Plant Community Research

By Connor Dougherty

Coastal Sage Scrub:

Annual Precipitation: (Little summer heat), 12-25 inches

Common Animals: White crowned sparrow, Cottontail, Deer, Coyote, Raccoon, Quail, Skunk, Gopher, Hummingbirds

Common Plants: California Sagebrush, Buckwheat, California Lilac, Monkey flowers, Sage, Gooseberry and Currant, Coyote Brush

Coastal Prairie / Buff Plant:

Annual Precipitation: 20-35 inches

Common Animals: Tons of butterflies from Monarchs to Skippers, native flies and wasps

Common Plants: Sea-side Daisy, Blue-Eyed Grass, Douglas Iris, California Oat Grass

Southern Oak Woodland:

Annual Precipitation: 5-20 inches

Common Plants: Coast Live Oak, Engelmann Oak, California Walnut, Lemonade Berry, Sugar bush, Squaw bush

Common Animals: Acorn woodpecker, Western Scrub Jay, Western Bluebird, American Badger, Coyote, Mountain lion, Deer, Raccoon, Skunk, Rabbit, Rodents, Lizard, Tree frog, Toad

Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub Eco-regions Research

By Ava Schulenberg

Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub Eco-Regions can be characterized by hot and dry summers with cooler and wetter winters. The five regions that experience these conditions globally include the Mediterranean, south-central and southwestern Australia, the fynbos of southern Africa, the Chilean matorral, and the Mediterranean Eco regions of California. Despite its rare locations, the Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub Eco-regions are rich in biodiversity of unique species that are highly adaptable to their environment. Plant life has not only become adapted to fire but dependent on it to survive. Ten percent of the Earth’s plant species is derived from these regions and Phytogeographers consider the Fynbos a separate floral kingdom because sixty eight percent of the 8,600 vascular plant species crowded into its 90,000 kilometer squared are endemic and highly distinctive at several taxonomic levels.

In regard to species density, this region is equal to approximately forty percent of the plants species of the United States and Canada combined, found within an area the size of the state of Maine.

Vernal Pools Research

By Alexa Ramirez

Overview

Vernal Pools are temporary pools of water that are used as a habitat by distinctive plants and animals.They are a type of wetland that usually is devoid of fish which then allows natal amphibians and insects to develop without competition and predation.Vernal pools tend to be shallow in depth,and usually experience inundation from local runoff. They are called vernal pools,because vernal means relating to and occurring to spring,and vernal pools tend to reach their maximum depth during the springtime.The destruction of vernal pools leads to a decrease in wetlands and to the biodiversity of wetlands.

Physical Description

A vernal pool is a contained basin of depression found on ancient soils with an impermeable layer such as hardpan,claypan,and volcanic basalt. This layer makes it possible for vernal pools to retain water much longer than surrounding uplands, vernal pools also lacks a permanent above ground outlet.They usually contain water from around early spring and summer, but tend to dry out by late summer.Most vernal pools only contain water for a couple of months and then dry out.Some vernal pools in the northeast tend to be covered by ice during the winter months.Due to the fact that vernal pools dry up they are unable to support breeding populations of fish,and has thus lead to organisms adapting to the changing environment of vernal pools,these species tend to use the vernal pools for various parts of their life cycle,these species are called “obligate” species. Some of the species that inhabit vernal pools are Fairy Shrimp,Wood Frogs,and Mole Salamanders.Fairy Shrimp tend to be about 1 inch in size, they tend to spend their entire life in vernal pool which is usually a couple weeks. Wood Frogs and Mole Salamanders in the other hand hatch their eggs in the vernal pool,by the time the vernal pool dries up the young emerge and begin their life as terrestrial animal.

