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A study published June 29, 2021 in the journal Frontiers in Climate, titled “Hotter Drought Escalates Tree Cover Declines in Blue Oak Woodlands of California,” by four EROS scientists, already has been attracting attention.

color photo of Blue Oak Tree
This blue oak tree is located in Pinnacles National Park in California. (Photo by the National Park Service)

At least 38 websites, including the Sacramento Bee and EurekAlert!, have published stories about the paper, some based on a Frontiers blog post with quotations from first author Francis Dwomoh. The paper itself has gained more than 1,400 views so far.

Dwomoh and colleagues Jesslyn Brown, Heather Tollerud, and Roger Auch used Land Change Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection (LCMAP) products and climate and wildfire datasets to examine the change in tree cover—specifically the decline in blue oak in California—from 1985 to 2016, with a focus on the effects of the exceptionally hot 2012-2016 drought.

The study revealed a high loss of more than 1,000 square kilometers of blue oak tree cover from fire and non-fire causes during the drought. Another more than 600 square kilometers of blue oak experienced conditional change—retaining some tree cover, but diminished by insects, wildfire, or another disturbance.

The biologically diverse blue oak woodlands are endemic to California and valued for their old growth stands, but the effects of climate change, such as frequent drought, may threaten their range.  

The study also shows the promise of LCMAP products to monitor the effects of climatic extremes and disturbances over time.

“Our results might be helpful to plan for more resilient blue oak woodlands and similar landscapes as the harsher climatic conditions of 2012-2016 are likely to be more common in the future,” Dwomoh said in the Frontiers post.

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