Two types of microtopographic features ( plant scar mounds and plant scar depressions) on surfaces of barren desert pavements provide a unique record of the former presence of large perennial plants. Evidence of bioturbation by burrowing animals extends more than 1 m beneath each type of plant scar, indicating that both features originated as large bioturbation mounds. Formation of bioturbation mounds in desertscrub environments is generally restricted to areas beneath widely separated, large perennial plants. The contrasting forms of plant scars (mounds vs. depressions) represent time-dependent changes following disappearance of the large plants and eventual cessation of bioturbation. Plant scar mounds represent a geologically recent episode of plant mortality, whereas plant scar depressions represent the disappearance of plants at a considerably earlier time, possibly at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Contrasting spatial distributions of the two kinds of plant scars indicate that vegetation on alluvial fans has progressively contracted from a more diffuse, former vegetation cover, yielding the wide, barren pavement surfaces present today. In less arid portions of the Sonoran Desert, spatial distribution of recent plant mortality due to persistent, severe drought provides an analog of the progressive loss of plants from different parts of the landscape in the past.