Ecological winners and losers of California’s drought

A colorful landscape

Carrizo Plain National Monument in the spring 2017 wildflower bloom. (Bureau of Land Management/Wikimedia)

Long-term drought has the potential to flip an ecosystem on its head, says a new ecological study by a team that included UC Berkeley scientists.

The team used live traps, volunteer-run bird counts and observations from land and sky to track the populations of 423 species of plants, birds, reptiles, mammals and insects residing in the Carrizo Plain National Monument in Southern California during the drought that ravaged the state from 2012 to 2015.

The ecosystem’s “top-dogs” — carnivores such as coyotes, badgers, foxes and hawks — were the hardest hit by the drought, while some rare species of ants, beetles, birds and reptiles thrived. Four percent of the species were named “winners” because their overall numbers increased.

The study grew out of a longterm project to monitor endangered species in the Carrizo Plain, including the giant kangaroo rat, whose population plummeted 11-fold in the drought’s third year.

“Such shocks are intensifying on our rapidly changing planet, and we can’t predict and manage their effects if we don’t have studies in place to monitor them,” said Justin Brashares, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley.

Read more on the College of Natural Resources website