UCR- Stan Lim- Lab Student

Joshua Tree National Park & Earthwatch Expedition



Joshua Tree National Park sits astride two of the major desert regions of North America, the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. It is at those transition zones where we expect to see the greatest shifts in species distributions to occur due to the effect of climate change. Our goal is to collect "real data" regarding the current and future distributions of the plants, reptiles, birds, mammals, and bugs of this region. This will create an invaluable archive from which to document how these levels of biodiversity respond to the stresses of climate change.

To do this, University of California Riverside’s Center for Conservation Biology has partnered with the Joshua Tree National Park in “Monitoring the Impacts of Climate Change across Ecological Transitions”. In order to increase the likelihood of sustaining this effort over years and even decades we have designed this project to embrace the use of “citizen scientists”. Such volunteers increase our potential to collect large volumes of data, and through their experience increase their scientific literacy and understanding of climate change. To that end we have partnered with Earthwatch to provide volunteers that will assist our PIs and Field Team Leaders with monitoring climate change over time in both the abiotic and biotic components of one of our most unique and threatened National Parks.

For more information about Earthwatch, or to become a Citizen Scientist, please visit Earthwatch


Reviews about this Expedition:

Ode to the Mojave/Colorado Deserts

The Oxford Dictionary and the New Oxford American Dictionary define 'desert' as a waterless, desolate area of land with little or no vegetation; a place considered to be dull and uninteresting uninhabited and desolate place something left waste. 

After a week with the Earthwatch Scientists at the interface between the Mojave and the Colorado deserts, I can categorically conclude that the above definitions can be flipped on their heads!


Ode to the Mojave/Colorado Deserts
by Angela Dock 

The desert is a fecund place
bursting with life and gentle song
exploding colours and unexpected magic
where perfume wraps around baked earth
It's an hypnotic space where people dream and souls uplift,
and tiny creatures drift and shift and monumental trees exist;
where mighty Joshuas and massive oaks stand side by side and ghost flowers whisper,
lizards dart and Ocotillos shout resplendent and persist;
where Mojave asters yield their lavender mist
where zebra tails and elusive lions leave their trails.

The desert is not, most definitely not
a desolate place.


Letter to the Editor

From Ronald LeMahieu, published in the Trenton, NJ Times:

I write in response to the opinion piece by the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Lamar Smith entitled "The Climate Change Religion."  Mr. Smith and his fellow Republicans on the House Science Committee have voted five times to decree that climate change is a myth.  They have also introduced a bill to reallocate federal research funding away from fields they deem to be politically untenable  To this end they hope to cut the budgets of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.  Meanwhile Republican members of this committee receive many millions in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

I just returned from an Earthwatch expedition in the southern California desert at Joshua Tree National Park called "Saving Joshua Tree's Desert Species."  Working with a team of scientists from the University of California Riverside and the National Park Service led by Dr. Cameron Barrows, a group of 25 "citizen scientists" collected data on the plants and animals living in this desert.  Dr. Barrows and his team have been working in this area for many years.  This desert is rich in plant and animal life, but is a region where scientists expect climate change to be particularly extreme.  Indeed all of California is experiencing a severe four year drought.  If it gets hotter and drier, will the plants and animals living in Joshua Tree be able to survive?

The effects of climate change include rising temperatures, more wild fires, severe storms and persistent droughts.  Scientists here have already determined that Joshua trees are gradually dying out in the lower, hotter parts of the park.  Junipers and Pinyon Pines are also dying at lower elevations.  Certain species of lizards, chuckwallas and desert horned lizards, also are much less frequently seen in the hotter, drier areas.  If temperatures continue to rise, certain other species of lizards and the desert tortoise may become extinct.

The aim of our project is to catalog the plants and animals living in defined areas of the park and then to check each site again in future years to see what changes occur.  With this information the national park can better manage their land in a manner that supports the survival of its rich biodiversity.  Ten weather stations have been set up throughout the park and they monitor air temperature, precipitation and soil moisture every 15 minutes.  Hopefully, studies like ours will bring real science to bear on the issue of global warming and bring pressure on our government to take action.

Carrying a snowball onto the floor of the Senate, voting to deny the obvious, or forbidding the words "global warming" to appear in official state communications will not forestall what is obviously happening.  Mr. Smith's committee is being intellectually dishonest. The scientists of the world, not so much the politicians, are focusing on good science.  There is "skepticism" and there is "denial" but when 97% of the scientific community is telling us climate change is happening and most likely exacerbated by mankind, it is a serious, looming problem for the global community.  It is a disservice to the American public for a "science" committee to say otherwise.

Ronald A. LeMahieu, Ph.D.
Princeton, NJ