California’s Dry Regions are Hotspots of Plant Diversity

The first “big data” analysis of California’s native plants, using digitized information from more than 22 herbaria and botanical gardens around the state, provides some surprises about one of the most thoroughly studied and unique areas in the country.

For one, the state’s arid regions, including deserts such as Death Valley, are hotspots for originating new plant species and providing refuges for older plants that have disappeared elsewhere.

“These areas are under threat because that is where they want to generate solar energy, converting the land into a vacant lot. A lot of people have the mistaken impression that the desert is a lifeless place,” said Brent Mishler, a professor of integrative biology, senior fellow at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and the senior author of the study, which was published in October in the journal BMC Biology.