Visitors to Joshua Tree National Park should be sure to take lots of photos of its namesake tree, because that plant's future is looking very uncertain. Young trees are rarely seen in the park, and older, more established trees are dropping dead in the desert, scientists and researchers are observing, and it's all because of the awful statewide drought and higher temperatures throughout the year, says the Desert Sun. It's not all doom and gloom, though: Joshuas at higher elevations are staying alive and well much more successfully than those at lower elevations, researchers have found, so now they're studying how much of the park's population might be saved through this natural response, and how many will be lost. One plant ecologist, working at the time for the USGS, helped publish a study of Joshua trees' overall habitat in 2011 that predicted that the trees would eventually be eliminated altogether from the southern-most regions they currently inhabit and that the overall population would decrease by roughly a third in the next 60 years. That's not so bad compared to the findings of scientists whose work has focused solely on the trees in Joshua Tree National Park. Some of them have predicted that, in a worst case scenario, the park could lose up to 90 percent of its Joshuas by 2100. Regardless of whether the temperature fluctuates five degrees or one degree over the next century, "the national park will likely lose most of its namesake trees," those same scientists say.
The combined effects of drought and heat on the Joshuas will obviously also affect other plant and animal life in the park. Experts say that the decrease in overall vegetation would also cause increases in the amount of dust kicked up into the air (decreasing air quality that's less than great to begin with), which would likely have an enormous effect on nearby humans and perhaps even affect public access to the park because who wants to camp in a dust storm?
· Joshua trees losing ground [DS]