Now it’s climate change to be killing the Joshua trees

Study based on fossil sloth dung found in desert caves and packrat middens

From the US Geological Survey, because doing mapping and boundary lines are sooo yesterday:

Uncertain Future for Joshua Trees Projected with Climate Change

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Temperature increases resulting from climate change in the Southwest will likely eliminate Joshua trees from 90 percent of their current range in 60 to 90 years, according to a new study led by U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Ken Cole.

The research team used models of future climate, an analysis of the climatic tolerances of the species in its current range, and the fossil record to project the future distribution of Joshua trees. The study concludes that the species could be restricted to the northernmost portion of its current range as early as the end of this century. Additionally, the ability of Joshua trees to migrate via seed dispersal to more suitable climates may be severely limited.

“This is one of the most interesting research projects of my career,” said Ken Cole, a USGS ecologist and the study’s lead author. “It incorporated not only state-of-the-art climate models and modern ecology, but also documentary information found in fossils that are more than 20,000 years old.”

By using fossil sloth dung found in desert caves and packrat middens — basically, the garbage piles of aptly named packrats — scientists were able to reconstruct how Joshua trees responded to a sudden climate warming around 12,000 years ago that was similar to warming projections for this century.  Prior to its extinction around 13,000 years ago, the Shasta ground sloth favored Joshua trees as food, and its fossilized dung contained abundant remains of Joshua trees, including whole seeds and fruits. These fossil deposits, along with fossil leaves collected and stored by packrats, allowed scientists to determine the tree’s formerly broad range before the warming event.

The study concluded that the ability of Joshua trees to spread into suitable habitat following the prehistoric warming event around 12,000 years ago was limited by the extinction of large animals that had previously dispersed its seeds over large geographic areas, particularly the Shasta ground sloth. Today, Joshua tree seeds are dispersed by seed-caching rodents, such as squirrels and packrats, which cannot disperse seeds as far as large mammals. The limited ability of rodents to disperse Joshua tree seeds in combination with other factors would likely slow migration to only about 6 feet per year, not enough to keep pace with the warming climate, Cole and his colleagues concluded.

The Joshua tree, a giant North American yucca, occupies desert grasslands and shrublands of the Mojave Desert of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah; Joshua Tree National Park in California is named after this iconic species. The Joshua tree is known for its distinctive shape and height of up to 50 feet.

Results of the study, “Past and ongoing shifts in Joshua tree distribution support future modeled range contraction,” appear in a current edition of “Ecological Applications.” The research team included Kenneth L. Cole, U.S. Geological Survey; Kirsten Ironside, Northern Arizona University; Jon Eischeid, NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory; Gregg Garfin, University of Arizona; Phillip B. Duffy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and University of California; and Chris Toney, USDA Forest Service.

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102 thoughts on “Now it’s climate change to be killing the Joshua trees

  1. I don’t see any decline in Joshua trees. They do quite well in blazing heat and bitter cold.
    Biggest thing that kills them is too much water and being knocked over from strong winds.

    Are they implying that there was a similar spike in temps before AGW?

  2. Let me see if I’ve got this. It’s been fine in the Mojave Desert for 12000 years but now it’s doomed. Who could argue with that?

  3. gee, maybe their territory shrank during the Little Ice Age ? who knows ? certainly not this bunch of morons …

  4. I always find it puzzling that a 0.7 degree temperature change that humans wouldn’t notice is supposed to kill all other life on this planet. The Joshua tree survives an 80 to 100 degree temperature shift from night to day on most days but don’t add an extra 0.7 degrees or its game over. I am insulted that these researchers think I am stupid enough to believe this crap.

  5. I am quite apalled.
    If the Joshua tree becomes extinct, then we will all be doomed.
    Help – just what can we do to save ourselves?

    /sarc off

  6. Alas- the baloney from these types is astounding and seemingly never ending. I think a look at the funding will tell the tale as usual.

  7. Aren’t we supposed to cheer for the “survival of the fittest” as the Joshua tree and the sloth are apparently following “Darwinian” evolution?!

    Or is this an appeal to a higher law?
    If so, which law, and is that appeal proper?

  8. Study based on fossil sloth dung…

    This is the point where I had to stop for a giggle break.

  9. I’ve got a hotter model and I say those Joshua trees will be gone in 30 to 60 years! (Now, where do I sign up for the USGS and get unlimited funding for modeling??)

  10. It’s interesting how as the “science is settled” short-term climate predictions are steadily being discredited, new studies/ statements are appearing that extend the time-scales way beyond any currently interested person’s ability to challenge.

    It is of great comfort however to learn that “state-of-the-art climate models” were used in this case rather than the older sort, which are clearly no longer state-of-the-art.

    Brace yourselves for a veritable pandemic of further such research.

  11. There may be another explaination if, in fact, the Joshua Tree population has/is declining. Perhaps the Ground Sloth eating the seeds was an element of the life cycle of the Joshua Tree. It wouldn’t be the first time.

