Under normal circumstances, it’s easy to assume that desert plants will withstand tough times. These tough organisms evolved to survive periods of prolonged heat and drought, after all. They can resist it. Even if these are not normal times.
(Photo: Getty Images)
A new study analyzing more than 30 years of satellite images captured over southern California finds that plant life in parts of the giant Sonoran Desert has declined by more than a third in recent decades.
Between 1984 and 2017, the vegetation cover of the largest state park in California – Anza-Borrego State Park – fell by 35 percent, the measures suggest. Stijn Hantson, a scientist at the University of California Irvine project, said: “Plants die and nothing replaces them, it seems like an obvious loss to the shrubs.” While the findings are concerning, they are not entirely unforeseen.
A number of studies have documented drought-related vegetation loss in arid regions of the southwestern United States in recent years, most notably in the Sonoran Desert, which straddles California, Arizona and parts of Mexico.
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Arid land ecosystem
Hantson and his co-authors explain in their new article that the mortality events of these vegetations seem to exceed the natural variability of the background mortality rates, because some [arid land plant] species have experienced up to 100 percent mortality, possibly leading to local extinction.
Despite these grim signals, it is still not fully understood how climate change could lead to the death of plants in dryland ecosystems, which cover more than 40% of the Earth’s land surface.
To investigate the context of the Sonoran Desert, researchers looked at Landsat satellite imagery, looking for spectral patterns in the landscape of Anza-Borrego State Park, where sunlight reflected from plant leaves indicates how green an area is.
The results revealed a particularly widespread decrease over the past four decades in perennial vegetation cover in lowland deserts – occupied by creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), various cactus species and mesquite (Prosopis sp.) In some. regions.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Early victims of plants
Comparatively smaller losses were seen in higher elevation regions, which are covered with pine, chaparral and mountain forests, juniper and high desert vegetation, the researchers reveal.
In fgeneral, 87.1 percent of the study area revealed a downward trend, the researchers said, with deaths attributed to a combination of warmer temperatures and lower precipitation under prolonged drought conditions – both associated with the original global warming human. The researchers wrote that the observed trends are consistent with the hypothesis that warming temperatures led to a long-term increase in water limitation.
Findings suggest that plants normally growing in hot, dry places – known for their ability to survive extreme environmental conditions – are now being forced beyond their tolerable limits, their difficult sojourn making them early victims of plants. on the front lines of climate change.
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