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Latest Cal Nat Blog

Pulling Weeds, Pondering Ecosystems: Lessons from Northern Arizona

In Northern Arizona, the fertile volcanic soils nurture not only native plants but also invasive weeds, which threaten local biodiversity by outcompeting and overwhelming native species. Through daily efforts of pulling weeds like cheat grass and bind weed, Dr. Cameron Barrows reflects on the delicate balance of ecosystems and the challenges of maintaining native flora.

The Changing Faces of North America's Deserts: Climate, Boundaries, and Biodiversity

“ The best journeys are the ones that answer questions that at the outset you never even thought to ask ” — Rick Ridgeway By DR. CAMERON BARROWS In North America’s arid west, we recognize four to six major subdivisions of deserts, depending on who’s talking. The Great Basin Desert sits at the northwestern corner...

Masters of Desert Survival: The Unique Lives of Tortoises

“We called him Tortoise because he taught us.” — Lewis Carroll By DR. CAMERON BARROWS When we think of iconic desert animals, species that epitomize not just survival, but the ability to thrive in a desert environment, chuckwallas, desert iguanas, fringe-toed lizards, and tortoises rise to the top of my list. One criterion would be...

Mountains and Deserts: The Resilient Path of Sagebrush Lizards

“A million years is a short time - the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet's time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.” ― John McPhee By DR. CAMERON BARROWS Perhaps...

Walking in a Lizard Wonderland: Exploring the Unique Biodiversity of Coachella Valley

"Lizards of every temper, style, and color dwell here, seemingly as happy and companionable as the birds and squirrels." — John Muir By DR. CAMERON BARROWS There are more species of lizards here than anywhere in the U.S., perhaps anywhere in North America. By here I mean the junction of northern Baja California, the southern...

Counting Lizards: Unveiling Nature's Secrets with Community Science

“Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge; it's common sense.” — President Ronald Reagan “Good stewardship of the environment is not just a personal responsibility; it is a public value... Our duty is to use the land well, and sometimes not to use it at all. This is our responsibility as...

Rethinking Animal Perception Beyond Human Limits

“One of the most neglected areas in the philosophy of perception concerns animal senses. It is surprising how many philosophers write about perception in the apparent belief that humans are the only perceivers in the world. Human senses evolved through the natural process as other animal senses, so there is no reason to regard human...

From Chaos to Order: Carl Linnaeus and the Birth of Modern Taxonomy

“ That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. ” — William Shakespeare By DR. CAMERON BARROWS Granted, it would smell just as sweet, but calling it a daisy or a lupine would sow no end of confusion. Names are important means of conveying information, of ensuring we...

The Intricate Value of Biodiversity Explored

“T he value of biodiversity is that it makes our ecosystems more resilient, …. its wanton destruction is akin to setting fire to our lifeboat.” — Johan Rockstrom By DR. CAMERON BARROWS The value of biodiversity, of landscapes filled with a wide variety of species, is a value held across cultural and economic divides. Gazing...

Decoding the Mystery of Increasing Wildfires in Southern California's Deserts

By DR. CAMERON BARROWS “There are no historical records of large fires ... in the Southern California deserts before the invasion of non-native grasses. Now, such fires are becoming increasingly frequent, endangering the continued existence of native desert ecosystems.” This quote was in reference to the Sawtooth Fire which burned a large area of the...

Survival Sanctuaries: Exploring Earth's Climate Refugia and Their Vital Role Amidst Environmental Change

Refugium, plural Refugia: def. "An area in which a population of organisms can survive through a periof of unfavorable conditions." By DR. CAMERON BARROWS Our earth’s long history has been punctuated with climate shifts, many of which have resulted in massive extinction events. Sometimes those climate shifts were the result of orbital changes, tilting us...

What defines a species?

“No one definition has satisfied all naturalists, yet every naturalist knows what they mean when they speak of a species” — Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species By DR. CAMERON BARROWS What is a species? Species are the currency by which we measure biodiversity, how we make decisions about conservation priorities, and how we add...

Embracing Snakes

"Maybe it's animal-ness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting." — Carol Emshwiller By DR. CAMERON BARROWS Saint Patrick is celebrated (in part) in mid-March for allegedly ridding Ireland of all its snakes...

The intellectual descendants of Wallace and Darwin

"There is no way anything of value can be done without some framework. It might wqell be that the framework is discarded, or the rules opposed; that is not important. What is essential is that they exist so that one knows when one is in opposition to them." — Margot Fonteyn "You don't have to...

A changing climate and how community scientists can help

“ As the cold came on, and each of the more southern zones became fitted for arctic beings and ill-fitted for their former more temperate inhabitants, the later would be supplanted and the arctic species would take their places…. As warmth returned, the arctic forms would retreat northward, closely followed up in their retreat by...

How do seeds know when conditions are right?

“A flower blooming in the desert proves to the world that adversity, no matter how great, can be overcome.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo By DR. CAMERON BARROWS Hidden among the grains of desert sands are countless species of bacteria and fungi, minute fossorial arthropods, and the seeds of every kind of wildflower found in a given...

Biodiversity on Desert Islands

“...everyone knew that all islands were worlds unto themselves, that to come to an island was to come to another world.” ― Guy Gavriel Kay By DR. CAMERON BARROWS Looking from the sea toward a desert island, it could be easy to imagine a landscape nearly devoid of life. You couldn’t be more wrong. Desert...

How microphyll woodlands are essential to deserts

"Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?" - E.O. Wilson By DR. CAMERON BARROWS (This essay includes paraphrased portions of an essay originally written by Dr. Michael Allen, a retired University of California...

A Cactus is a Desert Rose

"A cactus is a desert’s rose." — Matshona Dhliwayo By DR. CAMERON BARROWS When I think of desert plants, those plants that are superbly adapted to the harsh aridity and temperature fluctuations of deserts, I think of cacti. Except for one species, all of the other nearly 2000 species of cacti are restricted to the...

The granitic sand dune system of the Coachella Valley

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams." — Antoine de Saint-Exupery By DR. CAMERON BARROWS For many who have not explored our deserts, their mental images of deserts have become intertwined with sand dunes. There are...