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Steven D. Warren

Disturbance Ecologist

735 North 500 East
Provo, UT 84606-1856
Contact Steven D. Warren

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.

Research Interests

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.

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.

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 to present

    - 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 to 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 to 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 to 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

    • Society for Range Management, Member ( 1980 to present )
      Membershp Committee 1986-1989; Remote Sensing / GIS task group 1989-1993, Joined as a student and active thereafter. President North Central Section 1993; Associate Editor Journal of Range Management 2001-2006


    Warren, Steven D., 2020. Biological soil crusts [Chapter 3.4]
    Warren, Steven D.; St. Clair, Larry L.; Leavitt, Steven D., 2019. Aerobiology and passive restoration of biological soil crusts
    Warren, Steven D.; Ruzycki, Thomas S.; Pizzolato, William N., 2019. Application of the unit stream power erosion and deposition model at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida
    Warren, Steven D.; St. Clair, Larry L.; Stark, Lloyd R.; Lewis, Louise A.; Pombubpa, Nuttapon; Kurbessoian, Tania; Stajich, Jason E.; Aanderud, Zachary T., 2019. Reproduction and dispersal of biological soil crust organisms
    Warren, Steven D.; Ruzycki, Thomas S.; Vaughan, Robert; Nissen, Peter E., 2019. Validation of the Unit Stream Power Erosion and Deposition (USPED) Model at Yakima Training Center, Washington
    Warren, Steven D.; Aguilera, Lorgio E.; Baggett, L. Scott; Zuniga, Mauricio, 2017. Floral orientation in Eulychnia acida, an arborescent cactus of the Atacama Desert, and implications for cacti globally
    Buhk, Constanze; Alt, Martin; Steinbauer, Manuel J.; Beierkuhnlein, Carl; Warren, Steven D.; Jentsch, Anke, 2017. Homogenizing and diversifying effects of intensive agricultural land-use on plant species beta diversity in Central Europe - A call to adapt our conservation measures
    Warren, Steven D.; Baggett, L. Scott; Warren, Heather, 2016. Directional floral orientation in Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia)
    Warren, Steven D.; St.Clair, Larry L.; Johansen, Jeffrey R.; Kugrens, Paul; Baggett, Scott; Bird, Benjamin J., 2015. Biological soil crust response to late season prescribed fire in a Great Basin juniper woodland
    Muhlsteinova, Radka; Johansen, Jeffrey R.; Pietrasiak, Nicole; Martin, Michael P.; Osorio-Santos, Karina; Warren, Steven D., 2014. Polyphasic characterization of Trichocoleus desertorum sp. nov. (Pseudanabaenales, Cyanobacteria) from desert soils and phylogenetic placement of the genus Trichocoleus
    Warren, Steven D.; Alt, Martin; Olson, Keith D.; Irl, Severin D. H.; Steinbauer, Manuel J.; Jentsch, Anke, 2014. The relationship between the spectral diversity of satellite imagery, habitat heterogeneity, and plant species richness
     Northeastern California Plateaus Bioregion Science Synthesis Document Cover
    The new publication, 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.
    An example of riparian areas assessed by this project. This photograph shows Bear Valley Creek on the Salmon-Challis National Forest with a shallow gradient and wide valley bottom meandering through depositional material. Photo by D.M. Smith, USFS.
    Riparian zones – boundaries between land and rivers or streams – are often overlooked, but are critical for the healthy function of watersheds and ecosystems. The Rocky Mountain Research Station has worked with the USDA Forest Service Intermountain Region to develop targeted maps and assessments of riparian zones in several National Forests that will inform future management and planning efforts. 
    Desert cactus
    By definition, deserts are dry, and organisms living there must evolve strategies to cope with the aridity. The Atacama Desert of northern Chile is the driest place on earth, receiving as little as 2 millimeters  (0.08 inches) of annual rainfall, depending on latitude and elevation. During a recent visit, observations were made of several cactus species that successfully occupy the coastal region. We observed that cacti of the genus Eulychnia orient their reproductive structures ubiquitously on the north. With a Chilean colleague from the Universidad de La Serena, Dr.
    The researchers are completing a series of riparian and groundwater-dependent ecosystem assessments for National Forests in the USFS Intermountain Region. Each assessment summarizes drivers, stressors, and current condition of these systems in relation to the natural range of variation within each forest. The reports directly inform the assessment phase of forest plan revision and continue to be produced on a schedule in line with the Region’s forest planning process.
    The Lassen and Modoc National Forests intend to update their Forest Plans, guided by the 2012 Planning Rule. This requires public and tribal input throughout the process and embraces the fact that ecological, social, and economic objectives are interrelated. Because ecological, social, and economic conditions have changed since the original forest plans were written and new science is available, preparing a science synthesis, guided by input from the public, tribes, and forest staffs, is the first step in a multi-step process that eventually leads to revised forest plans.
    This project is designed to demonstrate and validate the Unit Stream Power Erosion and Deposition (USPED) model at five geographically and climatically divergent military bases.

    National Strategic Program Areas: 
    Wildland Fire and Fuels; Wildlife and Fish
    RMRS Science Program Areas: 
    Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems