Citizen Scientists documented this red-spotted toad on the reptile and amphibian survey.

Volunteering for the Field Institute has its benefits, including great hiking!

Our Research

Field Institute research projects, in partnership with subject-matter experts and Field Institute citizen scientists, investigate the flora, fauna, geology, and human history of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Flora and Fauna studies

In 2011 - 2013, we worked with scientific partners to develop an inventory of the flora and fauna of the Preserve. This provides a baseline for future monitoring and study to assess the health of the Preserve ecosystem. Our partners in flora and fauna research were Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona State University, Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research, Maricopa Audubon Society, Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, North American Field Herpetology Association, and Center for Native and Urban Wildlife at Scottsdale Community College.

You can access our flora data on the Southwest Environmental Information Network website. For other flora and fauna data, contact Field Institute manager, Melanie Tluczek, at

Moving forward, we will conduct studies to monitor the movement and habitat use of mule deer, monitor the diversity of ground-dwelling arthropods (spiders, scorpians, etc.), and continue monitoring butterfly and bird divesity on the Preserve as indicators of ecosystem health. 

Human Impact Studies

The Trail Impact Study is designed to measure human impact on trails and the adjacent vegetation. 


In partnership with the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS), we are developing a baseline map of the entire Preserve and surrounding area. In addition, we completed a project to investigate milky quartz outcrops and veins found throughout the Preserve. This will give us clues as to the formation and timing of the surrounding geology.


We have recently completed a survey and search for traces of the Stoneman Military Road, a road that crossed what is now the northern portion of the Preserve near Brown’s ranch. Research touched on military history, early land surveys and the men who conducted them in hostile conditions, early maps and settlement patterns, aerial surveys, and a variety of other sources.

Completed projects include monographs on the DC Cattle Brand, the destruction of the Annie White Homestead, the Royal Air Force plane crash in the Lost Dog Wash drainage during World War II, and a short history of the Lost Dog Wash area.


Ryan Bleam from Arizona State University's School of Human Evolution and Social Change is conducting anthropological research on volunteerism and sense of place, by observing and interacting with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy stewards. This research will help build an understanding of what motivates people to volunteer for the benefit of parks and preserves.