    Similar to the Dodo and the Calvaria tree in Mautitius.

    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/plants/planet.html

    “Some biologists believe the dodos ate the tree’s fruit, and that the trip through the bird’s stomach helped prepare the seeds for germination. But now that their partner in life is gone, only a few calvaria survive.”

  12. Oh great, now the fossil sloth dung proxy.
    After that warming 12000 years ago, did they hide the decline?

    Models models, I am not scared from these flimsy predictions.
    Does anyone have the temperature trend data for the Mojave Desert or near the Joshua Tree National Park?

    This is the usual WUWT way to put the first stake through the heart of this dung.
    -Jay

  13. This study is based on the premise that changes in climate at the end of the last ice age are comparable to what we can expect in the near future. That’s a pretty big assumption, which, as far as I am aware, can only be supported by models.

    Even so, if the Joshua trees survived the transition from ice age to present, which they apparently did (otherwise why are they there now), then why would anyone assume they would suffer through another such change?

    The author’s assumption is that fossil dung is evidence that now extinct giant sloths were the primary way of spreading seeds. From that I would have to assume (great word) that there are no Joshua trees left in the SW, and that this study was a product of an over developed imagination of some “geological” ecologists.

  14. Noted moonbat Ken Cole is at it again. Nothing about this study makes any sense. I guess the team thinks everyone is either a brainwashed greeny or is completely ignorant of the real geo-history of the American SW!

  15. Call me a crazed mathematician, but isn’t there something wrong with this statement?

    By using fossil sloth dung found in desert caves and packrat middens — basically, the garbage piles of aptly named packrats — scientists were able to reconstruct how Joshua trees responded to a sudden climate warming around 12,000 years ago that was similar to warming projections for this century. Prior to its extinction around 13,000 years ago, the Shasta ground sloth favored Joshua trees as food, and its fossilized dung contained abundant remains of Joshua trees, including whole seeds and fruits. These fossil deposits, along with fossil leaves collected and stored by packrats, allowed scientists to determine the tree’s formerly broad range before the warming event.

    I mean, if ground sloths went extinct 13,000 years ago, how much can they tell us about climate warming 12,000 years ago?

    Shows the dangers of “science by press release”, I guess. Anyone have a copy of the actual paper?

    w.

    REPLY: I wondered how long it would be before somebody noticed that, good for you Willis. – A

  16. So what happened 6000 years ago when it was 4 degrees warmer? Did the Joshua trees survive?

  17. Squirrels and packrats only move 6′ per year? This would be incredibly slow for a snail!

  18. So ground squirrels and pack rats only move 6 ft a year…
    …and irritable climate syndrome will move faster than that

    Is there nothing these scientists don’t know??

    Seems they would be worried about all of those very slow squirrels and pack rats…………

  19. My reactions:

    (1) This is a bunch of fossil sloth dung.
    (2) I don’t give a coprolite.

  20. PS looks like Ken Cole will not have a job in a few years time with science like this

  21. You silly people, don’t you know that the giant ground sloths drove equally giant ATVs all over the desert, belching out CO2 and strewing Joshua tree seeds hither and yon? The silly creatures were the engineers of their own demise, bringing about the end of the ice age with their filthy emissions. All the ATV parts were scavenged for modern art sculptures by the pack rats.

  22. I think I worked it out, these must be the ghosts of the previous Joshua trees, when it was much warmer in the Minoan warming, the Holocene Climatic Optimum and Medieval Warming they all died.

    The ones we see today are not real, they are just ghosts….

  23. Matthew Bergin says:
    “I always find it puzzling that a 0.7 degree temperature change that humans wouldn’t notice is supposed to kill all other life on this planet. The Joshua tree survives an 80 to 100 degree temperature shift from night to day on most days but don’t add an extra 0.7 degrees or its game over.”

    What about the “tipping point” at 100.7 degrees?

    /sarc off

  24. And Joshua trees don’t look very yummy to me. The sloths probably all died of hunger. They should have eaten the pack rats instead; I hear they taste like chicken.

  25. Lessee:
    1. The Joshua trees,which apparently can’t survive a 1 or 2 degree F temperature increase, survived the greater warming 12,000 years ago.
    2. The trees, which can’t survive without seed dispersal by large mammals like the giant sloth, somehow survived 13,000 years with nothing but little rodents, even before the great warming.
    3. The trees, which apparently can’t survive the aforementioned 1-2 degree increase, somehow survive daily temperature changes of multiples of tens of degrees.

    Clearly these trees cannot be the product of Darwinian evolution. Creation science is proven; we just attributed it to Jehovah, when it was actually Gaia.

    [/sarc]

    And if those rodents can’t move any faster than 6 feet per year, I can solve the problem right now: I have an abundance of squirrels and chipmunks here that move like fuzzy lightning, which I’ll be pleased to donate for relocation to the Mojave.

