Skip Navigation Links

Contact Information:

photo of Mark Miller
Miller, Mark
Research Ecologist
Biological Resources
Research Station:
Colorado Plateau Research Station (CPRS)
Work Address:
Southwest Biological Sciences Center, c/o Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, 190 E. Center St., Kanab, UT 84741.
Telephone Number:
Email Address:

Biographical Sketch:

Mark Miller received a B.S. in economics from Northern Arizona University (1989), an M.S. in Applied Geography (vegetation ecology) from New Mexico State University (1994), and a Ph.D. in Physical Geography (plant ecology and soil science) from the University of Colorado at Boulder (2000). In the early 1990s, he was a staff research scientist for LGL Alaska Research Associates, Inc., where he investigated effects of oil-development activities on wildlife populations and plant communities of arctic Alaska. Prior to joining USGS and the Southwest Biological Science Center as a research ecologist in 2003, he gained experience in Federal land-management agencies as an ecologist for the Bureau of Land Management (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, 1999-2002) and the National Park Service (Northern Colorado Plateau Inventory and Monitoring Network, 2002-2003). His research interests include plant-soil relations; dynamics of dryland ecosystems in relation to land use, climate, and soil-geomorphic properties; ecosystem assessment and monitoring; restoration ecology; and the science-management interface. As the result of an interagency Memorandum of Understanding, since August 2005 he has been based with the Bureau of Land Management in the office of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Kanab, Utah, to increase opportunities for cooperation, collaboration, and USGS scientific and technical support for the Monument and for Zion National Park.

  • Professional Affiliations:
    • Ecological Society of America
    • Society for Range Management
    • Soil Science Society of America
    • Society for Ecological Restoration
    • American Geophysical Union

