A Joshua Tree Without the Trees? How Climate Change is Transforming California’s Deserts.

Climate change is threatening some of the most iconic plant life in California and could eventually transform our beloved desert communities.

From 1984 to 2017, Southern California’s deserts saw a 35% reduction in vegetation, according to new research from the University of California Irvine. During the same time period, vegetation in the region’s mountains declined 13%.

One of the starkest examples of climate change’s impacts on local flora can be seen in Joshua Tree National Park. Ecologist James Cornett told KQED that he expects Joshua trees to vanish from the park completely in the early part of the next century. Their elimination could come even sooner if wildfires continue to worsen.

Aside from being an iconic part of California’s topography, Joshua trees play an important role in the ecosystem. There are a number of animal species that depend on them for survival. The loss of Joshua trees would “have a cascade effect on animal life,” said Cornett.

In 2020, Joshua trees became the first plant species to be protected under California’s Endangered Species Act due to climate change.

Read more about how climate change is transforming California’s deserts at the Desert Sun.