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Scientists Say Joshua Trees Could Be Depleted by 2070 Due to Climate Change

A new study reveals that carbon emissions and wildfires are major threats to the entire population of these trees in California.

Associate Digital Food Editor
Joshua Trees, California
Photography by: Science Photo Library/Getty

Here's another reason to take control of climate change before it's too late. A new study from scientists at the University of California, Riverside revealed that the population of Joshua trees at the California national park could be extinct between 2070 and 2100 if carbon emission production continues to rise. Researchers studied nearly 4,000 trees to determine where and how the oldest Joshua trees survive during extreme heat and droughts. Even if carbon emissions are cut drastically, it's likely that only 14 to 19 percent of the park's Joshua tree habitat could survive through the century. If carbon emissions remain steady and summer temperatures rise by even nine degrees, the study warns that all but 0.02 percent of the population would be depleted.

 

Researchers' findings "[underscore] the need to protect areas predicted to support refugia from multiple management threats. Rather than an ominous prediction of extinction, climate refugia provide land stewards with targets for focusing protective management, giving desert biodiversity places to weather the future," according to the article published in the journal Ecosphere.

 

Related: Scientists Say Coral Reefs Are Moving Away from Tropical Waters Due to Climate Change

 

California wildfires are an added threat to the trees' population. According to The Sacramento Bee, California blazes have "grown worse because of industrial exhaust and vehicle smog, which leaves nitrogen on the ground, spurring the growth of invasive grasses that can fuel a fire." Joshua trees, which have twisty and spiky branches, are a rare and fascinating breed that are the park's namesake. The trees date back nearly two and a half million years. Native American settlers recognized Joshua trees for their tough leaves, which could be weaved into artisanal accessories, and enjoyed eating the trees' healthy seeds. Today, they're a crucial part of the California ecosystem and provide a habitat for birds, mammals, and insects.

 

In January 2019, the 35-day federal government shutdown caused severe damage at national parks, as a limited number of farmers and park rangers were on duty to control crowds and vandalism. At the time, former Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent Curt Sauer said the environmental effects of the shutdown may not be remedied for 200-300 years.