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Landscaping for drought: We’re doing it wrong



Credit: Peter Ibsen/UCR
Study lead Peter Ibsen obtaining leaf samples for the study.
« Landscaping for drought: We’re doing it wrong

Trees’ tolerance, watered down

Newswise — Despite recent, torrential rains, most of Southern California remains in a drought. Accordingly, many residents plant trees prized for drought tolerance, but a new UC Riverside-led study shows that these trees lose this tolerance once they’re watered.

One goal of the study was to understand how artificial irrigation affects the trees’ carbon and water use. To find out, the researchers examined 30 species of trees spread across Southern California’s urban areas from the coast to the desert. They then compared those trees with the same species growing wild. 

“We found that, particularly as you move toward the desert regions, the same species of urban trees use much more water than their natural counterparts, even trees considered drought tolerant,” said study lead and former UC Riverside botany graduate student Peter Ibsen, currently with the U.S. Geological Survey.

This and other key findings from the study are now documented in the journal Biology Letters, published by the Royal Society.  

To obtain their findings, the researchers enlisted the help of trained community scientists to locate some of the most common Southern California street trees, ensure these specimens were healthy, and that the area at the base of the tree was at least 65% irrigated. 

Included in the study were such familiar species as eucalyptus, tree ficus, crepe myrtle, sweetgum, live oak, jacaranda, sycamore and Brazilian pepper trees, but not palms. Though palms are closely identified with California, botanists do not consider them trees.


Drought tolerant trees often restrict their water use to protect themselves from drying out when temperatures rise. However, with the exception of ficus, the irrigated trees all increased their water intake. 

“Generally, they’re not conserving it,” Ibsen said. “Given the extra water, they will use it all.”

As part of the study, researchers drilled into the core of the trees to measure the density of the wood, sampled leaves to measure their thickness and other physical properties, and measured the amount of pressure it takes to move water through the tree. 

Trees with denser wood typically grow slower and move less water through their stems. The wood is less dense if there is more water going through, at least in natural environments. 

“In urban areas, that relationship between wood density and water use falls apart,” Ibsen said, finding that even urban trees with dense wood were moving high amounts of water through their stems.

Trees in the study were also found to pull carbon from the atmosphere at different, and generally higher rates than their wild relatives. With more carbon, they also have a higher capacity for doing photosynthesis, and growing more leaves.


In these and other ways, urban trees are so unique in their behaviors that they can be classified as having their own distinct ecology. “Urban forests are different than anything else on the planet, even though all the species are found elsewhere on the planet,” Ibsen said. 

It is unclear whether overwatered trees can regain their ability to thrive in drought conditions if the water is removed. Also unclear is the specific amount of water people ought to give their trees in order to for them to thrive and retain their best attributes. Both issues are areas the researchers will be studying, going forward. 

For now, Ibsen recommends that gardeners interested in conserving water refrain from planting their drought tolerant tree on an irrigated lawn. “If you’re buying a tree that’s meant to be drought tolerant, let it tolerate a drought,” he said.

Source: University of California, Riverside

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What’s driving re-burns across California and the West?



As climate change sparks more new fires in old burn areas, understanding the underlying causes can help shape land-management strategies
Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory
Fires scorching previously burned land are increasing at about the same rate as wildfires in the West. Understanding how to predict them provides a new tool for getting ahead of the problem.
« What’s driving re-burns across California and the West?

Newswise — LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Seasonal temperature, moisture loss from plants and wind speed are what primarily drive fires that sweep across the same landscape multiple times, a new study reveals. These findings and others could help land managers plan more effective treatments in areas susceptible to fire, particularly in the fire-ravaged wildland-urban interfaces of California.

“Rapid climate change is the force behind these re-burns, which are increasing across the West at roughly the same rate as single-burn fires,” said Kurt Solander, a hydrologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Solander is corresponding author of the artificial-intelligence-based paper in the journal Environmental Research: Climate. “Predictive computer models of re-burns are thus essential to better understand their causes so that forest management practices, such as prescribed burns and forest thinning, can be updated to account for these events.”

The study defined re-burns as areas that burned multiple times over 10 to 20 years. Other factors contributing to re-burns include monthly minimum and maximum temperatures, canopy moisture levels, precipitation, runoff and more.

