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landscape photo of a joshua tree in front of a rock and bright blue sky
What happens to the ecosystem when two deserts collide?

Desert Biogeography of Joshua Tree National Park

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The course will cover the features which make Joshua Tree National Park unique including the fact that it is at the confluence of two deserts. We will also look at the park in the context of comparative desert biography, including prominent deserts on every continent. 

Some of the specific issues to be covered include: What is a desert? What is the importance of desert ecosystems? What is their prevalence? What is the geological history of the area? What is the human history of the area? What are some of the key organisms in the Joshua Tree ecosystems? How is Joshua Tree being impacted by climate change? by land development? by species invasion? What is the role of ecotourism in the future of Joshua Tree?  And so on. 

We will spend part of the time at Stanford and part in Joshua Tree.  Every day in the park will involve didactic presentations by local experts and by the course director, students presentations, and field trips. There will also be a small research component conducted under the auspices of the park's scientific research director.

COVID Caveats

If COVID permissions do not enable travel, the course will continue to be offered, but on campus, and expanding beyond Joshua Tree to take advantage of the local Bay Area ecosystem, focusing on citizen scientist observation through photography.

Meet the Instructor

Robert Siegel

Professor (Teaching) of Microbiology and Immunology

Robert Siegel

Robert Siegel M.D., Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the Program in Human Biology, the Center for African Studies, and the Woods Institute for the Environment. He teaches classes on virology, Darwin, international health, photography, natural history, and Stanford, and he has won numerous teaching and advising awards including the Gores Award and the ASSU Teaching Award. He was a Stanford undergraduate (B.A. in Psychology) and earned two of his four graduate degrees at Stanford (M.A. in Education and M.D.).  He has been a frequent contributor to the news media and other public education projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic.