Comparison of trailside degradation across a gradient of trail use in the Sonoran Desert

Helen Ivy Rowe, Melanie Tluczek, Jennifer Broatch, Dan Gruber, Steve Jones, Debbie Langenfeld, Peggy McNamara, Leona Weinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


As recreational visitation to the Sonoran Desert increases, the concern of scientists, managers and advocates who manage its natural resources deepens. Although many studies have been conducted on trampling of undisturbed vegetation and the effects of trails on adjacent plant and soil communities, little such research has been conducted in the arid southwest. We sampled nine 450-m trail segments with different visitation levels in Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve over three years to understand the effects of visitation on soil erosion, trailside soil crusts and plant communities. Soil crust was reduced by 27–34% near medium and high use trails (an estimated peak rate of 13–70 visitors per hour) compared with control plots, but there was less than 1% reduction near low use trails (peak rate of two to four visitors per hour). We did not detect soil erosion in the center 80% of the trampled area of any of the trails. The number of perennial plant species dropped by less than one plant species on average, but perennial plant cover decreased by 7.5% in trailside plots compared with control plots 6 m off-trail. At the current levels of visitation, the primary management focus should be keeping people on the originally constructed trail tread surface to reduce impact to adjacent soil crusts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)292-302
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Native plant species
  • Nonnatives
  • Recreation
  • Soil crust
  • Sonoran Desert
  • Trail impacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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