Climate change is one of the most difficult challenges land managers face in meeting their charge of sustaining biodiversity. From a modern human perspective we may be dealing with changes that are unprecedented; inherent in that uncharted future is the uncertainty of what will happen and how to prepare for it. Joshua Tree National Park and UC Riverside’s Center for Conservation Biology have begun a partnership aimed at reducing the unknowns and providing directions that we anticipate will guide management. The results of this project will feed directly into the Park’s resource management program, allowing them to both anticipate and measure changes in resources, and focus on reducing associated threats (invasive species, wildfire) to ensure the Park’s biodiversity has the best opportunity to persist in the face of climate change. This approach should also be seen both as a template for assessing climate change effects elsewhere in the desert region and as a resource for other desert land managers to assess management needs.
Joshua Tree National Park is noted for its rich biodiversity, a richness that is due in large degree to its position at the transition between the Colorado and Mojave Deserts and between those deserts and the more coastal and higher elevation San Bernardino Mountains. Our goal is to establish a series of monitoring stations along those transitions to measure whether climate shifts are changing the distribution of the Park’s flora and fauna. At each station we will be measuring many aspects of the Parks’ amazing biodiversity, including plants, insects, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Overtime (years up to decades) as we revisit the same plots we should then detect changes in species composition, and be able to identify whether those changes were due to climate shifts, shifts in wildfire frequency, increased weedy invasive species, or some combination of those factors. This is an ideal opportunity for the public to participate in a critically important endeavor, and at the same time learning from local scientists how to conduct field research and identify animals and plants from throughout the Park.