California can’t win when it comes to water. This year’s drought and water rationing is old news, but a study by researchers from UC Davis, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has brought another problem to light: California’s wildflowers are at risk of severely reduced biodiversity.
While many of California’s water problems stem directly from human activity, namely misuse of water supplies for “thirst crops” like almonds, the wildflower issue is more indirectly connected to human activity. For the last 15 years, California has seen warmer and drier winters thanks to global climate change. The result is that many drought sensitive plant species are on the verge of extinction there, and as California is expected to see more such winters, the problem isn’t going to go away.
The problem is that, as biodiversity in the grasslands drops, the ecosystems of those grasslands will change as well. A reduction in plant species will result in a reducing in insect populations, which will make it harder or other plants to be fertilized. Seed eating rodents, which help to spread plant seeds further than dropping them, will also see a reduction. Herbivores will have reduced access to food and a changing diet, which could result in further extinctions. Even cattle would be affected, which in turn affects humans.
Ecosystems are carefully balanced, and removing any species, much less multiple species, can have disastrous effects on them. Unfortunately, because there isn’t much we can do to make California winters wetter and colder in the near future, it’s likely that this problem is irreversible. The best we can hope for is to try and mitigate the damage to the grassland ecosystems, but we can certainly learn from this mistake, and step up our attempts to slow down climate change and, eventually, to reverse it, before even more ecosystems are destroyed by it.