Recent heavy rainstorms around Berkeley have refreshed UC Berkeley’s flora and fauna.
According to Benjamin Wong Blonder, campus assistant professor of environmental science, policy and management, the moisture from this winter’s rains has been beneficial to the organisms on campus that have faced a several-year long drought.
“The long-term drought depletes the soil and makes it difficult for many plants to grow and causes them to be more susceptible to diseases and direct damage,” Blonder said. “That, in turn, can have cascading effects to the non-plant organisms that depend on the habitat and the resources those plants provide.”
Some of the benefits from the heavy rains have been clearing out clogged stream channels in Berkeley, recharging soil and promoting the growth of plants and the organisms that depend on them, Blonder noted.
Campus spokesperson Kyle Gibson said in an email that drought-tolerant and resistant plants are typically selected for planting and that campus has reduced water consumption by over 36% in the past several years.
Too much water can lead to disturbances, according to Blonder, who noted that intense storms like these can cause the soil to saturate and become mechanically unstable.
“All the water that could go into the soil can’t stay there any longer because the soil is full,” Blonder said. “That water ends up running off on the surface and causing some of the big streamflows that we saw (this winter), a lot of the heating of water on the roadways, soggy fields, and so on.”
Gibson added in the email that soil saturation can also lead to erosion and mudslides, phenomena that were seen on campus this winter. Several mudslides occurred around the city of Berkeley, including one at the Clark Kerr campus.
Blonder added that although the wet weather causes changes in the environment and animal behavior, it is not necessarily unusual.
“Students on campus today might know Berkeley for its dry winters, but historically the severe rain is not out of the ordinary,” Blonder said. “The organisms here are relatively adapted to these kinds of intense winter storms.”
Conditions like these are caused by patterns in the Pacific Ocean which send storms over California.
According to Blonder, the last major storm that occurred in the area was in the 1860s. He added that such storms were uncommon during European and Spanish settlement of California. Because of this, infrastructure was not built to withstand large winter storms.
He added that these heavy rains are expected to become more frequent and extreme in the coming decades as the climate changes.
“They certainly look destructive, but the thing to remember is that disturbance is a key feature of nature and in many ways something that organisms are adapted to,” Blonder said.