Data Jam Test

Desert Data Jam Datasets

Click here to find the EXAMPLE social media dataset. DO NOT choose this dataset for your project.


Choose ONE of the below datasets to use for your Desert Data Jam project.





A population is a group of organisms of the same species in an ecosystem. This dataset allows us to investigate whether the availability of resources affects the population size of ground beetles (Order Coleoptera; Family Carabidae). Order Coleoptera is the largest order of insects. The Family Carabidae is an especially useful group to study because it is a large, widespread beetle family. Previous studies have shown that carabid beetles, also called ground beetles, are excellent indicators of changes in the environment and overall arthropod diversity.


The data below comes from three deserts in North America: the Chihuahuan Desert, the Sonoran Desert, and the Great Basin Desert. Although these deserts are similarly hot and dry, they are home to different plants and animals. By tracking how beetle populations change in these three deserts, we can answer questions about how plant resources affect beetle populations.






Black Ground Beetle. Photo by Jim Moore,

Scientists from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) collect data on the number of ground beetles using pitfall traps at sites across North America. Pitfall traps are small containers that are buried in the ground so the rim is even with the ground surface. Insects and other arthropods fall into the trap. The data presented here show the number of carabid beetles caught in pitfall traps between 2016 and 2018 at three NEON sites: the Jornada Experimental Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico, the Santa Rita Experimental Range near Tucson, Arizona, and the Moab Site near Moab, Utah.


These are the methods used to collect the beetle data at all NEON sites:

  • Scientists placed four pitfall traps in 10 plots (40 traps total).
  • To install traps, scientists placed 16-ounce plastic containers filled with propylene glycol (a colorless, odorless preservative) into holes in the ground. Insects fell into the container.

              Pitfall trap. Source: NEON.

  • Every two weeks during the warm season, NEON scientists collected and identified the organisms in each trap and reset the traps. Beetles were sorted by species and counted.
  • The data shown here report the total number of carabid beetles found in the traps each year from 2016 through 2018.


Scientists at each of the NEON sites also measure plant cover, which can be used to estimate the amount of plant resources in an area, using these methods:

  • Scientists measured plant growth at eight 1-meter squares at each of the 10 plots (80 squares total).
  • Measurements were made during the “greenest” part of the year, after the summer rainy season.
  • In each square, scientists identified the plants and estimated what percent of the ground within the square was covered by plants.





Scientists with the United States Drought Monitor define drought as a moisture deficit bad enough to have social, environmental, or economic effects. Because water is a critical resource for life, drought has multiple effects. For example, social effects of drought can include decreases in human health and increases in conflicts between groups about water use. Environmental effects include damage to fish and wildlife habitat and decreased air quality due to erosion. Economic impacts include crop losses, which lead to increased food prices.


Because of the hazards caused by drought, a team of scientists produces weekly maps giving snapshots of current drought conditions across the United States ( Data from these weekly maps are available from January 2000 to the present. In this study, data from the US Drought Monitor help determine if there are patterns of spring drought from 2010-2019 in six states, each in a different climate region of the United States.






Scientists from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produce weekly U.S. Drought Monitor maps like the one shown here. Maps are based on local reports from more than 350 expert observers and data from five key indicators:


  • Soil moisture (CPC Soil Moisture Model)
  • Streamflows (USGS Weekly Streamflows)
  • Precipitation (Standardized Precipitation Index)
  • Drought Indicator Blends
  • Palmer Drought Severity Index


Based on these data, scientists classify land into six categories, ranging from no drought to exceptional drought. Darker colors on the map represent more extreme drought.


The dataset below uses data from the US Drought Monitor maps and shows the percent of each state that was in moderate to exceptional drought at the start of spring (March 31) in each year from 2010 until 2019. 


The United States is a very large country, so the climate in different regions varies widely. To look for large-scale patterns in drought, this dataset includes data for one state in six of the nine US Climate Regions, as defined by the NOAA National Center for Environmental Information: Northern Rockies (Montana), Southwest (New Mexico), Upper Midwest (Wisconsin), South (Mississippi), Northeast (New York), and Southeast (Florida).





Doña Ana County has some of the worst dust pollution in the state. This is caused by many factors including low precipitation (rain, snow, hail, and sleet), large areas of bare ground, agricultural production, and high winds in some seasons. Increased dust pollution contributes to overall air pollution and can pose health risks, especially to those with heart and lung diseases.         


Researchers in Las Cruces are studying the changes in dust emissions caused by sudden changes to the land like construction and wildfires, and slow changes like climate change. This research will increase our understanding of how people affect dust emissions. The data below come from a study started in 2012 to understand seasonal amounts of dust particles in the air in different areas of the city. Dust collectors were installed at schools in different areas of Las Cruces to determine if the season or school location affects the amount of dust collected.  




         A dust collector stack at the                  Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park.


