Citizen Science and The Race North: Population Ecology of Joshua Trees In an Era of Climate Change



Friday, March 21, 2014  7 pm – 9 pm,

Saturday, March 22, 2014  9 am – 4 pm,

Sunday, March 23, 2014  9 am – 4 pm,

Monday, March 23, 2014  9 am – 7PM.

Meet at: Windmill Ridge Inn, Alamo, NV
Fee: $250 members $260 non members + lodging
Instructors: Chris Smith, Ph.D. Assistant Professor & Researcher at Willamette UniversityTodd Esque, Ph.D. Ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center
Hike Level: Moderate

Joshua trees are the most unique and recognizable plants of the Mojave Desert, but the most amazing thing about them may be their unusual pollination biology. Joshua trees are pollinated exclusively by two species of yucca moths – tiny grey moths that carry pollen to the trees in their mouths. The moths in turn reproduce by laying their eggs inside the Joshua tree flowers. Thus, both the moths and the Joshua trees are dependent on each other for reproduction. The future of this remarkable pollination system is threatened, however, by ongoing global climate change. Computer models predict that within the next 100 years Joshua trees may disappear from much of their current range, and emerging demographic data suggest that many populations in the southern Mojave Desert are already on their way to extinction. It is possible that the species may be able to survive by migrating to more temperate environments further north, but the trees’ capacity to escape warming climates will depend on how quickly they are able to colonize new habitats. A lonely valley in central Nevada, on the northern edge of the Joshua trees’ range,  creates a ‘natural laboratory’ for studying how Joshua trees are responding to global climate change. At this site, eastern and western subspecies of Joshua trees, along with their respective yucca moth pollinators, meet and interbreed. By tracking spatial patterns in plant demography at this site, it may be possible to predict which Joshua trees -if any- will win the The Great Race North. During a three-day citizen science program, participants in this course will contribute to ongoing scientific research on the population ecology of this most famous Mojave Desert species. Click for the most recent news about Dr. Smith.  Sample Lab Manual from 2013 class.

Food, lodging, gas and supplies are available in Alamo which is approximately 30 miles from the research site.  Primitive camping is also available much closer to the research site.  Google map of the research site and amenities.  For more information, please call 760-367-5535.

Click to download the course outline: Citizen Science Population Ecology of Joshua Trees – Spg2014

Here are some participant reviews of the Chris Smith’s March 2013  class:

“I can’t tell you what an absolutely delightful trip I had.  Very well organized and the people were so very knowledgeable.  Thank you for all of your attention to detail to help guide us through.”

“Thanks for all of your efforts related to the course … it was great.”

“Chris Smith is very knowledgeable and passionate about what he does, which made it all that more enjoyable for the rest of us.”


If you are a member of JTNPA/PINE you will get a $10 discount off every Desert Institute class. If you are not a member you can become one here.

Please take the time to review our General Class Information and Fitness Levels before registering.


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