  26. This continuous drivel about the desert is monotonous. Has anyone noticed the contiguous United States hasn’t warmed in the last 15 years?

    Annual 1996 – 2010 Trend = -0.01 degF / Decade

    Last 15 for the West Region(includes the Mojave), Annual 1996 – 2010 Trend = -0.26 degF / Decade

    Last 15 for the SW(includes Arizona and N.M.) Annual 1996 – 2010 Trend = -0.31 degF / Decade

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/regional.html

    Yes, very scary, I think the Joshua trees have cooling to worry about, not warming. Can’t these imbeciles do a study based on reality rather than a model?

  27. Its Friday, the brain is burning out, so I can contribute nothing but a humorous observation – stitching together some descriptive gems from two WUWT commenters today. (one piece from Latitude in this post above – the other somewhere else today)

    New description for AGW alarmists….”Carbophobes suffering from irritable climate syndrome.”

  28. I’m getting more than a bit fed up with people using unreliable climate models to make predictions of things 100 years from now and calling it science.

  29. U.S. Geological Survey ecologist, when was this position invented? and why? would it have anything to do with government funding to promote AGW?

  30. Its quite simple really. Just tell the Joshua Trees to take the I40 NorthWest or the I15 East or 395 North and they’ll get around much easier and at a much faster rate than 6 feet a year!

  31. So how about some real tests on the Yucca’s. Grow some in a suitable system where you can control the temperatures. Jack up the temperatures to what the models predict and see how the Yucca’s adapt. How hard can that be?

  32. Apparently it has also become so yesterday to study a CURRENT plant species suffering from CURRENT warming!

  33. The problem, obviously, is that the rodents that we are using to disperse the seeds need to be replaced by faster rodents. What worked for the last 12,000 years is simply not good enough anymore.

  34. “It incorporated not only state-of-the-art climate models…”

    Let me guess: worse than we thought?

  35. I thought that the biggest danger to trees like Joshua Trees or Bristlecone Pines are Climate Scientists themselves!

    “On 6th August 1964, one of the greatest crimes against Nature was committed when the oldest living inhabitant on Earth was unwittingly killed. WPN-114, previously known to its affectionate admirers as Prometheus, was a bristlecone pine tree that, posthumously, was discovered to have been at least 5000 years old.

    In the summer of 1964, Donald R. Currey, a graduate student in geography at the University of North Carolina, was undertaking dendrochronology investigations to establish climatic change patterns during the Little Ice Age – the period of cooling that occurred for approximately 400 years until the mid 1800s. Dendrochronology, the method of dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree-rings, can date the time at which tree rings were formed to the exact calendar year. So, to facilitate his investigations, Currey went in search of the oldest living trees.

    In 1957, a grove of bristlecone pines in the White Mountains above California’s Mojave Dessert stunned the scientific world when they were discovered to be the world’s oldest living trees. But while the California Bristlecone Pines captured the media’s imagination, another grove of bristlecones in the Great Basin at Wheeler Peak in eastern Nevada, not far from the Utah border, had slipped under the radar of all but few. And it was Wheeler Peak’s colossal bristlecones that Donald R. Currey chose for his investigations.

    Currey began taking core samples from several trees, and took particular interest in the 114th sample – “one of the larger living bristlecone pines” – which he labelled WPN-114. After several attempts, Currey’s 28-inch coring tool broke. Without it, he was unable to obtain the continuous series of overlapping cores necessary to determine weather patterns. He therefore decided to ask the United States Forest Service to fell WPN-114.

    National Forest District Ranger Donald E. Cox received the request. He consulted his superior, Slim Hansen, who was stationed some 250 miles away and consequently asked Cox to look at the tree and report back. Cox declared the tree to be “very common” and is reported to have said, “no one would have walked more than a hundred yards to see it.” Hansen replied, “Cut ‘er down.”

    Robert Jacobsen, superintendent of the Great Basin’s Lehman Caves, attempted to intervene and wrote that cutting the tree “would be a loss to the world.” And at least one Forest Service sawyer is known to have refused to participate in the felling on moral grounds. Nevertheless, the felling was scheduled for 6th August.

    It took the whole of the day to cut down and section WPN-114. In the process of his subsequent investigations, Currey discovered that WPN-114 had been alive for at least 4,862 years.

    He had killed the world’s oldest known non-clonal organism.”http://EzineArticles.com/4812103

    Death of Prometheus
    The cut stump of Prometheus

    In 1963, Currey was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Under a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, Currey was studying the climate dynamics of the Little Ice Age using dendrochronology techniques.

    Bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California and elsewhere were discovered to be older than any species yet dated, and in 1963 Currey became aware of a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine population in the Snake Range and on Wheeler Peak in particular. At the time he visited the area, in the summer of 1964, he did not know that previous researchers had examined the area. Based on the size, growth rate and growth forms of some of the trees he became convinced that some very old specimens existed on the mountain and, using the scientific methods of the time, Currey began taking core samples to check. He found that some exceeded 3000 years in age, taking particular interest in a tree he designated WPN-114, the previously named Prometheus.

