Can you imagine Joshua Tree National Park without any Joshua trees?
The iconic tree is under threat from climate change and may be extinct from its namesake park within a human lifetime. The places where they live could become too hot and dry for them or the species that they depend on to survive.
Joshua trees have an intimate relationship with a tiny moth pollinator who lays her eggs in the trees’ flowers and then pollinates them so her young can eat the resulting seeds. As the fruits grow, her developing moth larva eat a portion of the growing seeds, while the uneaten seeds have a shot at becoming the next generation of Joshua trees. The larva will then pupate in the soil, waiting until the following spring to break out from their underground cocoons as new moths and rise up out of the desert sand to find flowers and start the process again.
An equally fascinating drama is happening below our feet in the desert soils! Joshua trees form a symbiotic relationship with several species of root fungi called mycorrhizae. These fungi grow throughout the soils in vast webs, helping the trees to gain better access to important soil nutrients and water in exchange for plant sugars. Plants that partner with these fungi are more resistant to diseases and drought, and in some cases have even been shown to share resources between plants or send out alarms about pests and disease through these fungal networks.
Juniper Harrower’s research looks at how the interaction between the trees and their moth and fungal partners changes with climate and other environmental factors and considers how we can best manage for their future survival. To learn more and see how you can participate, please visit www.juniperharrower.com