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Thirteenth Annual Jornada Symposium set for July 10

On July 10, just as people are recovering from all the Fourth of July fanfare, scientists from around the world will gather for a meeting of the minds at New Mexico State University.

The Jornada Experimental Range is the site where field research is being conducted to determine the key processes and environmental factors leading to desertification. (Courtesy photo)

The 13th Annual Jornada Symposium will feature 16 invited talks on various research projects in the Chihuahuan Desert region from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Jornada Experimental Range Building (Wooten Hall), 2995 Knox St. Presentations will be followed by a social and barbecue dinner at 5:30 p.m. at the Jornada Experimental Range, about 30 miles northeast of Las Cruces.

The Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program is part of the national LTER, a program with more than 1,100 scientists and students who study ecological processes over long periods of time.

The 24 sites in the LTER network represent diverse ecosystems such as hot deserts, wet grasslands, temperate and tropical forests, alpine tundra, lakes, rivers and coastlines, said Debra Peters, a plant ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Jornada Experimental Range and adjunct professor at NMSU.

"In southern New Mexico, much of this area was dominated by perennial grasslands, and now it has been converted to shrub-dominated systems due to woody plant encroachment," Peters said.

The conversion from grass to shrubs -- making the ecosystem more arid and dry -- is called desertification and is a key focus of field research for the Jornada LTER.

"We are studying how processes such as animals, water and wind move across the landscape and how that affects the vegetation structure," she said.

Peters said shrubs have dominated the area for the past 50 to 100 years.

"Ranching systems used to be a lot more expansive because we had a lot more grasses," she said. But "the shrub-dominated system has changed how we deal with the land. We would like to think that we could do something to actually increase perennial grasses in some areas."

Field research at the Jornada LTER is conducted within NMSU's Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center and the adjacent lands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Jornada Experimental Range, which make up about 256,000 acres of land. These lands, which form the Jornada del Muerto Basin in southern New Mexico, are at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert.

The Jornada Basin research, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a collaborative project among NMSU, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service Jornada Experimental Range, Duke University, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Leicester and Kings College in the United Kingdom, the University of New Mexico and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park.

Registration for the symposium is $10, which includes the dinner. Additional guests are $5 per person for the dinner. The deadline to register is July 7.

To register, go to the Jornada Experimental Range Web site at http://usda-ars.nmsu.edu/JER/symposium.htm.