Excessive ground-water use and saline intrusion to the aquifer led, in less than three decades, to an increase in abandoned agricultural fields at La Costa de Hermosillo, within the Sonoran Desert. Using a chronosequence from years since abandonment, patterns of field succession were developed. Contrary to most desert literature, species replacement was found, both in fields with and without saline intrusion. Seasonal photosynthetic capacity as well as water and nitrogen use efficiencies were different in dominant early and late successional plant species. These ecological findings provided a framework for a general explanation of species dominance and replacement within abandoned agricultural fields in the Sonoran Desert. ?? 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.