The growing season of 2015-2016 has come and gone with disappointing results from the supposed El Niño year. The 2016-2017 season is approaching and a few had feared that it would just continue the current pattern of drought. I was especially fearful having battling drought four years in a row in my study of plant interactions. It would be nice to have a chance with at least “average” precipitation amounts. Half way through the rain season and this year looks promising. Areas of California have been seeing some pretty significant precipitation including some potential floods. While this is great news in terms of drought relief for coastal cities and the Sierra Nevada snow pack, I wonder what the consequences will be for the deserts? In particular, the Mojave always seems to be in the unluckiest of rain shadows, missing most of the precipitation that the rest of the state experiences. I took a snap shot of the rainfall and average temperatures since seeding at the end of October. Here are the results:
The right combination of rain, temperature, and timing are absolutely crucial in desert ecosystems in regards to how the plant composition will respond. In an older paper by Beatley (1974) is a description of how these three variables determine plant composition. From this and my own experience, the absolute minimum rain to see any annual vegetation on the ground is 2.5 cm. However, these plants usually die within a month if there is no subsequent rain. I have seen this occur in multiple years where Halloween rain is not followed by any other precipitation until mid-January. The result? Many dead plants, and a new representation for plant communities. The Mojave has seen enough rain to begin germination and this rain has all occurred within the last 3 weeks. This, plus continued cold temperatures, should encourage the persistence of annuals for at least another month. If at least one other major rain storm passes through in that time I would expect to see these plants make it to flowering. On the more westerly side of the state, my sites have been seeing fairly consistent rain. This is great news for my Panoche Hills site that likely has passed its precipitation threshold that guarantees emerged plants to flowering.
Fingers crossed as always!