Importance of Vernal Pools

They are important because they promote biodiversity.Also they are a part of the Heritage of

California,they have coexisted for centuries with ranchers,and the ranchers appreciated the

beauty and the utility of vernal pool,and light grazing by cattle helps to promote biodiversity.Vernal pools were used by Native Americans in ceremony’s and to provide food.The flowers that grew around vernal pools were used for female initiations,the females would adorn themselves with the flowers and then dance for several days.Vernal pool were also a provided food for Native Americans,after the harsh winter they welcomed the green sprouts that grew around the pool such as coyote thistle,which is a species that is related to the domestic carrot.Vernal pools were also used to hunt/trap birds.Some of the species that live in or around vernal pools have agricultural and medicinal properties,therefore they are considered an important reservoir of genetic material that could possibly provide commercially important genetic material. For example meadowfoam which is vernal pool species is being studied to see if it could be a substitute of oil to replace animal based oil in industrial appliances.Some vernal pools are also seen as important migratory routes,such as vernal pools is Central Valley for Waterfowl species that migrate from Alaska to South America.Vernal Pools like many other wetlands are important because they collect water,remove contaminants from water,and they also help to moderate seasonal flooding during storm events.

Riparian Woodland and Southern Oak Woodland Research

By Peter Carachure

Riparian Woodland:

o   Dependent on the presence of or proximity to non-seasonal watercourses.

o   Surface water is not always a requirement and may be substituted for by underground water in some places.

o   Typical species of this community include Platanus racemosa (western sycamore), Populus fremontii and trichocarpa (fremont and black cottonwood), Alnus rhombifolia (white alder), Juglans californica (black walnut), Acer macrophyllum (big-leaf maple), Umbellularia californica (California bay laurel), Salix spp. (willows), Baccharis salicifolia (mule fat), and smaller plants such as Epipactis gigantea (stream orchid), Toxicodendron diversilobum (poison oak), Rubus ursinus (California blackberry), Equisetum spp. (horsetails), Lilium humboldtii (humboldt lily), and Mimulus cardinalis and guttatus (scarlet and creek monkeyflower).

Southern Oak Woodland:

o   Quercus agrifolia (Coast Live Oak), the dominant species, reaches a height of up to 25 m (82 ft).

o   This plant community has been significantly reduced in size due to land conversion for vineyards, grazing and urban development.

o   Annual precipitation is 5-20 inches

o   Common animals are Acorn woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Western Scrub Jay, Western Bluebird, American Badger, Coyote, Mountain lion, Deer, Raccoon, Skunk, Rabbit, Rodents, Lizard, Tree frog, Toad

o   Oaks and pines are fairly close together mixed in with tall and short shrubs, and openings of wildflowers, forbs and grasses

o   The woodlands gradually decline and die when non-native, or alien weeds replace the native shrubs, perennial and annual wildflowers that live under the oaks and pines.

o   Southern California soils are all over the place: clay, decomposed granite, sandy loam, and loam.

o   More foggy days and a few summer showers

Freshwater Marsh Research

By Connor Dougherty

Freshwater marshes are found near river mouths and in low drainage areas where freshwater builds up. The Florida Everglades is the largest freshwater marsh in the United States. Freshwater marshes are non-tidal ecosystems with non-peat soils (unlike bogs and fens). They can be either mineralized marshes (groundwater, streams, surface runoff) or poorly mineralized marshes (direct precipitation). The pH of this ecosystem is usually neutral. Common species of the freshwater marsh include ducks, geese, swans, songbirds, swallows, frogs, and mosquitoes. Shallow marshes may not always contain fish, however deeper marshes are home to many species including northern pike and carp. Cattails, water lilies, arrowheads, cottontails, sedges and bulrush are commonly found in freshwater marshes as well. Freshwater marshes are usually 1-6ft in depth, but vary seasonally. The waterlogged landscape of the marsh supports many low-growing plants and grasses. Freshwater marshes are threatened by human development, often through drainage and pollution from agricultural runoff. The California freshwater marshes have been filled, drained, and grazed repeatedly. Weeds and invasive plant species have also overrun many freshwater marshes.

Coastal Strand Research

By Haley Hanson

Physical characteristics of plant community

Coastal Strand is a plant community of flowering plants that form along the shore in loose sand just above the high tide line on the West Coast. Most species are indigenous, and the community has low species diversity because so few plants can tolerate the harsh conditions of high winds, battering salt spray, and extreme high temperatures in the summer. Plants must also be adapted to sandy saline soils, with extremely low nutrient loads, and low water holding capacity. Many species are succulent. Those with leaves are often light colored or grey-green to reflect sunlight and reduce desiccation (the drying up of leaves). Hairy leaves on the plants reduce transpiration (evaporation from plant leaves), may help gather moisture from the air, and may reflect a small portion of incoming solar radiation thereby reducing the plants internal temperature. They are low in height with spread out root systems to help anchor the plant in the shifting sands above high tide.

Wildlife and plant life

Many members of Asteraceae (Sunflower Family) like the green beach-bur, members of Brassicaceae (Mustard Family) like the island wallflower, members of Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family) like the sandcarpet (plant used sometimes for erosion control, interesting sidenote), members of Fabaceae (Legume Family) like the yellow bush lupine, members of Lamiaceae (Mint Family) like crisp monardella, members of Nyctaginaceae (Four O’clock Family) like sand verbena, members of Onagraceae (Evening Primrose Family) like the beach evening primrose, members of Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family) like coast buckwheat, and members of the Rosaceae (Rose Family) like beach strawberry.

Groups who have done previous restoration, if any

Jenifer Dugan and David Hubbard did research on the loss of coastal strand habitat in southern California and posted their results in a January 2010 article in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Estuaries and Coasts.

Reasons for declining habitat, if any

Dugan and Hubbard’s results show that beach grooming has contributed to widespread conversion of coastal strand ecosystems to unvegetated sand, and increased conservation of these threatened coastal ecosystems could help retain sediment, promote the formation of dunes, and maintain biodiversity, wildlife, and human use in the face of rising sea levels.

Chaparral and Coastal Sage Scrub Research

By Alexa Ramirez

Chaparral Overview

The chaparral is a scrubland that is found primarily in California and in certain regions if Baja California.  Chaparral is also known as California woodlands and grasslands. Its shaped by Mediterranean climate,  and it covers about 5% of California,  contains all 4 seasons,  and has an average of 12 to 40 inches of percipitation.

Plants

The chaparral usually has about 2, 036 different types of plant species. These species tend to be large waxy leaves that can retain moisture, and that are adapted to fires. These plants also have roots that are designed to get as much water as that can. Trees are oaks pines and mahogany. Plants include Toyon,  Chemise,  Yucca,  Poison Oak,  Scrub Oak, and California Lilacs.

Animals

The chaparral has a complex ecology, which allows it to support a very large number of animal species. The animals that usually inhabit the chaparral are usually animals that have adapted to dry and hot weather. These animals tend to be grassland and desert animals, and these animals depend on fires for regeneration. Animals include coyotes, jack rabbits,  mule deer,  alligator lizards,  horned toads, ladybugs,  praying mantis,  and honey bees.

Humans

In California one of the big concern, especially in Santa Barbara is that we live in the chaparral, and we disturb the habitat by building house and such. There is also a concern of increased fires due to human error. Another big issue is that there are endangered species living in the chaparral and that humans might put more stress on these species. To protect the chaparral though there are two National Parks(Los Padres and Channel Island),  to protect the chaparral and the species that inhabit it. The chaparral is also hurt when people cut down trees, for fire wood and pasture,  which usually which disrupts the animals habitat. In some ways humans have helped by restoring water sources that have been destroyed by domestic animals and water diversion.

Coastal Sage Scrub

The coastal sage scrub is a scrubland plant community that is found in California and northwest Baja California. It usually occurs from sea level to about 1500 ft above sea level, the habitat is characterized by low-growing aromatic, and drought deciduous shrubs that have adapted to the semi-arid Mediterranean climate. The coastal sage scrub is usually referred to as the “soft chaparral” due to the fact that unlike the chaparral which has hard waxy leaves, the coastal sage scrub has soft,  drought deciduous plants. It is believed that only 15% of the worlds coastal sage scrub remains undeveloped.