Project List

  • Assessment of Upland Ecosystem Conditions, Salt Creek Watershed, Canyonlands National Park (PI). This project assesses landscape-level spatial patterns in the condition of upland ecosystems by measuring indicators of soil stability, hydrologic function, and biotic integrity in the Salt Creek watershed and surrounding portions of Canyonlands National Park. Sampling is stratified on the basis of soils and geomorphic setting because of their importance for shaping ecosystem responses to land use and climate. The project identifies management needs pertaining to watershed restoration, long-term monitoring, and other actions that may be required for resource conservation. Data from this project and several others (projects 2-5 and 7, below, as well as past work conducted by the scientist as a BLM ecologist) also contribute to a broad-scale, interdisciplinary research effort that investigates how abiotic and biotic factors interactively control the resistance and resilience of dryland ecosystems to natural and human-caused disturbances on the Colorado Plateau.
  • Assessment of Rangeland Ecosystem Conditions, Indian Creek Allotment, San Juan County, UT (PI). This project assesses landscape-level spatial patterns in the condition of rangeland (upland) ecosystems by measuring indicators of soil stability, hydrologic function, and biotic integrity in a 85,000-ha grazing allotment managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adjacent to Canyonlands National Park. The allotment is grazed by domestic livestock, and is associated with a ranch property owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The project is linked with the Salt Creek Watershed Assessment Project (above). The coordinated assessment of rangeland ecosystems on formerly- or never-grazed NPS lands and currently-grazed BLM lands takes unique advantage of an existing land-use gradient, thereby allowing a thorough examination of land-use effects on ecosystem condition. Knowledge gained from this project is integrated with results of other interdisciplinary projects (projects 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7; as well as past work conducted by the scientist as a BLM ecologist) to determine biotic and abiotic factors affecting the resistance and resilience of dryland ecosystems to climate variability and land use across the Colorado Plateau.
  • Effects of Rangeland Restoration Treatments on Wind- and Water-Driven Erosion, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT (PI). Restoration of degraded sagebrush ecosystems is a top priority of the Bureau of Land Management and other resource-management agencies across the Intermountain West. This project examines long-term effects of vegetation treatments (two-way chaining, harrowing, and control) on wind-driven soil erosion (measured with dust traps) and water-driven soil erosion (measured with silt fences) in sagebrush ecosystems on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is one element of a new and unique USGS-BLM partnership to increase USGS participation and science application in the Monument's adaptive-management program, and results will inform managers' decisions concerning the design of future restoration activities. This work also contributes to a new USGS research initiative focusing on the sagebrush biome, a regional-scale effort to understand causes and ecological consequences of dust emissions from western landscapes (in partnership with the USGS Geologic Discipline and project 5 below), and other of the scientist's projects that investigate factors affecting the resistance, resilience, and sustainability of dryland ecosystems.
  • Development of Monitoring Protocols for Colorado Plateau National Park Service Units (co-PI). This multidisciplinary project is conducted in partnership with the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program. It assists NPS with the identification of ecological indicators and the development of protocols for long-term monitoring in Colorado Plateau NPS units. Specific objectives are to develop conceptual models to facilitate the selection of ecosystem-level indicators, develop or acquire monitoring protocols for indicators, test protocols as needed through pilot implementation studies, conduct research to verify linkages between monitoring indicators and ecological processes and attributes, conduct research to evaluate indicator variability and responsiveness to management, and conduct research to assist in the determination of management thresholds for indicators. Though focused on NPS needs, this work is applicable to needs of other resource managers on the Colorado Plateau and surrounding ecoregions.
  • Interactions Among Geology, Biogeochemistry, and Ecology - Past, Current and Future (co-PI for ecological studies). This interdisciplinary project ( is associated with the USGS Earth Surface Dynamics Program and investigates the effects of geology and geomorphology on the structure and functioning of dryland ecosystems, including the role of soil-geomorphic properties in controlling ecosystem resistance to exotic species (cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum) invasion and ecosystem resilience to land-use practices such as livestock grazing. Research includes field and laboratory studies investigating interactive effects of land use and climate variability on erosional processes and vegetation dynamics (including an examination of ecological aspects of dust deposition and emission), and effects of soil-geomorphic properties on the spatial distribution of cheatgrass-invaded grasslands and sagebrush shrublands of southeastern Utah. Field studies are integrated with remote-sensing studies to develop predictive models of spatiotemporal cheatgrass dynamics in relation to climate, land use, and soil-geomorphic settings. Team members include geologists, geomorphologists, remote-sensing specialists, and ecologists from USGS.
  • Effects of Invasive Exotic Plants on Habitat Conditions and Performance of the Federally Endangered Astragalus ampullarioides (Shivwits Milk-Vetch), Zion National Park (PI.) This interdisciplinary project provides the National Park Service (Zion National Park), BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Shivwits Band of the Paiute Indian Tribe with scientific information to support conservation management of the federally endangered Astragalus ampullarioides (Shivwits milkvetch) - a geologically restricted (geo-edaphic) species with six known population locations in southwestern Utah. Research components include in-depth habitat-characterization studies (describing the distribution and abundance of A. ampullarioides and invasive exotic plants in relation to geology, geomorphic setting, physical, chemical, and biological soil properties; and plant community composition); field and greenhouse experiments evaluating effects of exotic species on soil biological properties and on seedling recruitment, reproductive output, and mycorrhizal colonization of A. ampullarioides; and spatial predictive modeling of potential habitat to aid future survey efforts and the identification of potential locations for introductions of new populations. This work directly supports several high-priority conservation tasks identified in the species' recovery plan, and it will make significant contributions to scientific knowledge concerning edaphic endemic plants, dryland soil ecology, and the ecology of invasive exotic plants.
  • Ecological Thresholds as a Basis for Defining Management Triggers for National Park Service Vital Signs - A Case Study for Dryland Ecosystems (co-PI). This project examines the feasibility of using existing data, ecological principles, and a variety of analytical approaches to apply the concept of ecological thresholds as a basis for establishing preventive management triggers associated with National Park Service vital signs. The project uses a case-study approach, focusing on dryland ecosystems because of their spatial extent in National Park Service units and surrounding landscapes and because of their inherent susceptibility to threshold-type dynamics in response to human land-use activities and climate. This effort will develop a conceptual framework for characterizing ecological thresholds in dryland ecosystems, and will identify and analyze pertinent existing data sets to determine whether preventive management triggers can be established on the basis of threshold concepts and detected affordably with vital signs monitoring. Results will enhance the design, effectiveness, and management-relevance of vital sign monitoring efforts and will enhance National Park Service capacity for protecting Park resources. The approach developed in this case study will be applicable to dryland ecosystems managed by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, the USDA Forest Service, and others.

Publications, Maps, and other Products

    No Products listed for this employee