California coastal prairie
California coastal prairie, also known as northern coastal grassland, is a grassland plant community of California and Oregon in the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome. It is found along the Pacific Coast, from as far south as Los Angeles in Southern California up into southern Oregon.
California's coastal prairies are the most species-rich grassland types in North America (Stromberg et al. 2002). Coastal prairie is also the single most urbanized major vegetation type in the U.S.; 24 percent of the habitat has been lost to pavement.
Wind, salt spray, fire, and grazing are evolutionary disturbances which affected shrubs and tree growth maintaining more open grasslands. In the absence of grazing and/or fire, many areas of coastal prairie are being lost to shrub and tree encroachment. The accumulated organic matter from centuries produce a rich, dark prairie soil (mollisol). Coastal prairie often forms a landscape mosaic with the Northern coastal scrub plant community.
- Perennial bunch grasses:
- Other plants
Many of the rarest plant species in the coastal prairie exist mainly on land currently being grazed by livestock; these species have been disappearing when land is set aside for conservation and the livestock are removed.
Rare and endangered species found in the coastal prairie include:
- Santa Cruz tarweed - Holocarpha macradenia — found in limited locations
- San Francisco popcornflower - Plagiobothrys diffusus
- Robust spineflower - Chorizanthe robusta robusta
- Artist's popcornflower - Plagiobothrys chorisianus
- Pt. Reyes meadowfoam - Limnanthes sp.
- Santa Cruz clover - Trifolium buckwestiorum
- Indian clover - Trifolium amoenum
- Gray's clover - Trifolium grayii
- San Francisco owl's clover - Triphysaria floribunda.
Unlike many other Mediterranean climate grasslands, the mostly perennial bunch grasses stay green all summer, which makes the coastal prairies attractive for grazing cattle and sheep. Other effects to this plant community include agriculture and development. California's coastal prairie, like most other California grasslands, has been greatly affected by the invasion of non-native species, including earthworms, snails, slugs, pill bugs, earwigs, and annual Mediterranean grasses.
Most recently, invasive perennial grasses are the greatest threat. These include velvet grass (Holcus lanatus), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), and Harding grass (Phalaris aquatica); the impact of these species can be somewhat ameliorated by well-planned livestock grazing, which can reduce these species' cover and allow native species to persist.
California's coastal prairies are protected by the California Coastal Act, which considers these habitat types to be Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA). Akin to the endangered species act for habitat types on California's coast, ESHA protections disallow any harm to so designated habitats, except where such harm is necessary to otherwise restore the habitat as a whole (e.g., prescribed fire, grazing).
Other Important Information
Coastal Prairies of California are classified as critically endangered with the following stressors causing the most impacts: invasive species, low nutrient soils, urbanization, and unregulated recreational activities. There are also a number of abiotic factors which make this environment extremely hard to tolerate from a plant’s perspective such as constant sun exposure, high salt deposits, strong winds, and abrasion damage or complete submersion from sandy dunes or beaches. Both impacts of high winds and salinity are damaging to plants, acting as an accelerated corrosive agent to those who are especially not fit or adapted for such conditions. Historically, applications for sand stabilization resulted in positive feedbacks within the system, thus spurring an optimal habitat for invasive species to flourish.
- Ornduff, Robert. (2003) Introduction to California Plant Life. Revised by Phyllis M. Faber and Todd Keeler-Wolf. University of California Press.
- Plant Communities of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz Chapter, California Native Plant Society.
- Hayes, G., and K. D. Holl. 2003. Cattle grazing impacts on annual forbs and vegetation composition of mesic grasslands in California. Conservation Biology 17:1694 - 1702.
- Stromberg, M. R., P. Kephart, and V. Yadon. 2002. Composition, invasability, and diversity in coastal California grasslands. Madroño 48:236-252.
- Loveland, T. R., and H. L. Hutcheson. 1995. Monitoring Changes in Landscapes from Satellite Imagery. Pages 468-473 in U. S. G. Society, editor. Our Living Resources: A Report to the Nation on the Distribution, Abundance, and Health of U.S. Plants, Animals, and Ecosystems. U.S. Department of Interior, National Biological Service, Washington, D.C.
- Ford, L. D., and G. F. Hayes. 2007. Northern coastal scrub and coastal prairie. in M. G. Barbour, T. Keeler-Wolf, and A. A. Schoenherr, editors. Terrestrial vegetation of California. University of California Press., Berkeley.
- (Loveland, 1995)
- (Ford and Hayes 2007)
- (Ornduff 2003)
- (Hayes and Holl 2003)