Many high alpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada are undergoing conversion to lodgepole pine woodland and forest. These pines are grand and beautiful in many ways, but its the meadows that are risking extinction since they have little ability to equilibrate with the pines given reduced wildfires. These vast meadows that are critical habitat for wildlife and wildflowers alike are losing out to marching pines that seem to particularly invade (and become established) on excessively dry years (see John Helms’ 1987 Madrono article). Notably, as with many climate mediated change, the changes aren’t necessarily gradual. They occur at distinct moment (punctuated equilibrium), when a system will transition suddenly from one state to another: e.g. wet meadow with running water becoming mesic pine stand. A ticking timebomb if you will. Once the conditions are right, and all the seeds are in place, the pines get through a critical 3-year growth cycle and become established even if conditions return to a wetter cycle.
One notable implication occurs at the pollinator level. Bumblebees, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators typically have fewer flowers available in a closed canopy pine forest vs. an alpine wildflower meadow. Where will Pooh get his honey when the pines come marching in? I’m not sure, but I know that big meadows certainly are important for pollinator services. Basically, we could start to see quick losses in pollinator habitat at high elevation if meadows are congested with pines.
The European continent is painted with thousands of centuries of industrialized, high density civilization. As compared with our North American continent which was gardened and nurtured by first nation peoples, Europe feels more conquered. The brazen castles guarding the hills of Catalonia for instance communicate a feeling of a land that has been well-surveyed through the ages. Few acres sit quietly untrodden.
Drought is kind of a dirty word. It’s a dry, dusty, parched, scary, dirty word for most Californians. I feel for the farmers and ranchers and fish as we survive through epic drought conditions.
Black oaks (Quercus kelloggii) was slower to leaf out in the drier year.
Although the important discussions press onward about impacts of drought on people (which I think is an extremely important discussion), I’m taking a second to think about it from a wildflower perspective. Yes, drought means limited water, but what’s that decrease mean for one of California’s oldest residents – the flora. Continue reading →
I hope everyone reading this takes a moment to enjoy some plants native to their home, because it’s California Native Plant Week! Yes, be aware of lots of geeks (like myself) walking around your favorite park and staring at a single plant (usually its very small) with a small hand lens and a thick dictionary-like book nearby.
These are the plants that define place to me. The tall trees, or short grasses, or mucky wallows or vast seas of chaparral. All these places are unique because of the evolutionary and ecological processes that have culminated in the vegetation you see. I’m in love with our hills, or rivers, mountains and drylands all. These landscapes are ALL filled with amazing stories of survival, adaptation, and luck…
Cirsium fontinale v. fontinale – the rare Mount Hamilton thistle