    Currey was unable to obtain a continuous series of overlapping cores from WPN-114: he had tried at least four times with a 28 inch long borer, breaking two borers, but to no avail. He decided to ask for permission from the United States Forest Service to fell the tree. He was already acquainted with Forest Service officials at the nearby Lehman Caves National Monument (now a part of the much larger Great Basin National Park which includes the area Currey was working in), and made a request with Donald E. Cox, a district Forest Service ranger for permission to cut down the tree in order to examine the whole trunk in cross-section. Cox felt that the request was scientifically sound and, after convincing superiors that the particular tree was not a notable landmark, gained approval for felling it.

    After securing permission, Cox informed Currey and assigned a Forest Service crew to join the young researcher and bring back the samples. The tree was cut and sectioned on August 6, 1964, and several pieces of the sections hauled out to be processed and analyzed, first by Currey, then by others in later years. To their surprise, the tree was not only old, but older than any other non-clonal organism ever known.
    [edit] Aftermath

    It took a few years for the information about the felling of Prometheus to reach the public, but once it did there was great controversy. Most criticism centered on the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to permit the tree to be cut. However, some critics questioned how the cutting of such an old tree was necessary given the topic Currey was studying. Since the Little Ice Age started no more than 600 years ago, many trees could presumably have provided the information he was after for that time period. However, in Currey’s original report (Currey, 1965) he refers to the Little Ice Age as encompassing the period from 2000 BC to the present, thus defining the Age over a much longer time period than is currently accepted. Whether this was the common sentiment at the time is not known. In the article, Currey indicates that he sectioned the tree as much from the question of whether the oldest bristlecones were necessarily confined to California’s White Mountains (as some dendrochronologists had been claiming) as from its usefulness in regard to studies of the Little Ice Age.

    The incident led to a tighter restriction on the felling of old trees, the eventual creation of Great Basin National Park (now overseen by the National Park Service), and the decision to hide the exact location of Methuselah, the tree believed to be the current oldest. Currey personally took part in lobbying efforts to get Congress to designate the area a part of a national park.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Rusk_Currey

    Yikes. So many claims of doomsday, so little time to squash them all.

  36. Reading about sloth dung fossils gave me my Mojave mojo back. Can’t wait for organically impregnated “Save the Joshua Tree” T-shirts to come out. Dirt bikers will love them.

  37. This article had me very nervous that my first rule of biology papers and global warming was wrong. My rule states: Anything that is soft and cuddly, warm and fuzzy, tasty and nutritious, or generally useful and beneficial; will be reported as doomed by AGW climate change. Conversely, anything stinky, noxious, disease bearing, toxic, ugly, creepy, invasive, poisonous, or thorny will do quite well.

    From the picture, I thought I was looking at a thorny plant. But, no thorns, its just thin long leaves and the plant is quite useful and beneficial. My rule stands.

  38. I have had 4 Joshua Trees growing here in New England for the last 40 years. The seeds came from a tree above the snow line in Tehachapi Pass and take 4′ of snow and sub-zero temps through high 90’s in the summer. They are one tough species.

    disclaimer: No Grant Money was spent for this long-term study. :)

  39. So the decline of the Joshua tree began 13,000 years ago when the poor old Giant Ground Sloth died out as the last ice age ended? It’s taken 13,000 years for the Joshua tree, in the American SW, to decline and now they’re worried. Give me strength. Didn’t Darwin have something to say about this kind of thing?

  40. I live in the high desert of SE Arizona. at about 5000 feet. There are a few Joshua trees in the immediate neighborhood. It looks like about half of them were killed by the record cold temps we had this last winter. Along with what appears to be EVERY Cholla cactus. The Cholla has a wider elevation range than the Joshua tree. From 2000 to 7000 feet. The Joshua elevation range is from 2000 to 6000 feet. I would be more worried about the cold.
    Other plants killed in the cold snap include, EVERY Palm tree (some have grown to over 50′ tall), EVERY Oleander bush and a few other warm climate plants.

  41. LOL!
    I live in Joshua Tree country.
    The biggest threat to the trees…Land use.
    However, they are protected now. You can’t dig one up without a permit.

    Given that it will hit 115F plus in the summers and the low teens in the winter, I doubt they would notice a small shift in average temperature. They’re pretty hearty planty-treeish things.

    I have noticed that they grow more fruit/seeds during wet years though. Imagine that. I didn’t see any mention of precipitation in the article at the USGS.

    One creature that has departed from the Antelope Vally, is, namely, the antelope.
    If they did eat the fruits, they had a long migration path. Sadly, they’re no longer present. They wouldn’t cross the train tracks apparently and eventually migrated elsewhere, died out, or were killed by people shooting from the trains. (Think wild west days.)

