“Where Species Will Find Refuge”
by Julia Rosen
High Country News, October 20, 2016
[opening small talk redacted]
Devil’s Postpile is a national monument in the Sierra Nevada Mountains best known for its textbook specimens of columnar basalt. But superintendent Deanna Dulen wants it to be known for something else: as a place where plants and animals might escape — temporarily, at least — the worst effects of climate change. The monument is cooler than surrounding areas because cold air from the upper canyon of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River flows down into the valley floor and collects over the Postpile’s forests and meadows. Dulen hopes the monument will become the first place to be formally recognized and managed as a haven from warming.
Spots like these are known as climate change refugia, and scientists hope they will play a critical role in protecting biodiversity across the west—and the world—in the face of climate change. Researchers like Toni Morelli, an ecologist with the US Geological Survey, are working to understand the variety of reasons why refugia form and how resilient they will be to future warming. The most immediate challenge, Morelli says, is simply identifying and verifying the existence of potential refugia so that land managers can concentrate their conservations efforts in places where they might provide the most benefit. This can be challenging to accomplish on a large scale because of the complexity of mountainous terrain, and because the qualities of a suitable refugium depend partly on the particular needs of the species under threat.
I propose to write a feature for High Country News about climate change refugia and how they may help species weather the impacts of climate change. I will explore their potential benefits and limitations—including their small size and the fact that they are unlikely to offer a permanent solution— as well as outstanding scientific questions. The story will revolve around Devil’s Postpile, but will also focus on other places around the west where scientists have identified possible refugia.
I am well positioned to cover this story because of my scientific expertise on climate change, and because I lived in Mammoth Lakes, just a few miles from Devil’s Postpile, for three years. I would be happy to travel there to report this story.
I should mention one final thing about timing: Morelli has a paper on climate change refugia coming out in PLOS One in the next few weeks, and she expects several more to be published in the next six months or so. If you are interested in the story, let me know if you’d like to coordinate the timing to coincide with (or avoid) any potential news coverage of her study.
Thanks for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you!