Re-burns threatening more of the West

Climate change is sparking more re-burns across the American West, Solander said, on a frequency comparable to single-burn fires. The study applied two forms of artificial intelligence to data about re-burns that occurred between 1984-2018 for the 11 Western U.S. states, an area of about 34,000 square miles and roughly equal to the size of Indiana. The study also analyzed data specifically from California.

To understand the role of people in these fires, the researchers zoomed in on re-burns that occurred in the wildland-urban interface. That included areas with more than 2.4 houses per square mile and covered at least 50% by wildland vegetation and areas with higher settlement densities and less than 50% wildland vegetation coverage lying within at least a mile and a half of heavily forested land. 

California was the only state where the rate of increase in the number of re-burns was consistently higher in the wildland-urban interfaces across all time periods, suggesting a stronger influence there by human activity.


“Human activity is so important in California because it causes about 90% of ignitions, versus much lower levels in other areas of the West, where lightning causes more fires,” Solander said. Human activity includes everything from an out-of-control campfire to a downed power line or the hitch of a trailer dragging on pavement and causing sparks, he said.

The massive, historic Camp Fire in California in 2018 was caused by power lines and burned 153,336 acres, destroyed 18,804 structures and resulted in 85 civilian fatalities. “The fire burned across land that had experienced about a dozen fires in the previous two decades,” Solander said.

By understanding the conditions that fuel re-burns and being able to predict where they might occur, agencies responsible for wildfire mitigation can focus more of their efforts on prescribed burns and thinning and possibly come up with novel effective treatment strategies that are more resistant to re-burns in those areas, Solander said.

The paper: “The drivers and predictability of wildfire re-burns in the western United States,” Environmental Research: Climate. DOI: 10.1088/2752-5295/acb079

The funding: Information Science and Technology Institute at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Source:  Los Alamos National Laboratory

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UK woodlands could store almost twice as much carbon as previously estimated

UK forests could store almost double the amount of carbon than previous calculations suggest, with consequences for our understanding of carbon stocks and humanity’s response to climate change, according to a new study involving UCL researchers.



Newswise — UK forests could store almost double the amount of carbon than previous calculations suggest, with consequences for our understanding of carbon stocks and humanity’s response to climate change, according to a new study involving UCL researchers.

For the study, published today in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence, the international team of scientists used a novel 3D scanning technique and analysis to assess the amount of aboveground biomass (AGB) – used to derive carbon storage – of 815 trees in a UK woodland. The team found that their results were 77% higher than previous estimates (410 t ha-1 of biomass vs 232 t ha-1). 

The authors say that their study could have implications for the role of forests in tackling climate change, with the potential underestimation of forest carbon stocks having both positive and negative consequences for climate policy.

Study co-author Professor Mat Disney (UCL Geography and the National Centre for Earth Observation) said: “Forests currently act as a carbon sink in the UK. However, whilst our finding that the carbon storage capacity of typical UK woodland could be nearly double what we previously thought might seem like a purely positive outcome, in practice this means that for every ha of woodland lost, we’re potentially losing almost twice the carbon sink capacity we thought.

“This has serious implications for our understanding of the benefits of protecting trees in terms of climate mitigation – and deforestation and afforestation targets more broadly.”

The study was a collaboration between researchers from UCL, UK’s National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), the Universities of Ghent, Oxford and Tampere, The National Physical Laboratory, and Sylvera. To establish their findings, the team undertook 3D terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) analysis in a 1.4 ha section of Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire. TLS is a remote sensing technique whereby millions of laser pulses are emitted to capture the environment and structures of trees in the woodland in 3D.


They then used statistical modelling to calculate the mass and volume of the trees, and subsequently the carbon storage capacity of the area, and compared this to the findings of previous models.

The authors say that their study brings into question the certainty of estimates of forest carbon storage across the UK, particularly for the largest and most carbon-heavy trees, which are currently based on widely used models that estimate tree mass from the trunk diameter. It is likely that previous studies have been greatly underestimating forest biomass across the UK.

Study lead author Professor Kim Calders (Ghent University) said: “Currently, most estimates of forest carbon stocks are based on simple allometric models that assume that a tree’s size and mass increase at a steady rate. Our findings show that relying on these models is problematic, as they are not representative of UK forests. While the models work well for trees smaller than around 50 cm in diameter, which are fairly uniform in terms of their size and volume, this isn’t what we see for larger, heavier trees. These are far more complex when it comes to structure – and they vary hugely across place and species.