Asombro Institute for Science Education staff and middle school students collected data from 2012 until the present. These are the methods used to collect data:    


  • Dust collectors were placed at the school sites. The dust collectors were positioned in a holder that allows them to swing to face the wind direction (see photo below).
  • At each site, dust from three dust collectors (at three different heights above ground) was collected once every 70-100 days. The dataset on the next page includes the dust from all three of these collectors combined at each school.
  • Students and researchers used fine brushes and water to remove all soil from the collectors and put it in a sample bottle.
  • Sample bottles were brought to the lab, where the dust/water mixture was removed from the bottles. Organic material (e.g. leaves, insects) was removed.
  • Dust samples were dried in the oven for 48 hours and then weighed.
  • The mass of dust was divided by the number of days since the last collection date to find the average mass of dust collected each day. For instance, if a school collected 4 grams of dust and the last dust collection occurred 80 days ago, the mass of dust per day would be 0.05 g/day (4 grams divided by 80 days).





Decomposition is the breakdown of dead organic material by organisms in the soil, such as fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates. Decomposers play a key role in the cycling of nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen. When decomposers break down dead plants and animals, they release nutrients into the air and soil, making them available for plants again.


Decomposition rates are affected by several factors, including moisture, temperature, composition of the material being decomposed, and the types of decomposers that are present. This study was designed to examine how climate affects the decomposition rate of leaf litter, which includes leaves and other plant material.






Scientists from around the world formed the Long-Term Inter-site Decomposition Experiment Team (LIDET) and conducted this research over a 10-year period across 27 sites in North and Central America. The data shown here are a subset of the larger dataset. These data show decomposition of one plant species across three sites in three different ecosystems. These were the methods used to collect the data:


  • Broad-leaf shrub (Drypetes glauca) leaf litter was collected from Puerto Rico.

                 Mesh litterbag collected in the field.
                  Photo from LIDET project website.

  • 40 mesh litterbags, containing 10 grams of broad-leaf shrub leaf litter each, were placed on the ground at each site.
  • Four litterbags from each site were collected each year, except in Costa Rica where bags were collected every 3-6 months due to higher decomposition rates. This sample of four litterbags was removed from the field and was not placed back at the site after processing.
  • The litter in the collected litterbags was dried and weighed.
  • To determine the mass of the organic leaf litter, the mass of the inorganic materials (such as phosphorous, calcium, and aluminum) must first be isolated. The contents of each litterbag were burned. During this process, all of the organic litter (e.g., leaves) burned off and only inorganic materials (e.g., sand or small rocks) were left in the ash.


After burning, the inorganic materials were weighed, and their mass was subtracted from the mass of all the dried litter that was collected, giving the total amount of organic litter. For example, if the dried litter collected at a site weighed 5 grams, and the inorganic materials remaining after burning weighed 1 gram, then the organic litter remaining in the bag must have been 4 grams. This is 40% of the original 10 grams of litter placed in the bag, so scientists would record the mass remaining as 40%.





New Mexico is one of the most ecologically diverse states in the country, with more than 6,000 animal species living in habitats that range from hot deserts to cold mountaintops. As the human population grows, so does our impact on the environment. Many animal species are threatened by human actions. Wild animals are put at risk when construction or wildfires destroy their habitats, humans pollute the air and water, or introduce new, invasive species. Climate change is also changing the temperature and precipitation patterns in many habitats.


Conservation and wildlife biologists study wildlife species and their habitats to understand how animals live, what they need to survive, and if they are being harmed by human actions. Once we understand how wildlife and their habitats are threatened, conservation scientists create and carry out plans to protect them.






In 2016, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish created the State Wildlife Action Plan, a document that describes wild animal species that are threatened by human activities, the habitats where they live, and what needs to be done to conserve wildlife species in New Mexico. The plan can be found online: action-plan/


The plan was written with input from a team of scientists and other experts from universities, government agencies, and tribes throughout New Mexico. The team evaluated more than 6,000 animal species that live in the state and chose 1,400 for more careful consideration as potential Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Based on scientific criteria and input from a large group of scientists, 235 animals were listed as SGCN, the highest priority for conservation work. The list includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustaceans (like shrimp and crayfish), and mollusks (like snails and clams). The data provided in this document include the 189 vertebrate species.


Wildlife species are listed as SGCN because at least one of the following is true:


  • The species’ population size is declining in New Mexico.
  • The species is vulnerable and likely to decline based on a unique aspect of that species.
  • The species is endemic, meaning that it is not found outside of New Mexico.
  • The species lives in small groups that are separated from each other by unsuitable habitats.
  • The species is a keystone species in its ecosystem; if it became endangered, many other species might also become endangered or its ecosystem would be negatively impacted.


New Mexico can be divided into six ecoregions, which can be seen on the map on the next page. Each ecoregion has different dominant habitat types and wildlife conservation challenges. In each ecoregion, scientists can work with local communities and use the State Wildlife Action Plan to protect the SGCN in that area.