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UCI Study: Drought, Climate Change Helping to Kill Off Plant Species

"They're absolutely on the brink," said one scientist.

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UC Irvine scientists conclude in a study released Monday that climate change is contributing to the dying-off of plant species.

The researchers, who focused on 5,000 square miles surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, found that from 1984 through 2017, vegetation in the deserts declined by about 35% and 13% in the mountains, according to the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.

"Plants are dying and nothing's replacing them," said Stijn Hantson, a project scientist in UCI's Department of Earth System Science and the study's lead author. "It looks to be a striking loss for shrubs."

The drought conditions and rising temperatures appear to be contributing to the decline in vegetation cover in the deserts, the researchers found.

The scientists had hoped that desert plants would have a better chance of surviving climate change, but noted in the study that the plants are already on the edge of habitable conditions so any change in the environment will likely be too much.

"They're absolutely on the brink," Hantson said.

The UCI study mirrors previous field studies in the southwest with some species vanishing.

Conditions in the mountains for pines and oaks are better due to more rain, according to the study for which Landsat satellite data was used.

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