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UC Riverside botanist to study role of plants in southern California's drought
Date:9/11/2008

RIVERSIDE, Calif. A UC Riverside botanist has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to study how Southern California's plants affect the region's drought.

Louis Santiago, an assistant professor of physiological ecology in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, will investigate which plant species in Southern California are most susceptible to drought and how their disappearance might impact the amount of water available for human use.

The research could lead to a better understanding of how changes in vegetation caused by climate change affect the amount of plant water evaporated from desert chaparral ecosystems of Southern California.

"The evaporation of water from plants to the atmosphere is dependent on weather, and can be affected by extreme weather events, such as drought, floods or heat waves," said Santiago, the principal investigator of the two-year, $175,000 grant. "In our study, we will use measurements of water in plants as well as mathematical modeling to predict how much water plants evaporate over long periods of time. This knowledge is a key to identifying plant species that are most vulnerable to extreme drought."

California's current drought has been caused by a number of factors including two years of below-normal rainfall. Statewide rainfall was below normal in 2007 and 2008, with many Southern California communities receiving only 20 percent of normal rainfall in 2007. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought in June 2008.

Southern California's drought has weakened trees and exacerbated a bark-beetle infestation in the San Bernardino, San Jacinto, and Palomar Mountains. The trees threaten life and property from windstorms, wildfires and subsequent erosion.

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Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@ucr.edu
951-827-6050
University of California - Riverside
Source:Eurekalert

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