The Carrizo Plain National Monument is a little-known ecological hotspot in Southern California. Though small, it explodes in wildflowers each spring and is full of threatened or endangered species.
A long-term study led by the University of Washington and the University of California, Berkeley tracked how hundreds of species in this valley fared during the historic drought that struck California from 2012 to 2015. It shows surprising winners and losers, uncovering patterns that may be relevant for climate change.
The findings are published Aug. 20 in Nature Climate Change.
“The Carrizo Plain is one of the global hotspots of endangered species, with endangered species at every trophic level: plants, rodents, carnivores,” said lead author Laura Prugh, a UW assistant professor of quantitative wildlife sciences, part of the UW School of Environmental and Forestry Sciences. “It also is an ideal laboratory to see how an exceptional climate event affects a whole ecosystem.”
By studying this natural laboratory for many years, researchers found that drought actually helped ecological underdogs by stressing the dominant species. Similar patterns are likely to hold up for other ecosystems, Prugh said.
“We think that even though these extreme climate events, in the short term, can be pretty devastating for some populations, in the long run they might be important in maintaining biodiversity in the system, by keeping inferior competitors from getting pushed out of the system entirely,” she said.