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Nutrient resorption is the physiological process that acts to conserve plant nutrients by withdrawing them from tissues undergoing senescence and sequestering them for future use. Speculation about this process has suggested that desert shrubs may rely heavily on resorption to conserve specific nutrients that are often in short supply in arid lands. The objectives of this paper are to examine the efficiency of nitrogen and phosphorus resorption in desert shrubs and to comment on the potential interplay between resorption and desertification. Mean resorption efficiencies for nitrogen and phosphorus were 57% and 53%, respectively, in the seven species of desert shrubs for which resorption data were available. Corresponding efficiencies for non-desert woody perennials were 52% and 43%. Desert shrubs also had a higher proportion of resorption efficiencies in the upper extremes of recorded resorption values than did non-desert plants. These data suggest that resorption may be more important to the nutrient economy of desert shrubs than it is to woody perennials inhabiting more mesic environments. A detailed consideration of litter nutrient content in desert shrubs, placed in the context of functional resorption thresholds, provided further support for the hypothesis that resorption of nitrogen and phosphorus in desert shrubs is as efficient, or more efficient, than resorption of these nutrients in non-desert woody perennials. If the considerable transport of surface litter in deserts caused by wind and water erosion afford desert shrubs a reduced probability of recuperating nutrients from abscised litter, then differences in the availability of mineralizable organic litter could account for the disparity in resorption efficiencies between desert shrubs and non-desert woody perennials. The possibility that the regulation of resorption efficiencies in desert shrubs may be quite complex was supported by the high degree of intersite and interyear variation in resorption efficiency exhibited by Fouquieria splendens. Conclusions from previously published analyses suggesting that nitrogen in the litter of desert plants is substantially higher than in non-desert plants were not supported by the data assembled here on desert shrubs. Speculation on the potential interplay between resorption and desertification resulted in the conclusion that potential effects are reciprocal. Although high resorption efficiencies in the dominant plants of an area undergoing desertification could act to delay specific community-level effects of such a perturbation, environmental changes that often accompany the desertification process could also act to reduce resorption efficiencies.