    On a side note, the U2 album ‘Joshua Tree” and song “Where the Streets Have No Name” were inspired by a drive along the CA I-14 freeway. (The street exits were all letters at the time.) N-S are streets are numbers, E-W streets are letters, the cities have added names since then.

  42. It really is a shame that the current state of science permits this kind on nonsense. Really…..at 40 yrs into the future you can say with certainty that seed dispersal will be limited to a tortoise like 6 ft per year, and quick as a rabbit global warming is gonna run joshua tree down and kill him. Wow, now we have a verified speed for global warming. Something a little bit more than 6 ft yr. How much did that cost me ? Brilliant. What the hell has happened to science. I have never in my life seen such BS dressed up as the truth. When this whole thing comes crashing down, the backlash for legitimate scientists won’t be pretty, and they have my sympathies. The few that are left that is.

  43. I wondered how many comments I would read before I saw what Willis mentioned: the glaring discrepancy that the sloth became extinct 13,000 years ago, but the climate didn’t change until 12,000 years ago. I thought something was funky there.

    The story is filled with all the usual definitive media speak: “likely… future modeled range contraction…state-of-the-art climate models…warming projections”.

    My opinion: I can’t believe this guy gets paid by the USGS to study and then publish this conjecture trash.

  44. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    March 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Study based on fossil sloth dung…

    This is the point where I had to stop for a giggle break.

    Uh, “FIFO” – “Feces In, Feces Out”.

    :)

  45. I recently drove from Phoenix to Las Vegas and was pleasantly surprised to see the forest of Joshua Trees in betwixt. I can’t speak to the ‘science’ of what is modeled, but as of March 2011, the specimens in the forest looked very healthy indeed.

  46. RE: “I think the Joshua trees have cooling to worry about”

    Yep. The SW US has seen better days. The relatively warm and benign period which began during the 1800s (and led the 20th century boom) may be kaput.

  47. Jit said on March 25, 2011 at 4:16 pm:

    What killed the sloths? Can anyone name a species killed by climate change?

    Says above that the Shasta ground sloth went extinct around 13,000 years ago. During the Last Glacial Maximum, due to the the land bridge that appeared between what-is-now Russia and Alaska across the Bering Strait (that area called Beringia), the “native” human populations crossed over the land bridge and started populating the Americas about 16,500 years ago or less.

    Therefore, it’s plainly obvious that humans were what killed the sloths. And since climate change (the glaciation) allowed the humans to be in the sloth’s territory, where they obviously killed off the sloths, that makes the Shasta ground sloth a species that was (ultimately) killed off by climate change.

    Of course “climate change” is used as “global warming” by the (C)AGW-pushers, they don’t want “climate change” to represent a global cooling event.

    So I guess they’ll claim that if there hadn’t been global warming thus the land bridge hadn’t gone away, all those migrating humans would’ve gone back to Russia and the sloths wouldn’t be extinct!

  48. t stone,

    I can’t believe that I spend even a nanosecond of my day working to pay for this s***. This is the kind of thing where I’d like to march into Congress, take the budget, and mark a big, red line through this particular line item.

  49. Willis, it sounds like what they are saying is that they used the sloth dung from 13000 years ago to determine the pre-warming extent of the trees, and then looked at the post-warming extent after the 12000-years-ago warming event. I’m highly suspicious about the value of this whole study, but I’m not sure we can say the timing of these two numbers is inconsistent.

  50. “On 6th August 1964, one of the greatest crimes against Nature was committed when the oldest living inhabitant on Earth was unwittingly killed. WPN-114, previously known to its affectionate admirers as Prometheus, was a bristlecone pine tree that, posthumously, was discovered to have been at least 5000 years old.

    SO this fellow actually “murdered” a tree? Is that even possible? If Gaia is real, I hate to see what the afterlife has in store for me, given the amount of grass, trees and the like I’ve murdered over the years. Not to mention all of those soybean plants on the old farm!

  51. I don’t trust anyone’s C14 dates. Especially during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. But lemme see if I’ve got this straight.

    We are looking at two ‘Dryas Stadial’ periods, or ice ages. As I understand it, the big one ended about 15,000 years ago. Temps had begun to warm up to temps similar to today, when something about 12,900 YA knocked the world back into ice age conditions for another 1,300 years, or so. The evidence so far, implies that the shorter ice age, or Younger Dryas Cooling may have been triggered by an as yet to be defined kind of impact event. Perhaps the clouds of dust, and debris, from the breakup of a giant comet.

    Be that as it may, the YD trigger, what ever it was, was a mass extinction event. The Giant sloth was apparently a victim of that event. And as far as I know there have been no fossils of them recovered from above the YD boundary layer.

    It would seem that the event that killed all the giant animals like the giant sloth, the mastodons, and woolly mammoths, was probably also the trigger for a return to ice age conditions. So the extinction event coincides with a sudden cooling. Not a warming trend.

