As human activities alter meadow ecosystems, meadow hydrology and vegetation suffers as stream channels degrade, releasing water earlier in the year, and conifer trees encroach within meadows, absorbing a greater supply of water than the natural vegetation.
In 2015, the snowpack that blanketed the Sierra Nevada was the lowest recorded in the past 500 years, largely due to increased temperatures and a decrease in precipitation in the region. Protecting Sierra Nevada meadows that act like natural reservoirs, absorbing and filtering melting snowpack and rainwater, is critical, particularly in a state experiencing the worst drought in recorded history.
Meadows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains capture rain and snow, making water available throughout the year.
In a healthy meadow, the edges are lined with conifers and only a small percentage of them have aspen stands. As human activities change the landscape, however, conifers – trees that outcompete aspens for water and sunlight – have begun to encroach into the meadow and within aspen stands. Aspen are important to the overall biodiversity of the Sierra because they support a unique assemblage of plant species.
Help research teams to discover how these changes are impacting plants, trees, and water levels in meadows by evaluating aspen stands, monitoring encroaching conifers, and surveying groundwater and stream channels. Over time, this work will help scientists to understand how restoration actions impact meadows. You’ll also support meadow restoration projects, such as removing conifers from meadow fringes.
By studying and helping to protect these important ecosystems, home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, you’ll be supporting one of the most important water systems in California.