KGUN 9NewsLocal News


Saguaro's Resilience: Local scientists discuss climate change impact

Saguaro's Resilience: Local scientists discuss climate change impact
Posted at 5:33 PM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-15 16:59:50-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Saguaro National Park is on the New York Times’ 2022 list of places impacted by climate change. Local scientists share some concern, but they’re optimistic about the future.

It takes a lot for a saguaro to reproduce.

“With the right climatic conditions, good summer rains, moderate falls, not too cold winters, and repeat that for a couple years in a row,” said Benjamin Wilder, Director of the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill.

These conditions are rare and only happen every 20 or 30 years. That’s not usually a problem for the long-living species.

“They’re well-adapted to fluctuations, they’re desert species, they can handle booms and busts,” Wilder said.

But recent droughts and high temperatures have killed off older saguaros. It’s especially a problem for the newly formed, smaller ones that need a lot of water to grow.

“We haven’t had a good crop of saguaros now for more than 20 years," said Don Swan, Biologist at Saguaro National Park. "That’s because of the drought and if it continues that could be an issue for the saguaros.”

More wildfires can develop as a result of this climate change. Saguaros are especially vulnerable standing near easily flammable brush like buffel grass.

“Saguaros are not adapted to fire, so if they get caught up in wildfires, they could die,” Swan said.

Despite these rising concerns, local scientists are not alarmed.

“I don’t see any reason to believe at this point in time that we would completely go away from the conditions that saguaros need to establish," Wilder said.

Scientists expect conditions to improve, and even if they don't, the saguaros will stand tall.

“They’re a very resilient species," Wilder said. "Their evolutionary history goes back hundreds of thousands of years.”

“This is a plant that lives to be between 100 and 200 years old," Swan said. "They can reproduce for over 100 years. That makes them more resilient in the long-run.”