    The Megafauna weren’t killed by climate change. They were killed by what ever triggered that change, and knocked the world back into an ice age that lasted more than a millennium. And there is nothing in the climate we see today that bares any resemblance to what was experienced at the Pleistocene/Holocene transition.

    Finding Joshua tree seeds in sloth dung is only significant to the story because it shows that the trees have lost an important seed dispersal species. But they’ve been doing ok without the help of the Giant Sloth for 13,000 years now.

    Never mind the Joshua trees. If the climate really is changing, and they begin to die out because they can’t change their range fast enough to keep up with the climate, we can be sure they will not have a problem. There are far more tree huggers alive today to scatter seeds over a wider range than the sloths ever could. The Joshua trees are still with us. No worries there.

    Understanding what wiped out the Clovis culture, and more than 35 genera in North America, including probably the very sloth that made the poo the USGS is so exited about is the important question.

    If we can’t say what happened then, how can we be sure it won’t happen again, but this time to us?

  52. Models again, with no predictive value. The very definition of pseudoscience. This is 90% speculation and 10% actual data and science. You didn’t used to be able to publish such stuff in biology, but now that is where the money is.

    Real biology is severely harmed by consequent lack of funding, by distraction from actual causes and by black-is-white inversions of facts and truth.

  53. Ay-yi-yi

    I (no relation to Ken, but I work there too) have to roll my eyes at some of the press releases that come from my organization. Seems like we’re trying to out-panic Discovery mag, SciAmerican, and the rest of the babbling hordes.

    Back in the Clinton years, all the gummint biologists/ecologists/etcs got swept into the National Biological Service, relieving the Fish & Wildlife, Park Service, USGS, BLM, and many others of their cost and overhead. Not to mention bogus research (all god’s critters are doomed because of MAN)

    Gingrich & Co. “contracted with America” and abolished NBS, but they recycled the eco-panickers to fed agencies and the USGS got stuck with the Biological Division.

    It has not been a good fit. The Geology and Water folks still try to document and understand earth history. The bio-folks continue to ignore evolution and adaptation while asserting that all living things are DOOMED due to MAN.

    Fercryinoutloud, the poley bears survived the Holocene Optimum 6000 years ago, so they can certainly survive the Modern Warm. Fossils are much better evidence that models. Much, much better.

    Retirement is lookin’ good, dude.

  54. Charlie Foxtrot says:
    March 25, 2011 at 4:45 pm
    “The problem, obviously, is that the rodents that we are using to disperse the seeds need to be replaced by faster rodents. What worked for the last 12,000 years is simply not good enough anymore.”

    How do they know that global warming won’t cause faster rodents?

    Thanks to everyone. I was ROTFLMAO. I needed that.

  55. Ggrow some joshua trees in a greenhouse in the desert.
    Raise the co2 to 600 ppm and raise the temp to their projected “AGW temp”
    Let’s see what the trees do.

  56. I read this at work, ruined a keyboard and wasted a good swallow of coffee. I kept thinking I had somehow clicked on quote of the week or the Friday funny! Strange, if I redo the study with a different climate model and get no threat, that will be a publishable paper now thanks to this pile of sloth manure.

  57. Lady Life Grows says:
    March 25, 2011 at 6:48 pm
    Models again, with no predictive value.

    The only reason they can do these models is because they have excess computer power to play with. Copernicus actually had to spend years working things out in hand, and using his mind.

    I’m becoming ashamed I spent the last 35 years trying to make computers spin faster. But then I also fee the same way about spreadsheets. Management by spreadsheet is a precursor of climate “modeling”.

  58. Carl Bussjaeger says:
    March 25, 2011 at 3:54 pm
    “Clearly these trees cannot be the product of Darwinian evolution. Creation science is proven; we just attributed it to Jehovah, when it was actually Gaia.”

    Gaiahova.

  59. U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Ken Cole. What a dim bulb. The giant packrat ape has spread joshua trees all over the world! The joshua trees’ range has increased not decreased. This overpaid scout should be made to visit every city and town garden. Catologe the location of every plant and the condition that it lives in to establish the plants true range. pg

  60. I am confused.
    At about 1:40 in the alarming second video in pwl’s earlier post, the narrator discusses tree rings.

    According to the narrator, a “good” year is warm and wet causing broader growth rings. A “bad” year is cool and dry causing narrower growth rings.
    This good/bad comparison is contradicted at the end of the same film, where warming is discussed in dire tones, as though it will harm the trees.

    So is warming good or bad for the trees?
    Guess I’m just too old fashioned for this post-normal science.

  61. Willis & Anthony – March 25, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

    The maths is crook, but did you two pick this bit up:

    “………. – scientists were able to reconstruct how Joshua trees responded to a sudden climate warming around 12,000 years ago that was similar to warming projections for this century.”

    So what does one call that ?? An ‘Oxymoron’ hardly seems appropriate !!!!!

  62. The abstract for this study can be read at:

    http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/09-1800.1

    Apparently all six of the authors are employed at government institutions. So why is this study hidden behind a paywall? Our tax money is obviously paying for it.

