No More Joshua Trees? Climate Change in the Desert

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EcoJustice RadioJoshua Trees are an ecological keystone of California deserts. Climate change, however, threatens that Joshua Tree National Park will no longer have Joshua Trees. EcoJustice Radio talks with desert ecologist James Cornett about the future of our deserts in a warming world.
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Joshua Tree National Park, Stephanie Lemus

Photo Credit: Stephanie Lemus

Desert Ecosystems and Joshua Trees in a Warming World

Joshua trees are an icon of the California deserts. However, climate change with hotter, drier summers and more frequent brush fires, threatens that some day soon Joshua Tree National Park will no longer have any Joshua trees.

Our guest, desert ecologist James Cornett, calls the this special tree a keystone species. In fact, many desert animals and plants rely on the tree’s blossoms, roots, inner chambers and decaying husks to fulfill their life cycles: yucca moths, skipper butterflies, termites, ants, desert night lizards, kangaroo rats, woodrats and 20 species of birds, including Scott’s orioles, ladder-backed woodpeckers and great horned owls.

Thus, losing this important species due to climate change would be serious indeed. James shares with us his many decades of studying and writing about desert ecosystems, and what landscape changes we can expect in the future with a heating climate.

Moreover, many other important desert plants and animals face an uncertain future. There exist so many unique symbiotic relationships, from the ocotillo blossoms and migrating hummingbirds to the spiny teddy bear cholla and the innovative woodrat.

Joshua TreeWe discuss these systems and investigate what solutions are needed. Are solar farms in the desert an appropriate renewable energy solution, or do they cause more harm than good, in particular to the endangered desert tortoise? What about the consequences of lithium mining in Death Valley for electric vehicles? Did you know it is not a wise idea to grow your own Joshua Tree from imported seeds?

STORY: Chaparral: California’s Misunderstood Biodiversity Hotspot

James Cornett, is an ecologist and principal biologist at JWC Ecological Consultants. He is one of the West’s most prolific writers with more than forty-four books published as of 2021. Dozens of his scientific papers have focused on iconic desert plants including the desert fan palm, ocotillo, and Joshua tree. Several of his studies have examined impacts of climate change on plant populations. As former Director of Natural Sciences at the Palm Springs Desert Museum, he continues to share his love of natural history through writing, teaching, and lecturing. He is the first professional naturalist to have visited all nine of the world’s great deserts and is writing a book on his travels and research in each. At JWC Ecological Consultants, he conducts studies on threatened and endangered species as part of California’s environmental review process.

Podcast Website: http://ecojusticeradio.org/
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Executive Producer: Jack Eidt
Host/Producer: Jessica Aldridge
Engineer: Blake Lampkin
Show Created by Mark and JP Morris
Music: Javier Kadry
Episode 111
Image: Stephanie Lemus

Updated 29 March 2022

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist and designer, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Partners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt