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California Chaparral and Its Global Significance

  • Philip W. Rundel
Chapter
Part of the Springer Series on Environmental Management book series (SSEM)

Abstract

Chaparral ecosystems represent the iconic vegetation of California, and in particular southern California, where it forms the dominant vegetation cover over broad areas of the foothills of the Coast, Transverse, and Peninsular ranges. Evergreen sclerophyll shrubs which makeup the characteristic component of chaparral communities parallel a similar dominance of this life-form in the Mediterranean Basin, central Chile, the Cape Region of South Africa, and Southwest Australia, regions of the world with a Mediterranean-type climate of warm dry summers and cool wet winters. The Mediterranean Biome comprised of these five regions are biodiversity hotspots that contain about one-sixth of the vascular plant species in the world in just 2.2% of the world’s land area. Despite this global significance, these regions continue to be heavily impacted by urbanization, land-use change, climate change, and invasions by non-native species. Chaparral floras include not just the dominant woody shrubs but a diverse assemblage of annual and herbaceous perennial species, many of which have life histories linked to postfire succession. Fire is a natural component of the disturbance regime of chaparral and burns broad portions of the landscape in a coarse-grained manner, but with fine-grained differences in fuel composition and slope aspects. Short fire-return intervals of less than 10–15 years present an increasing threat to chaparral ecosystems by eliminating shrub regeneration and leading to type-conversion to non-native annual grasslands. Water availability and associated adaptive traits of drought tolerance are major factors in partitioning chaparral community composition. Nutrient availability is also important, as are, to a lesser extent, extremes of winter temperature. Although often maligned as a useless or even dangerous because of concerns over fire hazard, chaparral ecosystems provide critical ecosystem services through their roles in erosion control, hydrology, biomass sequestration, and preservation of biodiversity.

Keywords

Chaparral Conservation Ecosystem services Fire Mediterranean-type shrublands Phenology 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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