GLORIA Great Basin: tracking alpine plant range shifts on mountaintops in the White Mountains with citizen scientists

Townsendia condensata, observed near Patriarch Grove. Photo by Kaleb Goff.

by Kaleb Goff and Brian Smithers, GLORIA Great Basin

GLORIA (Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments) is a collaborative network with a shared methodology for surveying alpine summits across the globe ( The primary objective of GLORIA is to measure changes in plant community composition on mountain summits in response to rapid and accelerating climate change. It is a tremendous effort with over 100 alpine areas in the global network. The non-profit GLORIA Great Basin leads the effort at eight of these areas in eastern California and Nevada. The White Mountains are a GLORIA Master Site, which means that the methodology used in the White Mountains is used as an example for the international GLORIA community.

GLORIA Great Basin has also pioneered complementary approaches to the standard international GLORIA summit protocol. Since 2007, GLORIA Great Basin has conducted surveys designed to observe changes in the upslope or downslope movement of plant populations by sampling across the entire alpine zone, where we expect mountain plants to shift upslope to track their climatic niches. These downslope surveys consist of 100 m long and 1 m wide belt transects, which are located at 25 m elevation intervals from just below GLORIA summit area plots down the slope below the summit toward the tree line. In each transect, we record the presence of all vascular plant species, and quantitatively record cover of plant species and substrata using a pin-flag method. These plots are consistently located on the southeast side of the mountain, to control for the strong effect of aspect. Every five years the same transects are re-located using GPS points and ground markers and re-surveyed. Data from this project have been used better understand the role of scale-dependency in alpine plant communities (Smithers and Oldfather et al. 2019). In the future, we hope to use this data to examine changes in the elevational distribution of plant species through time.

In the summer of 2022, GLORIA Great Basin returned to the White Mountains to repeat downslope surveys on Mt. Barcroft and Sheep Mountain East. We had a diverse crew of 25 volunteers from around the country and from all walks of life, including students, academics, agency personnel, GLORIA Great Basin board members, and citizen scientists. These surveys would not have been possible without the warm hospitality and generous collaboration from White Mountain Research Center. If you are interested in getting involved or participating in future GLORIA surveys, please check out our website ( where you can sign up to receive more information.

Since 2004 UC WMRC has generously provided support for White Mountain GLORIA survey volunteers and members.

The 2022 GLORIA Great Basin White Mountains team at Patriarch Tree. The team included students, academics, agency personnel, GLORIA Great Basin board members, and citizen scientists all working together. Photo by Brian Smithers.

Status: Ongoing