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Changing landscapes of Santa Rosa Island, California

changing-landscapes-of-santa-rosa-island-california

Have the ecosystems of California's Channel Islands changed over the decades? A project matching archival photos with modern images is offering USGS and National Park Service researchers a time machine to look into the past.

USGS Western Ecological Research Center scientist Kathryn McEachern and musician/videographer Trey Demmond worked with Channel Islands National Park to provide a unique then-and-now imagery set to study the changing landscapes of Santa Rosa Island. McEachern and Demmond revisited the locations where the historic photos were taken, in order to survey the vegetation and assess the changes. 

Like much of southern California, the islands were used as ranches and military posts in the 1800s and 1900s. Unlike the mainland, the National Park Service islands are now transitioning to conservation reserves for public use. These photographs show the changing land uses as barracks, roads and grass-covered rangelands are replaced with foot trails and native scrub. It is apparent from the photographs that change comes at different rates across the landscape, with moist places changing faster than dry sites.

The results give park managers a better understanding of how Santa Rosa Island's ecosystem has changed through shifts in human and natural history, and help us appreciate the fragile and enduring extremes of these island ecosystems hidden away off the bustling coast of greater Los Angeles. Note: reprint permissions for historic photos are on file with Kathryn McEachern.

Video, featured image and caption courtesy of USGS

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