Journal of Undergraduate Research


modelling climate suitability, Ephedra viridis, space and time, climate change


Life Sciences




Climate change is expected to decrease soil moisture in the sensitive, water-limited ecosystems of America’s southwestern deserts, leading to shifts in plant distributions and altering ecosystem function. Studies have already documented the loss of desert grasses and the expansion of desert shrubs on the Colorado Plateau near Canyonlands National Park.i The objective of this work is to identify the climatic and biophysical factors influencing the distribution of an evergreen shrub, Ephedra viridis, and its expansion in plot-scale studies over the past 30 years.ii A gymnosperm and member of the plant division Gnetophyta, this shrub is unique because of its photosynthetic stems and scale-like leaves, contributing to drought tolerance.iii These traits, coupled with its year-round activity, may be giving E. viridis an advantage in the increasing warmth and aridity of its habitat. To examine the influence of climate and soil moisture on the past distribution of the shrub, we modelled its climate niche throughout its range as well as the soil moisture and temporal climate trends of a sample site in the Colorado Plateau.

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