Thursday, July 28, 2011

Desiccating heat

Blue jays perch on the back of the Adirondack chair as they wait their turn for a refreshing splash in my birdbath. Mouths agape, they're as thirsty and hot as the western Ozarks these days. Average daily temperatures hover between 96 and 102, but work must continue, so I return each day to the woods and glades for vegetation sampling, coming inside around 6 pm everyday drenched in sweat and covered in seed ticks, usually weighing three to four pounds less than I weighed in the morning. It's still fun, of course, but sad to see my quadrats look like this:

Glades typically exist in dry to almost xeric conditions--lacking shade, often situated on south or west facing slopes, exposed bedrock and, if the glade has been grazed to hell by domestic livestock, lacking any significant soil structure. This week, glade plants have become crunchy, which makes it challenging to identify some of the smaller grasses and wilted dicots. Among the glade plants that have managed to remain green, erect, and to offer flowers this week are plants of the genus Liatris and Silphium. Several individuals of these genera possess thick, rigid stalks and leaves with stiff, rough hairs. Liatris aspera (not yet blooming) is smooth, with none of the water hoarding ability as its relatives, and can be found with flower buds along the stalk and only slightly wilting leaves. I snapped a crummy photo of a Buchnera americana on a glade, since when I return next week it will be shriveled to black.

Unfortunately, this high pressure system is too strong for the jet stream, and according to one report these excessive temperatures and drought-like conditions may be the new normal in Missouri. If this is true, and if the weather patterns are in fact due to climate change, the time is now to make our ecosystems as resilient as possible, to encourage water holding in deep rooted perennial plants, to try to repair the soils from years of disturbance from overgrazing by domestic livestock, and to restore the ancient fire regimes under which our landscapes adapted. There's little to nothing we can do to stop the rapid march of climate change, honestly, but we have the ability to implement fire.


Kbanner said...

Allison, what glade have you been visiting? I've been visiting the Busiek glade for the past month or so and it's really looking sad right now.

Allison Vaughn said...

I spend a lot of time in the western Ozarks around the Niangua Basin country. Was in Current River area this past week and it didn't look so bad, what with those protected, moist coves.

Travis said...

you weren't here in 1980 or 1988, but they were waaaaay hotter than this. this is just about normal.