“It’s vital that we’re able to reduce uncertainty in forest carbon estimates, given that land use, and forest protection and restoration in particular, constitute a quarter of countries’ current commitments to their Paris Agreement targets.”

Currently, the UK’s biomass stock reporting to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN is based on these allometric models, which the authors say have very likely resulted in significant under-reporting.

Study co-author Yadvinder Malhi (Oxford University) added: “Wytham Woods belongs to the University of Oxford and has witnessed over 70 years of detailed scientific research. This research shows how new approaches can yield surprises in even well-studied forests, with profound consequences for our understanding of forests and their role in tackling climate change that apply across the UK and beyond.”


This work was funded in part by European Metrology Programme for Innovation and Research (EMPIR) through the Metrology for Earth Observation and Climate (MetEOC) program led by NPL, as well as the UK Natural Environment Research Council and NERC National Centre for Earth Observation.

About UCL – London’s Global University

UCL is a diverse global community of world-class academics, students, industry links, external partners, and alumni. Our powerful collective of individuals and institutions work together to explore new possibilities.

Since 1826, we have championed independent thought by attracting and nurturing the world’s best minds. Our community of more than 43,800 students from 150 countries and over 14,300 staff pursues academic excellence, breaks boundaries and makes a positive impact on real world problems.

We are consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the world and are one of only a handful of institutions rated as having the strongest academic reputation and the broadest research impact.

We have a progressive and integrated approach to our teaching and research – championing innovation, creativity and cross-disciplinary working. We teach our students how to think, not what to think, and see them as partners, collaborators and contributors.  


For almost 200 years, we are proud to have opened higher education to students from a wide range of backgrounds and to change the way we create and share knowledge.

We were the first in England to welcome women to university education and that courageous attitude and disruptive spirit is still alive today. We are UCL. | Follow @uclnews on Twitter | Read news at | Listen to UCL podcasts on SoundCloud | Find out what’s on at UCL Mind


Source: University College London

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Consumer Corner

National Park Posters Gift Guide Features Nostalgic WPA-Style Poster Art – Perfect for National Park Fans of All Ages

With holiday shopping in full swing, National Park Posters is excited to share its 2022 gift guide, featuring ideas that will bring joy to your loved ones and support national parks at the same time. Get a jump on gift-giving season with holiday gifts for the national park lover in your life.



DENVER /PRNewswire/ — With holiday shopping in full swing, National Park Posters is excited to share its 2022 gift guide, featuring ideas that will bring joy to your loved ones and support national parks at the same time. Get a jump on gift-giving season with holiday gifts for the national park lover in your life.


  • National Park Posters – WPA-style art prints of America’s most stunning landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history – will make your space special. Rob Decker’s vintage-style national park posters, inspired by the iconic WPA artwork of the 1930s and 40s are 100% American made. National Park Posters are the perfect way to reminisce about national park experiences and share them with friends and family!
  • Original artist proofs have become prized collector’s items with the rise in popularity of WPA-style national park posters. Artist Proofs are true limited edition prints – numbered, dated and signed by the artist, Rob Decker.
  • Are we there yet? Maps & Checklists feature all 63 national parks and help ensure folks are in the know for their next adventure.
  • The Ultimate Hiking Map & Poster Bundle features posters, stickers and the Day Hikes Map Guide. Available for Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion National Parks.


  • Ready-to-hang canvas prints are brimming with vintage appeal and offer an escape to some of America’s most beloved landmarks. These breathtaking landscapes are sure to enliven any space.
  • Remember all the things. The National Park Posters Calendar will keep you organized and up to date while providing breathtaking views of our national parks from the comfort of your home or office.


  • Have a sticker collector on your holiday shopping list? Get stickers for their favorite parks, or the entire set of 25.
  • The boxed set of national park postcards are perfect for framing and sharing adventures with friends and family.


Searching for a thoughtful gift that makes an impact? Artist Rob Decker – whose work has been featured by CNN Travel, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Sierra, Mountain Living, and many others – is the creative spirit behind the project and donates 10% of annual profits to organizations that support our National Parks. Explore the 2022 Gift Guide at:

SOURCE National Park Posters

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