    I’m not going to cough up $20 to get a copy, but I would like to see it. For one thing I would like to know if they have made any attempt to assess the effects of prehistoric Lake Cahuilla, which lay immediately to the west of what is now the national park. For non-Californians, Lake Cahuilla was formed periodically by a high-level filling of the Salton Sink when the Colorado River would change course. Archeological evidence indicates repeated fillings over time including during the period of 1000-1500 AD. Lake Cahuilla was much larger than today’s Salton Sea. I suspect it would significantly affect downwind precipitation and temperature, but I have not been able to find anyone who has studied the question.

  63. Dave Worley says:
    March 25, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    “I am confused.
    ……………….

    So is warming good or bad for the trees?
    Guess I’m just too old fashioned for this post-normal science.”
    =============================================

    I’d try to explain, but I find I can do no better than E. A. Blair. I’ll try to update it with some more recent technical climatology terms….
    “The keyword here is blackwhite warmcold. Like so many Newspeak climatological words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent a skeptic, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black warm is white cold, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member an alarmist, it means a loyal willingness to say that blackwarm is white cold when Party the warmist discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black warm is white cold, and more, to know that black warm is white cold, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak climatology as doublethink Anthropological climate change . Doublethink Anthropological climate change is basically the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

    – Part II, Chapter IX — The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism

  64. If I can say “fossil sloth dung” three times very quickly and click my heels together, will this kind of stupidity go away?

  65. The truly horrifying part of this is that we putting this, and additional billions of dollars worth of similar nonsense on the National credit for our children to repay.

  66. If sucking all the ground water out of the earth and pumping it into alfalfa fields is climate change then then, I’d agree. It didn’t help that Los Angeles stole the Owens river so long ago that nobody remembers, but there was a time when there was plentiful water in the Mojave desert and the Joshuas were doing just fine.

    Actually, there was a time when that desert was under hundreds of feet of lake water when Searles Lake was 600′ deep. There is ample evidence of this in the pinnacles left behind from hot seeps around which life clung against the cold of the glacial lake and a very evident bathtub ring that lake left behind in the surrounding hills.

    The problem there isn’t CO2 – it’s lack of water which has been scarce since the current temporary interglacial period started. Here’s your problem:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&q=aerial+view+of+mojave+desert&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Mojave+Desert&gl=us&t=h&ll=34.652132,-118.12603&spn=0.166347,0.370789&z=12

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&hs=VJj&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&q=aerial+view+of+mojave+desert&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=Mojave+Desert&gl=us&t=h&ei=TZSNTeDJI5L0tgOJp5GOCQ&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CBwQ8gEwAA

    Look at all that development. Zoom in and count the swimming pools and acres of irrigation. Look at those alluvial fans coming out of the southern mountains. What happened to that water? SLURP!

    BTW, can you spot the fault line running across those images? Hey – while I have your attention: http://www.lucernevalley.net/history/blackhawk.htm

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=lucern&aq=&sll=34.572168,-117.715759&sspn=0.333015,0.479965&gl=us&ie=UTF8&hq=lucern&hnear=&ll=34.396145,-116.77969&spn=0.079889,0.185394&t=h&z=13

    This is worth a field trip.

    Anyway – Joshua trees need water – not a lot, but there’s not a lot to go around, and what there is is going into farms and coffee pots.

  67. Joshua trees look to me, from the picture, like arid climate plants. Evergreen with few thick leaves to limit water loss and thick trunks to store water. Am I right?

    So these trees which have survived millions of years of climate change are about to die out because the temperature could rise by some unspecified amount. All based on animal s**t.

    Where do these USGS people come from? Perhaps they should get back to geology which they seem to be quite good at!

  68. Lapping up some of those $30 billion tax payer provided climate research dollars over the last 20 years studying … sh*t. Well isn’t that special?

  69. I am the ghost of Gram Parsons. [Cue ghostly noises] Oo-wee-oo. I overdosed on Joshua Trees back in the olden days, when Keef and I … no, no, I told you, I never touched Anita. Anyways, here in the spirit world, Joshua Trees are … [Scuffling sounds offstage] Yes, I realise that I’m not Buck Owens, but why does …

  70. ….not to worry, as the world continues to bake, their range will extend all the way north to Saskatchewan. The Canadians will appreciate the change of shrubbery, I’m sure.

  71. Willis Says;

    You know those geologists, what’s a thousand years difference here or there.

  72. I realize the Joshua tree takes very specific conditions to grow…
    and will only grow at certain elevations and very limited desert conditions

    …that’s why you can buy them from plant nurseries in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, etc

    and it’s why people use them to landscape their yards all over the country!

