Joshua Tree Research Project Seeks Volunteers

At Joshua Tree National Park, UC Riverside conservation biologists are recording impact of climate change on animals and plants

A yucca night lizard at Joshua Tree National Park.Photo credit: Kurt Moses.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Researchers in the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) at the University of California, Riverside are seeking volunteers for a project that aims to study the impact of climate change on plants and animal life in Joshua Tree National Park.  Volunteers are being sought most immediately for Friday, April 17, and Friday, April 24.

The volunteers would help in conducting surveys of plants, birds and reptiles in the park.  Already, the lowest elevations in the park are impacted, with some lizards abandoning these elevations altogether.  Some birds have begun to expand their distribution to higher elevations.

“Ideally, we would like 5-10 volunteers on each of the two Fridays,” said Cameron Barrows, an associate researcher in CCB and the principal investigator of the research project. “Volunteers will be separated by 5-10 meters from each other for the survey being conducted on 27 plots in the park.”

Plant being measured for reproductive success is a seedling Joshua tree.Photo credit: Kurt Moses.

Plant being measured for reproductive success is a seedling Joshua tree.Photo credit: Kurt Moses.

Each plot is about 22 acres in size.  The plots are on a gradient, and range in altitude from 600 meters above mean sea level to about 1600 meters above mean sea level.

“Each species responds differently to climate change,” Barrows explained.  “One question we ask is: Is the species breeding?  At low elevations, for example, we are seeing young juveniles of zebra-tailed lizards, suggesting that at least this species is surviving.”

Last year was the first year of the research project.  Barrows explained that the first two-three years of the project are critical in terms of taking stock and cataloging the vegetation and animal life found in the park today.  As the climate warms in the coming years, it would impact the park’s ecosystem, affecting wildlife in ways not easy to predict.

“Already, Joshua trees are dying in some parts of the park, and by the end of the century they could be down to about ten percent of their current population,” Barrows said.  “We have been looking for seedlings.  And asking where these seedlings occur.  Our observations are matching a computer model we’re using that predicts that lower-elevation Joshua trees will do better in middle and upper elevations.”

The research project, funded in part by the Joshua Tree National Park, could extend anywhere from five years to 20 years depending on what effects of climate change are seen on the park’s plants and animals and whether these effects continue.

“This critically important research is possible only as a collaborative effort with the staff at the park,” Barrows said. “We are dependent, too, on citizen scientists who can contribute to good quality science. Anyone who can walk over moderate terrain for about a mile qualifies! We’ve had volunteers ranging in age from six years – these young scientists are accompanied by an adult – to 70 years, and they’ve come from as far as Maine and Canada. If volunteers can assist us for one or more Fridays this month, we and climate change science in Joshua Tree National Park would benefit tremendously.”

To volunteer, please contact Cameron Barrows.

A desert tortoise seen at Joshua Tree National Park.Photo credit: Kurt Moses.

A desert tortoise seen at Joshua Tree National Park.Photo credit: Kurt Moses.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-6050
Twitter: UCR_Sciencenews

Additional Contacts

Cameron Barrows
Tel: (760) 834-0934

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