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“Wait, how many branches was that?” — Community monitoring of Joshua trees launches with leadership training

Earlier this month, community members from across the Mojave Desert came together at the Transitions Habitat Conservancy field station in Puma Canyon in the desert hills above Wrightwood, California, with a deceptively simple mission: to figure out how to count Joshua trees.

The volunteer leaders — from the California Native Plants Society, the Mohave Desert Land Trust, and the Transitions Habitat Conservancy — spent the Veteran’s Day weekend at Puma Canyon to learn a protocol for demographic surveys of Joshua tree populations, guided by Willamette University Associate Professor of Biology Chris Smith and his collaborators on the Joshua Tree Genome Project, US Geological Survey ecologist Todd Esque and CSU Northridge Assistant Professor of Biology Jeremy Yoder

USGS ecologist and JTGP collaborator Todd Esque explains how the challenges faced by Joshua tree at different stages of its life cycle. (Photo by Jeremy Yoder.)
USGS ecologist and JTGP collaborator Todd Esque explains the challenges faced by Joshua tree at different stages of its life cycle. (Photo by Jeremy Yoder.)
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Seeking Partners For Community Science

Volunteers set out for a survey of trees in Tikaboo Valley, Nevada (Photo: Chris Smith)

Volunteers set out for a survey of trees in Tikaboo Valley, Nevada (Photo: Chris Smith)

The Joshua Tree Genome Project and its partners are excited to announce a new community science program: Mapping Joshua Trees for Climate Change Resilience.

Working with local conservation organizations and teams of community scientists, we will develop a comprehensive map of the current distribution of Joshua trees, and assess population health through on-the-ground demographic surveys. The results of this study will allow us to develop a conservation plan for Joshua trees in the face of climate change. We are currently seeking local leaders from communities across the Mojave Desert to assist us with the project, and will hold a series of training events beginning in November, 2018.

To request more information, or become involved as a community scientist or a conservation leader click here and fill out the registration form.  For more information, keep reading.

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Return to Tikaboo Valley

Sunset over the contact zone (Jeremy Yoder)

We had a whole aisle to ourselves at the Henderson, Nevada, Super Wal-Mart. The shopping list for a month of desert fieldwork with a team of up to twenty filled half a dozen shopping carts — apples and oranges by the five-pound bag, piles of potatoes and pasta and oatmeal, twenty-five dozen eggs, three different kinds of Oreos, dishes and five-gallon water jugs and an extra folding table. We stacked it all in a rental RV, and the next morning we drove north.

For years, JTGP collaborator Chris Smith has organized trips to Tikaboo Valley, a site at the northernmost end of the Mojave Desert where the two species of Joshua tree meet. Over the course of each flowering season, Chris leads a team of Willamette University students, field staff, out-of-town collaborators, and willing volunteers in an ongoing experiment to understand how the trees match two different, highly specialized, pollinator species. Tikaboo provides a natural “common garden” where it’s possible to swap the pollinator species between the two Joshua trees, to see how things work out for all of them.

I drove up from Los Angeles to join Chris and his advance team in setting up camp in advance of the arrival of more than a dozen Willamette students for this week’s spring break. I was sorry to head back before things got properly underway, but I had a couple days to spend with the team scouting for flowering trees — a fine tour of Tikaboo Valley at the very beginning of spring.

Click on the gallery below to scroll through some images of the trip!

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