Grassland structure and function

Volume 20 of the series Tasks for vegetation science pp 201-211

Conservation Biology of California’s Remnant Native Grasslands

  • Dennis D. MurphyAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Stanford University
  • , Paul R. EhrlichAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Stanford University

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From alpine meadows ravaged by sheep grazing a century ago to desert flats impacted by off road vehicles during the past two decades. California bears heavy scars from its relatively short history since the first Europeans arrived. But none of California’s landscape has been so irreparably altered as its grasslands. These grasslands have undergone habitat conversion including cultivation, grazing, suburbanization and industrialization. They have been subjected, in addition, to a somewhat more subtle change that has reduced the natural California grassland vegetation to but a fraction of its original extent. Here we discuss this change, the near complete replacement of California’s grassland flora with European annual grasses and forbs. We then assess the biogeography and pertinent ecology of the few remaining fragments of habitat on serpentine soils that maintain some of the original flora, and discuss how those remnants might best be conserved.