The coastal sage scrub is home to rare and endangered species such as El Segundo Blue Butterfly,  Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly,  and the California Gnatcher. The coastal sage scrub is also home a very diverse plant community. These plants are usually drought deciduous, mildly woody with a tough epidermal layers that help it retain water, shallow roots, and aromatic odors. These plants also happen to be resistant towards fires. The most prevalent plants are: California Sage, Wild Buckwheat, Black Sage, and Lemonade Berry.

The coastal Sage Scrub use be the dominant ecosystem of California, but in recent years has declined due to human activity and invasive species,  now only 15% remains intact. The Coastal Sage Scrub land also happens to be one of the most endangered habitat in the United States. Any of the biggest causes that has led to the decline in the habitat is pollution,  because the pollution disturbs the chemical processes in the community, which creates better habitable conditions for invasive species. Another big factor is urbanization since most of the coastal sage scrub is located in Southern California.

Animals that call the Coastal Sage Scrub land home.

-Merriam Kangaroo Rat

-Western Rattlesnake

-Common Poorwill

-Tarantula Hawk

-Jerusalem Crickets

 

Coastal Salt Marsh & Alkali Sink Research

By Ava Schulenberg

Coastal Salt Marsh can also be referred to as “Tidal Salt Marsh”, and is the most abundant herbaceous vegetation in seacoast mudflats, especially on the tropics and subtopics exterior. These marshes also include estuaries of varying sizes, coastal plains, deltas, bays, inlets, as well as fjords in sub-polar and polar zones. In the United States, salt marsh is solely interrupted by beaches but stretches from New Jersey to northern Florida along the Atlantic Ocean, rimming the Gulf of Mexico, and at scattered, non-rocky stretches from Washington to San Diego. These biological systems are highly productive and serve as important feeding and nesting sites for birds. Salt Marshes are primarily filled with Halophytes which are plants that can live in conditions of high salinity. An increase in evaporation in already dry coastal areas has the potential to produce muddy salt flats which creates a toxic environment unsuitable for plants. However, river discharge of large volumes of freshwater into the upper salt marsh (where it begins) has the possibility to make some zones weekly brackish, which supports a separate type of wetland plants. Other general characteristics of Coastal Salt Marshes include: fine, grainy soil consisting of clay mixed with humus that is transported to the estruary and coastline from freshwater rivers and land, Most of the water for plant succession is sourced from seawater in the lower end of the marsh but the upper end is impacted by freshwater from drainage and flooding, and during a season of rain flooding and runoff from the land soil salinity can decrease immensely because of excess leaching.

Common Animals inhabiting Alkali Sinks include: Lizards, Coyotes, Kangaroo rats, and Desert Kit Foxes. Plants that appear often range from Saltbush, Atriplex, Seepweed, Suaeda moquinii, alkali heath, frankenia salina, saltgrass, as well as Distichlis spicata.The sodium ppm leves in Alkaline soils are very high (5000-10000) and the pH can be anywhere from 8 to 10.  Currently, Alkali Sinks plant community is being destroyed for the use of home construction, agriculutural expansion, invasive grasses, and other human replacements. Fires are Alkali Sinks worst enemy because although it is a desert type environment, semi-frequent fires cause the invasive plants to become the dominant plants which replaces the native community.

Coastal Strand Talking Points

By Haley Hanson

  • Reasons for restoration

◦                Increased conservation would help retain sediment,  promote dune growth,  and maintain wildlife, biodiversity, and human use in the face of rising sea levels

  • Reasons for degradation

◦                Declining as a result of beach grooming (the practice of removing debris and seaweeds from sandy beaches)

◦                Being converted to unvegetated sand

  • Species affected by conversion to unvegetated sand:

◦                Green Beach Bur (Ambrosia chamissonis)

◦                Island Wallflower (Erysimum insulare)

◦                Sandcarpet (Cardionema ramosissimum)

◦                Yellow Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus)

◦                Crisp Monardella (Monardella crispa)

◦                Sand Verbena (Abronia latifolia)

◦                Beach Evening Primrose (Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia)

◦                Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium)

◦                Seaside Calandrinia (Calandrinia maritima)

◦                Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)

 

Riparian Woodland and Southern Oak Woodland Talking Points

By Peter Carachure

Riparian Woodland:

  • Although this unique community accounts for very little of California’s total forest acreage,  it supports one of the most diverse ecological communities of plants and animals
  • Many Riparian Woodlands have been destroyed over the last century because the fertile soils along rivers are among the most sought after for agricultural lands,  and because numerous rivers have been channelized for flood control projects
  • Dependent on the presence of or proximity to nonseasonal watercourses
  • Surface water is not always a requirement and may be substituted for by underground water in some place
  • Riparian woodlands occur in ribbonlike bands along streambeds where rich soils and high humidity produce a natural greenhouse effect

Southern Oak Woodland:

  • This plant community has been significantly reduced in size due to land conversion for vineyards,  grazing and urban development
  • The woodlands gradually decline and die when nonnative,  or alien weeds replace the native shrubs,  perennial and annual wildflowers that live under the oaks and pines

Coastal Sage Scrub and Chaparral Talking Points

By Alexa Ramirez

  • Coastal Sage Scrub AKA Soft Chaparral

◦                Only 15% of Coastal Sage Scrub in California that has not been developed

◦                Occurs in dry but foggy areas along the coastal zone

◦                Annual precipitation is 10 inches

◦                Shrubs can reach about 2 meters in height

◦                Home to a diverse variety of insects, such as the endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow and the coastal California Gnatcatcher

  • Chaparral

◦                Where we live

◦                99% of all of California’s chaparral has been developed

◦                The chaparral has over 2036 plants species

◦                Fire renewal community

◦                Home to Oaks, Pines, Mahoganies, Blue Oaks, Toyon, Yucca, Poison Oak, Scrub Oak, California Lilacs, and Chemise

Freshwater Marsh and Coastal Salt Marsh Talking Points

By Connor Dougherty

  • Freshwater Marsh

◦                More than 90% in California have been destroyed by grazing, filling, channelizing, draining, or invasive species.

◦                Act as sponges for rainfall and unpredicted flooding, as the nutrient rich soil soaks up the water.

◦                Easily disturbed due to their seasonal filling (of rain or other freshwater). Varying extremes can damage the annual cycle of the Freshwater Marsh, and the native and migratory species that it supports.

◦                Home to the California least tern, Light-Footed Clapper Rail, and Peregrine Falcon, all of which are endangered species!

  • Coastal Salt Marsh

◦                Less than 30 of these microbiomes remain in Southern California, due to recent human development pressure.

◦                20% of American migratory birds pass through Californian Wetlands to obtain fish.

◦                The species of this microbiome are very sensitive and small changes in salinity, hydrologic flow, or topography can be devastating.

◦                Plant species are adapted to live with the extra salinity by expelling excess salt or soaking up extra water to compensate for the high salinity. Some species have also developed air spaces in stems and roots to withstand long periods of submergence.

  • The water flow of the Coastal Salt Marsh is typically tidal, which renders the microbiome easily disturbed by erosion.Alkali Sink Talking PointsBy Myles Adams

◦                Alkali Sink

▪                Degradation due to development, expansion of agriculture and the spread of foreign grasses.

▪                Desert type plant community that has never seen fire. If a fire occurs, it is near impossible to restore this community

▪                The soil pH can range from 8.4 to 10, rainfall can be as low a 2 inches (3 cm.)

  • Purple Needle Grass ResearchBy Peter Carachure

◦                Native grass that historically was found in grasslands, chaparral and oak woodlands

◦                State grass of California

◦                Can also control nuisance weeds, and hence reduce the cost of labor and chemicals for that purpose

◦                Has been successfully used in reestablishing native perennial grasses following weed control on sites previously occupied by introduced annual species

◦                Grows in a variety of soil types such as dry, clay soils, and well-drained rich soils

◦                Have roots of up to sixteen feet long

Hold moisture that only sustains the plant in times of drought, but makes the plant slow to burn