  73. I’ve made many camping trips and even more day trips into Joshua Tree National Park and elsewhere in and around the Mojave. Temperatures range from 0F in winter to 120F in summer with a common 40-50F change from day to night. Rainfall is extremely scarce and Joshua trees grow only above 2000′ and below 6000′ in well drained soil. Little else grows except a bit of sage brush where Joshua Trees thrive. Except when the rare rain does fall then the place blooms with lots of small colorful plants for a short time especially along the washes.

    http://bss.sfsu.edu/holzman/courses/Fall99Projects/yucca.htm

    The range of the Joshua Tree seems to be established more by lack of competition because of conditions too extreme for much else to grow.

  74. Does anyone have access to the actual paper? I’d like to read it. A link to the paper or a link to a copy of the .pdf?

  75. Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm
    Call me a crazed mathematician, but isn’t there something wrong with this statement?

    By using fossil sloth dung found in desert caves and packrat middens — basically, the garbage piles of aptly named packrats — scientists were able to reconstruct how Joshua trees responded to a sudden climate warming around 12,000 years ago that was similar to warming projections for this century. Prior to its extinction around 13,000 years ago, the Shasta ground sloth favored Joshua trees as food, and its fossilized dung contained abundant remains of Joshua trees, including whole seeds and fruits. These fossil deposits, along with fossil leaves collected and stored by packrats, allowed scientists to determine the tree’s formerly broad range before the warming event.

    I mean, if ground sloths went extinct 13,000 years ago, how much can they tell us about climate warming 12,000 years ago?

    Shows the dangers of “science by press release”, I guess. Anyone have a copy of the actual paper?

    w.

    REPLY: I wondered how long it would be before somebody noticed that, good for you Willis. – A

    I think that by finding the range of the sloth tree poo 13,000 years ago, and comparing it to the existing range now, indicated that the current range following the 12,000 event is less (sloth poo showed a greater range).

    Of course, maybe the extinction of the sloth caused the reduced range?

    But more importantly, there is robust data showing that increased reliance on model fantasy studies rather than actual experimentation suggests sloths are not extinct……………

  76. And joshua survived from the last ice age through multi warm periods some 2-3C above today’s but are going down in a few decades. Where can I get some of this guy’s money.

  77. Dave Springer says:
    March 26, 2011 at 11:04 am
    The range of the Joshua Tree seems to be established more by lack of competition because of conditions too extreme for much else to grow.
    ===================================================
    That’s all there is to it Dave.
    They would be used more in landscaping if they weren’t so nasty and butt ugly…

  78. “…will likely eliminate Joshua trees from 90 percent of their current range in 60 to 90 years”

    It’s always a good idea to make predictions that won’t be proved until after you are dead. You know, so you don’t have to admit that you were wrong. I predict that if man-made global warming remains unchecked, dogs will be forced to mate with cats, producing hybridized animals, called ‘dats’, Also, the moon will fall into the sun, and corpses will be re-animated by all of the heat, only to feast on the brains of the living.

    Of course, this will all occur 60 to 90 years in the future, so you’ll never be able to prove me wrong!

  79. I live in NJ, but the Joshua Tree preserve is a beautiful, fantastic place I first visited in the early 1960’s. Went there again several times later, more recently with wife and kids in the 1980’s. It’s a shame if mother nature is now putting it under pressure, and it isn’t easy to get there, but if you haven’t seen it yet, go anyway.

  80. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
    March 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Study based on fossil sloth dung…

    This is the point where I had to stop for a giggle break.

    Yeah, I know, but both fossilized dung (coprolites) and unfossilized dung contains huge amounts of information about the animals and their habitats. For example, in Molecular coproscopy: dung and diet of the extinct ground sloth Nothrotheriops shastensis (Science mag, abstract only, paywalled), the abstract says:

    DNA from excrements can be amplified by means of the polymerase chain reaction. However, this has not been possible with ancient feces. Cross-links between reducing sugars and amino groups were shown to exist in a Pleistocene coprolite from Gypsum Cave, Nevada. A chemical agent, N-phenacylthiazolium bromide, that cleaves such cross-links made it possible to amplify DNA sequences. Analyses of these DNA sequences showed that the coprolite is derived from an extinct sloth, presumably the Shasta ground sloth Nothrotheriops shastensis. Plant DNA sequences from seven groups of plants were identified in the coprolite. The plant assemblage that formed part of the sloth’s diet exists today at elevations about 800 meters higher than the cave.

    The “plant assemblages” referred to are Yucca spp., presumably including Joshua trees. They go on to say:

    These genera [Yuccas], as well as all other taxa observed in the sample, are now common in high-elevation desert scrub (above about 1370 m) on the Spring Range, about 50 km west of Gypsum Cave, and on the Las Vegas Range, about 30 km north-northeast of the cave. At 19,875 ± 215 years before present (B.P.), this sample dates to the last glacial maximum and it is reasonable to assume that yucca, now found only at higher altitudes, would then have been common around the cave.

    So yeah, studying ancient sloth poop isn’t all that glamorous, I laughed too … but anyone studying animals past or present knows that excrement contains lots of fascinating information about the animal, its diet, and the environment.

    w.

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