The severe California drought isn’t just forcing people to take shorter showers; it may also be killing off one of the state's largest, most resilient species of trees.
A full-grown Sequoia tree can take up to 500 to 800 gallons of water per day. Sequoias typically can survive insect infestations, wildfires and storms but this ongoing drought is giving the beloved trees a run for their money.
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Research ecologist Nate Stephens with the U.S. Geological Survey noticed during a walk in the woods that some of the trees had dropped most of their leaves.
He teamed up with some of his own colleagues as well as researchers from the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Stanford University and the Carnegie Airborne Observatory to conduct a comprehensive health study on the sequoia.
Tree ecologist at University of California Berkeley Anthony Ambrose plans to collect samples from more than 50 trees that have dropped up to 75% of their leaves in the coming weeks in hopes that they can offer real-time data to forest managers who can use the information to prioritize care for the dehydrated trees.
"There are a lot of trees that are dying, a lot of pines and cedars that have died because of the drought," Ambrose said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "The giant sequoia seem to be pretty resistant, but we want to know what does it take to kill one of these and what can we learn from this."
Ambrose said many of these trees have undeniably gone through drought before — the oldest among them can live to more than 3,000 years old. But opportunities to study a drought like this one don't happen often and can provide insight into a tree's capacity for hardship.
“Every organism has a limit,” Ambrose said. “Every organism has a threshold beyond which it can't survive anymore.”
As the drought nears the end of its fifth year, let’s hope things start looking up in 2016 and beyond, otherwise California is at risk of losing vital ecological elements and revered tourist locations for nature lovers.