Half of California’s vegetation is at a risk of dying because of warming temperatures, according to new UC Davis research.
“We’re seeing that in California just in the last five or six years,” said James Thorne, a research scientist with the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the university. “We had a five-year long drought and then we had double precipitation. In the meantime, we’ve also seen some very large wildfires.”
Even if greenhouse gas-emissions are reduced today, Thorne says around a quarter of the state’s trees and plants will be climate stressed by the end of the century. But if no changes occur, the study — published in the journal Ecosphere — suggests that number may double.
Slide the bar from left to right to see the change in vegetation from 2011 to 2099.
Thorne added that this could amplify the number of devastating weather events in the state. “Of course, there's two things going on. The base stress and then there's the extreme events, which often are the things that cause the changes in vegetation. So, wildfires."
He says cutting emissions so that global temperatures only rise by about 2 degrees Celsius — targets outlined in the Paris climate agreement — could mean a 30 percent reduction.
Thorne says his models predict Southern California will be hit the hardest, then the Sierra Nevada and the Central Valley.
State agencies like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are using the findings to make decisions on where to focus efforts.