Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Desert Dust Alters Ecology Of Colorado Alpine Meadows

Date:
July 5, 2009
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
Accelerated snowmelt -- precipitated by desert dust blowing into the mountains -- changes how alpine plants respond to seasonal climate cues that regulate their life cycles, according to a new study. These results indicate that global warming may have a greater influence on plants' annual growth cycles than previously thought.

More dust covers snow in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado than previously documented.
Credit: Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies

Accelerated snowmelt--precipitated by desert dust blowing into the mountains--changes how alpine plants respond to seasonal climate cues that regulate their life cycles, according to results of a new study reported this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). These results indicate that global warming may have a greater influence on plants' annual growth cycles than previously thought.

Related Articles


Current mountain dust levels are five times greater than they were before the mid-19th century, due in large part to increased human activity in deserts.

"Human use of desert landscapes is linked to the life cycles of mountain plants, and changes the environmental cues that determine when alpine meadows will be in bloom, possibly increasing plants' sensitivity to global warming," said Jay Fein, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Atmospheric Sciences, which funded the research in part.

This year, 12 dust storms have painted the mountain snowpack red and advanced the retreat of snow cover, likely by more than a month across Colorado.

"Desert dust is synchronizing plant growth and flowering across the alpine zone," said Heidi Steltzer, a Colorado State University scientist who led the study. "Synchronized growth was unexpected, and may have adverse effects on plants, water quality and wildlife."

"It's striking how different the landscape looks as result of this desert-and-mountain interaction," said Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies (CSAS) in Silverton, Colo., who, along with Tom Painter, director of the Snow Optics Laboratory at the University of Utah, contributed to the study.

"Visitors to the mountains arriving in late June will see little remaining snow," said Landry, "even though snow cover was extensive and deep in April. The snow that remains will be barely distinguishable from the surrounding soils.

Earlier snowmelt by desert dust, said Painter, "depletes the natural water reservoirs of mountain snowpacks and in turn affects the delivery of water to urban and agricultural areas."

With climate change, warming and drying of the desert southwest are likely to result in even greater dust accumulation in the mountains.

In an alpine basin in the San Juan Mountains, the researchers simulated dust effects on snowmelt in experimental plots. They measured dust's acceleration of snowmelt on the life cycles of alpine plants.

The timing of snowmelt signals to mountain plants that it's time to start growing and flowering. When dust causes early snowmelt, plant growth does not necessarily begin soon after the snow is gone.

Instead, plants delay their life cycle until air temperatures have warmed consistently above freezing.

"Climate warming could therefore have a great effect on the timing of growth and flowering," said Steltzer.

Competition for water and nutrient resources among plants should increase, leading to the loss of less competitive species. Delayed plant growth could increase nutrient losses, decreasing water quality.

Similarity in flowering times and plant growth will result in abundant resources for wildlife for a short time rather than staggered resources over the whole summer, Steltzer believes.

"With increasing dust deposition from drying and warming in the deserts," she said, "the composition of alpine meadows could change as some species increase in abundance, while others are lost, possibly forever."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Desert Dust Alters Ecology Of Colorado Alpine Meadows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 July 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090629200804.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2009, July 5). Desert Dust Alters Ecology Of Colorado Alpine Meadows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090629200804.htm
National Science Foundation. "Desert Dust Alters Ecology Of Colorado Alpine Meadows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090629200804.htm (accessed January 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Nanoscale Sensor Could Help Wine Producers and Clinical Scientists

Nanoscale Sensor Could Help Wine Producers and Clinical Scientists

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 30, 2015) A nanosensor that mimics the oral effects and sensations of drinking wine has been developed by Danish and Portuguese researchers. Jim Drury saw it in operation. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) Retired astronaut and television host, Leland Melvin, snuck his dogs into the NASA studio so they could be in his official photo. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) shows us, the secret is out. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Wants to Analyze DNA from 1 Million People

U.S. Wants to Analyze DNA from 1 Million People

Reuters - US Online Video (Jan. 30, 2015) The U.S. has proposed analyzing genetic information from more than 1 million American volunteers to learn how genetic variants affect health and disease. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rarest Cat on Planet Caught Attacking Monkeys on Camera

Rarest Cat on Planet Caught Attacking Monkeys on Camera

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) An African Golden Cat, the rarest large cat on the planet was recently caught on camera by scientists trying to study monkeys. The cat comes out of nowhere to attack those monkeys. Patrick Jones (@Patrick_E_Jones) has the rest. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins