In order to focus our conservation efforts on the most vulnerable plant species and associated habitats in the Sonoran Desert, it is critical to understand the conservation status across all plant species. Two FSD board members are currently compiling an inventory of Sonoran Desert plants and have initiated IUCN Red List assessments on selected plant families. The IUCN Red List is the global gold standard for threatened species assessments.


We created our student internship program to train university students to compile plant data and draft Red List assessments on priority plant species. The interns will learn how to use the Species Information System to insure that the most current information on Sonoran Desert plants is represented in the Red List database. This process updates the conservation status of each species and makes the data accessible to the conservation community. Knowing the status of each species allows us to focus our conservation efforts on those species at highest risk of extinction.

Our interns will focus on the Fabaceae, a plant family of huge importance to the health and sustainability of the Sonoran Desert. These plants provide shade for young cacti, protecting them from the searing sun when they are small, and produce edible bean pods, a source of food for many wildlife species. Wildflowers like lupines, bushes like fairy dusters, and trees like mesquites, palo verdes, and ironwoods, are all members of this important plant family.

Littleleaf Greentwig


The IUCN Red List aims to determine the extinction risk to animal, fungi, and plant species. Despite threats such as overgrazing, climate change, and infrastructure development, many of the ~4,000 plant species in the Sonoran desert have not yet been assessed for the Red List. The purpose of my internship with FRIENDS OF THE SONORAN DESERT was to learn how to assess Sonoran Desert plants for the Red List and increase the number of assessed plants in this ecosystem.


I reviewed the scientific literature to develop draft assessments for 13 plant species; four species were “Data Deficient,” seven were “Least Concern” due to their healthy populations and wide distributions, and two were classified as “Near Threatened” (the Littleleaf Greentwig) or “Vulnerable” (Lemmon’s Lupine). Knowing the conservation status of these two small, nondescript, flowering plants is important as both play a role in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.


The data I collected will now be evaluated by experts and then sent on for peer review. Adding  my assessments to data collected by others may help reduce the number of species classified as “Data Deficient.” I identified the most common types of data missing from the literature and made recommendations about filling these research gaps. My internship taught me how to conduct literature reviews and greatly added to my understanding of the Sonoran desert.

Lemmon's Lupine


Wedelia rosei

My internship with the Friends of the Sonoran Desert focused on drafting IUCN Red List assessments for plant species in the Sonoran Desert. Key research topics included in assessments are a species’ geographic range, population information, habitat and ecology, trade and use and threats, as well as conservation actions already affecting the target species. Various online resources and programs were used to find this information. 

I drafted assessments for 35 plant species in the Sonoran Desert, including 10 species within the family Fabaceae. Some of the species I worked on, such as Wedelia rosei ( a member of the sunflower family), could be labeled as Vulnerable or Endangered based on their extremely restricted distributions. Wedelia rosei has only been sighted in a few locations within Central Mexico. Such species are at risk of extinction if any more habitat area is lost. However, many species, such as the foothill deervetch  (Acmispon brachycarpus), were found to be of Least Concern.


My research also helped identify gaps in what we currently know about Sonoran Desert plant species, thus providing a guide for the research of future conservation workers and interns. The most valuable aspect of this internship for me was enhancing my understanding of conservation and the Sonoran Desert ecosystem, as well as improving my research abilities.



Makenzie Meacham is a student at Northern Arizona University pursuing a BS degree in Environmental Science with a biology emphasis. She will work under the supervision of FSD Board Member Helen Rowe.

Jack Buchanan is a student at Northern Arizona University pursuing a BS degree in Environmental Science with a biology emphasis, and a minor in Chemistry. He will work under the supervision of FSD Board Member Helen Rowe.

Friends of the Sonoran Desert

P.O. Box 25592

Tempe, AZ  85285

P.O. Box 25592

Tempe, AZ. 85285

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