Three California ecosystems ranked in top 10 most endangered habitats

Originally published in The Daily Bruin
By Alex Chen

Wildlife of Southwest Deserts, Sierras and Bay Area endangered by global climate change

California recently garnered some unwanted recognition, as three regions within the state ranked in the nation’s top 10 most endangered habitats.

A report, released Jan. 1 by the Endangered Species Coalition, identified the California Sierra Mountains, the San Francisco Bay-Delta and the Southwest Deserts, which includes the Mojave Desert, as three of the top 10 most endangered ecosystems in the nation.

According to the report, the main cause of danger to these ecosystems is the onset of climate change. UCLA professors, however, also cited human interaction with these environments as an additional possibility.

“Climate change is a fact, but I believe right now in the near future, the threat to California’s ecosystems comes from changing land use practices and development,” said Hartmut Walter, professor of geography.

These threats emerge from the rapid increase in California’s population and the need for more land to sustain this growth, said Thomas Gillespie, geography professor.

“Land coverage change (and) the rapid increase in people who need places to live and things to eat, drastically changes the ecosystems rapidly,” Gillespie said.

But with the increase of the human populace and the effects of climate change, many of California’s native species have slowly diminished.

The Sierra Nevada mountain range, located on the eastern border of California, is known for its mid to high elevations found nowhere else in the state. The ecosystem is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish. But according to the report, as climate change creates warmer temperatures, these species will be forced even higher in the mountains, until they cannot go any further.

Likewise, the Southwest Deserts are home to many threatened and endangered species including the desert tortoise and the Sonoran pronghorn antelope. In this environment, frequent droughts and a lack of rainfall are threatening to become the norm, limiting surface water and food resources, according to the report.

More recently, 12 of the San Francisco Bay-Delta’s 29 indigenous fish species have become extinct or endangered. In addition, the report stated that other bird species in the region are slowly losing their habitats.

Because of climate change, the Bay-Delta is experiencing a change in its precipitation pattern, with more rain in the winter season and less later on.

As per the report, these changes in precipitation have created warmer conditions in California’s rivers, though many of the river species in the area depend on cold water conditions.