dakota.