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California Wildflowers Suffering From California Drought

Jun 23, 2015

Crippling drought in California has reduced the number of native wildflowers in the state's grassland, potentially foreshadowing how climate change may affect plant life worldwide in the coming decades, according to new research in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

The impact of wildflower loss may be minimal at first, but researchers say effects could spread up the food chain, eliminating a key food source of insects and pollinators and subsequently hurting small animals. As the habitat changes, it will become more vulnerable to incursions from invasive species.

Read More: The Weird Effect Climate Change Will Have On Plant Growth

The researchers evaluated nearly 15 years of data on California plant diversity for the study. Although plant diversity may change over time for a number of reasons, scientists were able to rule out a number of other factors as the cause of decline in this case, including problems related to grazing, fires and the prevalence of invasive grasses.

"Fifteen years of warmer and drier winters are creating a direct loss of native wildflowers in some of California's grasslands," said lead author Susan Harrison, a professor at the University of California Davis, in a press release. "Such diversity losses may foreshadow larger-scale extinctions, especially in regions that are becoming increasingly dry."

Indeed, California is not the only place to show the first signs of plant species loss. Species diversity on European mountaintops has declined in recent years as the climate dries, according to the study. And, if climate change continue on the same trajectory, the study suggests we should expect the same elsewhere soon.

See How California Is Using Its Diminishing Water Resources

The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades are seen in Sylmar
The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades, which bring water 223 miles from the Owens River in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, and 137 miles from the Haiwee Reservoir, are a major source of water for Los Angeles. Seen here in Sylmar, Calif. on May 4, 2015.Lucy Nicholson—Reuters
The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades are seen in Sylmar
The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades are seen in Sylmar
A creek is seen in Northridge
A tractor ploughs a field next to a canal in Los Banos
A worker walks through farm fields in Los Banos
A canal runs through farm fields in Los Banos
"In the Central Valley, where most agricultural water use occurs, the failure to manage groundwater sustainably limits its availability as a drought reserve. The increase in perennial crops—which need to be watered every year—has made the region even more vulnerable," the Public Policy Institute of California states.
Water pours into a canal in Los Banos
Livestock products, including meat, dairy and eggs, account for more than a quarter of California's agricultural sector, a $12.5 billion industry, according to the USDA. Cattle are among the most water-hungry livestock, consuming an average of106 gallons per pound of beef. Cattle are seen at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, Calif. on May 5, 2015.
A wheat field is seen in Los Banos
A water protest sign is seen in Los Banos
The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades, which bring water 223 miles from the Owens River in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountai
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Lucy Nicholson—Reuters
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