Addressing Ecology’s Climate Questions

Four UC Riverside-administered natural reserves are part of a statewide network of climate monitoring stations

UC Natural Reserve System Climate Monitoring Network.

By Kathleen Wong

Climate shapes the life around us. At the poles, thick fur coats and layers of blubber enable animals to withstand bitter cold. In deserts, small and drought-resistant leaves help plants survive extreme aridity.

Climate has strong but less obvious effects on life elsewhere. The reach of marine fog dictates where coast redwoods can survive—but is that changing with global warming? The San Bernardino flying squirrel is no longer found in many of its historic haunts; whether that’s due to development or warmer, drier years remains unknown. If one blue oak in California enjoys a banner acorn production year, the same will be true for just about every blue oak in the state—a phenomenon that seems to involve spring temperatures and precipitation.

Reliable weather data are key to answering these and innumerable other questions about California’s wildlife. Measurements of temperature, humidity, rainfall, and other climate factors help researchers determine where species are found, what strategies they use to survive, and how species are faring in a changing climate.

The University of California Natural Reserve System (NRS) has established a network of climate monitoring stations at 26 protected natural places across California. Because NRS reserves are visited by thousands of research scientists per year, data from the network will complement a tremendous amount of natural science research.

Four of UC Riverside’s six NRS reserves are part of the network:

  • Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center
  • James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve
  • Motte Rimrock Reserve
  • Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center
NRS climate monitoring stations provide highly accurate weather data at reserve sites across the state, including this one at the Motte Rimrock Reserve administered by UC Riverside.Photo credit: Kenneth Halama.

NRS climate monitoring stations provide highly accurate weather data at reserve sites across the state, including this one at the Motte Rimrock Reserve administered by UC Riverside.Photo credit: Kenneth Halama.

The automated stations will provide high quality climate information about some of the best-studied landscapes in the state. The stations are located in habitats as diverse as the landscapes in the 38 reserves of the NRS, including conifer forests, desert, Central Valley grassland, coastal shoreline, and many other ecosystems.

The stations are all constructed from similar, high-precision equipment and use the same set of data collection protocols. Uniformity helps ensure that information collected by every station in the network is comparable and not due to technical differences.

The climate network extends across the majority of California and provides local climate data not available anywhere else. The farthest stations are separated by nearly 650 miles north to south, and 250 miles east to west. Scientists will be able to explore questions about the interplay of ecology and climate on a truly statewide scale and be able to compare interactions both within and between reserve sites over many years. Researchers will be able to make stronger inferences about how climate impacts the abundance and distribution of animals, plants, and their communities. And scientists will gain a new understanding of how climate shapes individual species and ecological communities.

All information gathered by the network is publicly available at the website of the Desert Research Institute. The Institute already hosts weather station information for a number of major science organizations, including the Western Regional Climate Center, one of the nation’s six regional climate centers. The information is gathered nearly in real-time, and can be seen and downloaded by anyone.

Nineteen of the weather stations were funded by the National Science Foundation’s Field Stations and Marine Labs Facility Improvement Program. They join seven similar NRS climate monitoring stations that have already been streaming information to the Desert Research Institute.

The NRS’s climate monitoring network is the result of a collaborative effort between the UC NRS, the Desert Research Institute’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences, and the Western Regional Climate Center of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-6050
Twitter: UCR_Sciencenews

Additional Contacts

Kathleen Wong, UCOP
Tel: (510) 987-0142

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