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Fri Mar 20, 2020, 09:42 AM

Mojave Desert Temps Up 3.6F, 1/3 Of 135 Known Native Bird Species Shrinking In Range, Numbers

In the early 20th century, pioneering naturalist Joseph Grinnell and his team studied the flora and fauna of California, conducting meticulous surveys across large swaths of the state, including the Mojave Desert. They collected 100,000 specimens and took 74,000 pages of field notes, creating an invaluable baseline against which to measure long-term change.

Several years ago, a research team from the Grinnell Resurvey Project at the University of California, Berkeley set out to find how desert birds had fared over the last century. The changes were profound. In a study published last fall, the team found that on average temperatures in the desert had increased 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, making one of the world’s hottest places even hotter.

They also found that nearly a third of the 135 bird species present a century ago are far less common today and not nearly as widespread. The “heat stress associated with climate change” is the culprit, the study concluded, because desert birds need more water to keep cool, but it is not available. “We often think that climate change may cause a mass mortality event in the future, but this study tells us that the change in climate that has already occurred is too hot and in certain areas, animals can’t tolerate the warming and drying that has already occurred,” said Eric Riddell, a physiological ecologist and the lead author.


Extreme temperatures — as opposed to warmer average temperatures — are the catalyst for a growing number of local extinctions, experts say. A recent study looked at 538 plant and animal species at 581 sites around the world that had been previously surveyed. The goal was to understand what aspect of climate change was the most serious threat to biodiversity. Researchers found that 44 percent of the species at the sites had gone locally extinct, and that the culprit was an increase in the temperature of the hottest days of the year.



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