Guest author Adina Merenlender is the founding Director of the UC California Naturalist program, and writes about the North Coast Biogregion for California Biodiversity Week 2021.
California's Northern Coastline is a refugia where the local climate is relatively stable compared to rates of climate change in other parts of California. This is particularly true if we continue to experience a drier future under climate change. The resilience to immediate rapid change is due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean and the topographic diversity of the coastal mountain ranges.
Steep coastal watersheds provide an escape route for species to move up to higher elevation or down to cool air drainages to escape the heat. Summer fog buffers terrestrial plant communities from extreme heat and freezing temperatures and frost is rare close to the ocean, making for more mild winter temperatures. The mild temperatures and higher humidity year-round are ideal conditions for plant growth and the Northcoast harbors very diverse plant communities.
For many, redwoods, the charismatic mega-flora, that create unparalleled cathedrals filled with majestic qualities may come to mind. But those towering trees leave little sun or nutrients for the plants below. The real biodiversity hotspots are coastal prairie and scrub communities where rare flowering plants can still be enjoyed. Whereas interior woodland wildflowers come and go over a short Spring season, coastal prairies offer a seemingly ever-changing wildflower show from January through September. The show starts with manzanita and Lupin and ending with pearly everlastings and Dudleyas.
These coastal refugia might provide endemic plant communities time as temperatures rise, but we need to act now to curb greenhouse gas emissions so that these cooler moist areas can persist over a longer time horizon.
September 4-12, 2021 is California Biodiversity Week. Join us in celebrating the unique biodiversity and renewing our commitment to stewarding the state's incredible natural heritage! During the Week, CalNat is posting blogs authored by members of our community, ending in our September 14th CONES event from noon-1:00 PM. Be sure to also check out a list of activities and resources online from the CA Natural Resources Agency!