Even trudging hikers, grazing animals, and the scrabbling of rodents and birds can disrupt desert pavements, exposing subsurface material to erosion and disrupting fragile ecosystems of fungi and algae.
Therefore, when desert pavements and their biota are wounded by human activity, it will take human action to heal them on a shorter timescale.
Similar jostling of small stones across the surface of the ground can play a part in healing damaged desert pavements.
One testament to the age and stability of some desert pavements is the desert varnish that coats only the upward-facing exposed surfaces of the pebbles.
Although the vegetation that triggered the purported feeding frenzies in the Greenwater Valley's desert pavements was ephemeral, the effects of foraging on the desert pavement have lingered much longer.
Results from these experiments could guide efforts to create new desert pavements at the Fort Irwin sites, he notes.
A comparison of satellite images taken just before and after the conflict show that almost 950 square kilometers of desert pavement were destroyed by such activity, says Farouk El-Baz, a geologist at Boston University.
With today's drier climate in Kuwait and southern Iraq, it would probably take millennia for the wind alone to resculpt a fully mature desert pavement over the regions damaged by this year's conflict in Iraq, says El-Baz.
When the surface of nascent desert pavement becomes rough enough to interfere with airflow, small, windborne particles can drop out of that slow-moving boundary layer and fall between the cracks of the pavement's stone mosaic.
If increasing human activity in these regions damages enough desert pavement, a plague of dust could result.
In California's Greenwater Valley, just east of Death Valley National Park, much of the terrain is covered with a closely packed desert pavement that appears to have been undisturbed for centuries.
In April 1998, after the El Nino climate phenomenon steered above-average rainfall to Greenwater Valley, the normally barren desert pavement became carpeted with short grasses and wildflowers.