Biodiversity of California: Nature and its Preservation
written by: Finn Orfano•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 10/12/2010
California is not only one of the most biologically diverse states in the nation, it’s one of the most diverse areas in the world. California is home to a global biodiversity hotspot—the California Floristic Province, which is one of 34 hotspots on Earth.
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First in Biodiversity
According to NatureServe, California is the most biologically diverse state in the nation and has the highest number of endemic species, which are species found only in a specific place. Yet California also is home to the third highest number of extinct species and the second highest for percentage of species at risk. It is the fastest growing state in the U.S. and supplies half of the nation’s agricultural products—a major threat to the biodiversity of California going forward.
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Diverse Ecology, Specialized Species
The land that is known as California was slowly built by shifting tectonic plates. Due to variable ecology, climate, soil types, and types of land, California is home to everything from mountains, deserts, redwood forests, volcanoes, beaches, and other habitats. Species living in these environments are unique to the area because they have evolved to specifically adapt to that very spot. For example, vernal pools—seasonal wetlands formed in natural land depressions—are home to specially-adapted flowers. Old-growth forests from the Sierra Nevada mountains to San Diego are home to the spotted owl, who nests on the top of these old, gigantic trees. Not many species can live in these environments.
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California Floristic Province: A Global Biodiversity Hotspot
The California Floristic Province was designated a global hotspot in 1996. Over 3,500 species of plants can be found in this hotspot that covers most of the state, and 61 percent of these plants are considered endemic. Even though endemic plants are rampant in the province, amphibians actually make up the highest levels of endemic species.
The area contains six distinct regions. The Central Valley vernal pools change color with the seasons. Mediterranean shrub-lands are home to 20 percent of the world’s plant diversity and cover an extensive part of California—one in five places in the world with a mild Mediterranean climate. The Cascade Range volcanoes surround the Pacific Ocean basin. Redwood forests are among the oldest living things on Earth and can be found in the northern part of the state. The Sierra Nevada mountains span eastern California and contain snow and ice. The Klamath-Siskiyou Wilderness is a temperate coniferous forest—one of the densest in the world. Other important areas include the Mojave bioregion, home of the Amargosa vole, Le Conte’s thrasher, and Mohave squirrel, and Modoc bioregion, which is mostly covered by juniper and sagebrush.
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Besides being known for its diverse landscapes and climates, California is infamous for its pollution and poor air quality, particularly around Los Angeles and other southern portions of the state. Since California is booming with people, other species are suffering from loss of habitat and the overall biodiversity of California is being compromised. Other threats include using unsustainable resources and the introduction of invasive species, which can quickly adapt to a new environment and take out native species.
Even though California faces many threats, it’s a proactive state and is a forerunner in environmental policy. The California Biodiversity Council was formed in 1991 and aims to improve cooperation between environmental preservation and conservation groups.