Monthly Archives: January 2009

Some Good News


"Common Knapweed" Photo Credit: gingiber

Climate change may bring about some positive new opportunities in the West. Climate change may cause some species of invasive plants to retreat, which creates a great opportunity for restoration.

An article published in the Global Change Biology looked at five invasive plants in the west:  cheatgrass; spotted knapweed; yellow starthistle; tamarisk; and leafy spurge.

“Just as native species are expected to shift in range and relative competiveness with climate change,”the authors said, “the same should be expected of invasive species.””Just as native species are expected to shift in range and relative competiveness with climate change,” the authors wrote, “the same should be expected of invasive species.”

Knapweed and leafy spurge, both found in Colorado will be impacted by climate change and likely retreat which will create restoration opportunities. Researches say more work needs to be done to determine to what extent cliamte change will impact plants. Will they die-off completly or just retreat?

Questions remain though about how native plants will be able to fill spaces vacated by invasive species. If the local native plants can’t fill the void than land managers may have to make decisions based on what type of purposes the public wants the land to serve.

“The question for policy makers and land managers is, ‘What do we want these lands to be?'” said Wilcove. “These lands will change, and we must decide now – before the window of opportunity closes – whether we do nothing or whether we intervene.”

(Thanks to Morgan Heim for sending this relevent article to me! If you come across something interesting send it my way!)


CO2 Stays in Atmosphere A Long Time

Currently Carbon Dioxide concentrations are above 380 parts per million, which is above the threshold for a warm climate. A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, released at 5 p.m. yesterday shows that carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere longer than other greenhouse gases.

“I think you have to think about this stuff as more like nuclear waste than acid rain: The more we add, the worse off we’ll be,” NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon told the Washington Post over the phone. “The more time that we take to make decisions about carbon dioxide, the more irreversible climate change we’ll be locked into.”


The researchers predict that Carbon Dioxide concentrations will continue to increase and peak at 6oo ppm in some areas. This dramatic increase, researchers say will cause a rise in sea level and droughts reminiscent of the dust bowl.

“Lake Hume at 4%” Photo Credit: suburbanbloke

This study spells trouble for threatened alpine species like the American Pika who will die-off if its body temperature is raised a few degrees. For more about the pika’s plight read my earlier entry “Protection for the Pika?

Future of Trees in the West Threatened Due to Climate Change

A new study shows that western trees in old growth forests are dying-off at an alarming rate due to climate change.These deaths were observed at different altitudes and in different trees from pines to hemlocks. Furthermore, trees are not growing back at a fast enough rate to replace the old growth tree loss.

"hdr tree" by Paulo Brandão's

"hdr tree" Photo Credit: Paulo Brandao

“The findings are consistent with other well documented, climate-induced ecological changes, including increased wildfire activity since the mid-1980s and bark beetle outbreaks that are occurring at unprecedented levels in western North America forests, including Alaska,” CU-Boulder geography Professor Thomas Veblen to Science Daily.

Researchers ruled out many things that could have contributed to climate change like fires. Trees in Colorado that were effected by the pine beetle outbreak were not used in the data set. The study found that temperatures most likely caused the die-offs.

“Average temperature in the West rose by more than 1° F over the last few decades,” said USGS researcher Phil van Mantgem to Science Daily. “While this may not sound like much, it has been enough to reduce winter snowpack, cause earlier snowmelt, and lengthen the summer drought.”

Trees are absorbing less Carbon Dioxide and tossing more greenhouse gas back into atmosphere, which is a recipe for a warmer globe and more ecological consequences for alpine environments.

ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/01/090122141222.htm

Photo Credit Link:

Update: More news about how old growth forest are dying out due to warmer temperatures can be found here:

Will the Pika be Protected Under the Obama Administration?

"The Pika"

"The Pika" Photo Credit: wildxplorer

Do you think the pika will become the first animal to be protected because of climate change under the Obama administration? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Climate Change Impacts Colorado Ecosytems

"Ice Pattern on Lake Tahoe"

"Ice Pattern on Lake Tahoe" Photo Credit: the_tahoe_guy

High above Boulder at the Niwot Ridge research center scientists have been monitoring the way climate change impacts the local ecosystems.  They have found an increase in rain over the past 50 years.

“This increase has affected the physical processes of alpine lakes; lake-ice thickness measured in late March over a 20-year interval shows a marked decline, while temperatures over this interval have remained statistically unchanged,” the center found in its study available here:

Ice thickness on lakes has waned during winter months and more nitrogen has been introduced into the system.

Based on historic findings the researchs new model, “suggests that high-elevation lakes and tree line, which functions as a windbreak and collects snow, particulates, and nutrients, may be the locations that experience the first negative impacts of a variety of anthropogenic materials,” in this area.

Have you lived in Boulder or an alpine region in Colorado for awhile and noticed climate change or no change? Let me know in the comments section below.

Disapearance of Pika Populations in the Great Basin

“Pikas may act as early sentinels of changes in other montane mammal species”

In a 2003 peer-reviewed study of pika populations published in the Journal of Mammalogy Erik A. Beever, Peter F. Brussard and Joel Berger reported a 28 percent decrease in former pika populations located in the Great Basin.


Photo Credit: danceswithmarmots

The study set out to determine the distribution of pikas relative to the biogeography, climate and with regards to humans influence. No small task and one that really had not been tackled with regards to the pika.

“We revisited historical locations of pikas (Ochotona princeps) within the hydrographic Great Basin during summers of 1994–1999. Seven of 25 populations (28%) reported earlier in the 20th century appeared to have experienced recent extirpations,” the study said.

The populations that lived in lower elevations were often those later reported extinct. Also, lands located on the BLM had higher rates of pika extinctions than lands located elsewhere.  Furthermore researchers found that pikas are stubborn and most do not move from the population where they were born.  This means that if pikas need to move to higher ground to survive many will not do so.

Mountains to researchers are similar to island habitats in that life has adapted in a relatively isolated fashion. Earlier studies have shown that many mountain animals are capable of moving between and adapting to different mountain ranges. However, the American pika does not exhibit this characteristics.

The journal article explains how the pikas came to face is current plight by looking back at the animals historic range. Pikas have been apart of the American landscape for some estimated 500,000 years. These small round creatures once were widely distributed after a brief period of glaciation. But this pika Renaissance was not to last.

“Subsequent warming during the mid-Holocene forced pikas to retreat to higher latitudes and elevations (Grayson 1987; Hafner 1993, 1994). This retreat set the stage for the current relict, disjunct distribution of pikas in the Intermountain West,” the study said.

As temperatures heat up and as climate change is better understood it may be easier for researchers to draw conclusions on why the American pika is disappearing. For now though, researchers say, ” warmer temperatures seem likely to be contributing to apparent losses that have occurred at a pace significantly more rapid than that suggested by paleontological records.”

More to come on more recent studies and findings. Let me know if you come across anything relevent and interesting!


Photo Credits: mahalie, Tambako and ames.