Impact of a drying climate on California Rangeland
Drought is a common occurrence in California but progressively warming air temperatures due to climate change may fundamentally alter how these common years of below average precipitation impact agriculture and natural resources in California.
As air temperatures warm, water loss from evaporation and plants increases, meaning droughts will likely be even more severe than they were historically. To understand some of the implications for how a drying climate may impact California rangeland, staff at SFREC have been working over the last two years to build new research infrastructure. This will allow UC Scientists, from across the state, the ability to test how warming air temperatures and drought may impact different aspects of rangeland, including forage production, native plant recruitment and invasive species spread.
This infrastructure uses large movable cold frames to cover plots during certain rainstorms, allowing researchers to experimentally reduce soil water availability and simulate drought stress. A heating system allows researchers to experimentally warm air and soil temperatures through the entire growing season and evaluate how a warming climate may impact plants and soils on rangeland. Lastly, a wireless network of environmental sensors allow researchers to continuously monitor environmental conditions in the treatment plot 24 hours a day throughout the year.
This infrastructure represents a unique and valuable opportunity for researchers in California to gain a deeper understanding of how climate change may impact rangeland in our state, and we are excited to start our first series of trial this fall.
Funding for this effort came from the National Science Foundation and the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.