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Drought speeds decline of beloved California desert species

drought, Joshua tree

Photo: Allen J. Schaben, AP

In the California desert, Joshua tree seedlings are shriveling up and dying before they get the chance to put down strong roots, and ecologist Cameron Barrows wants the details.The University of California, Riverside scientist knows that hot weather and lack of rainwater hurt the iconic species, reports the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1eWmPk6 ). But Barrows plans to monitor Joshua trees' responses to climate change and drought, which will provide baseline information to help guide conservation decisions.

With funding from federal wildlife officials, Barrows is trying to find ways to assess the effects of climate change on the plants and the animals they shelter, including yucca moths, skipper butterflies, termites, ants, desert night lizards, kangaroo rats and 20 species of birds.

"Beyond its importance as a critical refuge for desert species, the Joshua tree is a cultural signature of California's desert landscape," UC Berkeley biology post-doctoral fellow Rebecca R. Hernandez said. The species, which only grows in the Mojave desert, has become a mainstay for movies, fashion shoots, advertising campaigns and wedding ceremonies. Scientists predict that the trees will lose 90 percent of their current range in the 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park by the end of the century if the warmer, drier conditions continue.

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Date: 
Monday, June 8, 2015