Climate Change Could Eventually Force Joshua Trees Into Extinction: UC Riverside Study

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A Joshua tree stands at Joshua Tree National Park on Jan. 4, 2019. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

A Joshua tree stands at Joshua Tree National Park on Jan. 4, 2019. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

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Can you imagine a world without Joshua trees? A study says that could become reality without dramatic action to combat climate change.

The June study by UC Riverside scientists blames severe drought due to climate change for the possible extinction of these hearty American desert trees.

“The fate of these unusual, amazing trees is in all of our hands,” said UCR plant ecologist Lynn Sweet, the project’s lead researcher. “Their numbers will decline, but how much depends on us.”

The species has already been migrating to higher elevations to escape the hotter, drier areas where adult trees aren’t able to produce as many offspring.

The younger trees have it worse, since they haven’t been able to store up as much water thanks to the recent drought — a problem that climate change is expected to worsen.

The trees are part of the yucca tree species and can live to be over 150 years old, according to the National Park Service. The study was conceptualized in 2013 and research started in 2014. According to the study, it was originally designed for monitoring vegetation and animal community changes across Joshua Tree National Park.

CNN reached out to the National Park Service for comment.

The scientists presented several scenarios for temperature and rainfall over the course of the next century for the trees, based on different variables including age and location.

According to the study, “all of the three future climate scenarios” that included small changes to curb carbon emissions showed “large-scale reduction in the suitable areas at end-of-century.” The scenario that kept the same weather patterns as they have been lately indicated Joshua Tress would almost be completely eliminated.

Areas in the San Bernardino Mountains were predicted to still be able to support small areas of the trees.

The scientists acknowledge that there are other factors that could hinder the longevity of the Joshua Tree apart from climate change. Invasive species, air pollution from nearby cities and increasing fire risk could be also contributing factors.

“Our findings most importantly indicate the importance of regional to global mitigation strategies for carbon emissions,” the study said.

The scientists hope finding ways to decrease carbon emissions will help keep the Joshua trees around for centuries to come.

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