What And Where Is The Chaparral?

A shrubland or heathland plant community, the Chaparral is found primarily California, US and in parts of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico.

The chaparral is a term used to describe the biome characterized by drought-resistant plants which possess hard evergreen leaves and short internodes. The chaparral biosphere is found in areas with Mediterranean climatic conditions mainly in California State and the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico.

Description of Chaparral

The chaparral gets its name from the Spanish word “Chaparro” meaning “scrub oak” which is endemic in regions of chaparral. While the North American chaparral is most famous, the chaparral biome can be found all over the world. The type of vegetation found in the chaparral is scrubs and short bushes. The regions of chaparral experience harsh summers where temperatures can reach about 40 degrees Celsius. The extended durations of these hot summers make the areas prone to numerous fires which are among some of the defining characteristics of the chaparral. The terrain in regions where the chaparral is found range from mountain slopes, rocky hills to flat plains.

Location of Chaparral

The chaparral is located in areas which experience Mediterranean climate and are spread all over the world. The California Academy of Science claims that the flora found in the chaparral represents about 20 percent of all plant diversity in the world. In North America, the chaparral is found in the coastal regions of Southern California, Central Valley of California, The Transverse Ranges, The California Coast Ranges, as well as the Guadalupe Island of Mexico. The chaparral is also found along the Mediterranean Basin where it is known as the “maquis” and can also be found in Africa along the South African Cape Region where it is known as the “fynbos.” In South America, the chaparral is located in the central region of Chile where it is referred to as the “matorral.” In Australia, the chaparral is found in the western region of the continent where it is known as the “mallee.”

Types of the California Chaparral

The California chaparral is one of the most extensive of all chaparral regions in the world and can be divided into several subdivisions including the cismontane chaparral and the transmontane chaparral. Another classification divides the California chaparral into three regions - the California coastal sage and chaparral, the California montane chaparral and woodlands, and the California interior chaparral and woodlands.

Cismontane Chaparral

The cismontane chaparral refers to the type of chaparral found in Mediterranean forests, scrub and woodland ecosystems and can be found along the western slopes of Sierra Nevada in San Joaquin Valley, the Peninsular Ranges on the western slopes and can also be found in the Central Coast along the southwest slopes of the Transverse Ranges. The cismontane chaparral is home to a diverse range of plant and animals species including the Bushtit, the Wrentit, the Greater Roadrunner, Anna’s hummingbird among others. The flora is comprised of many species of plants including sage, mahogany, and oak.

Transmontane Chaparral

Transmontane means “on the other side of the mountain.” The transmontane chaparral is also known as the desert chaparral, which is an ecosystem found on the drier slopes of mountains known as the rain shadow. This ecosystem features minimal plant cover with about 50 percent of the ground being uncovered. The transmontane chaparral is found on the eastern slopes of the mountain ranges of Western California including the transverse ranges, and the Sierra Nevada and the Peninsular ranges and are commonly found at low altitudes between 2,500 feet and 4,500 feet above sea level.

California Coastal Sage and Chaparral

The California coastal sage and chaparral is found in northwestern Baja California area in Mexico and southwestern California in the United States. The California coastal sage and chaparral is one of the most extensive Chaparrals in the world, covering 14,000 square miles. The ecosystem is comprised of Mediterranean forests, scrub, and woodlands and has a vast variety of fauna including about 291 bird species and 74 mammal species. The region is also home to many tree species including conifers such as sugar pines, ponderosa pines, coulter pines, incense cedars, and the rare Torrey pine. Other tree species found in the California coastal sage and chaparral ecoregion include the Monterey cypress, Sargent’s cypress, and the Gowen Cypress.

California Montane Chaparral and Woodlands

Another eco-region of the chaparral is the California montane chaparral and woodlands found in high altitude regions of central and southern California. This biome covers 7,900 square miles and can be found on several mountain ranges including the Transverse Ranges, the Coast Ranges and the Peninsular ranges of California. The region has a vibrant ecosystem comprised of many plant and animal species. Some of the plant species found in the California montane chaparral and woodlands include many oak and conifer tree species. The fauna of the region includes 78 mammal species which include mountain lions, coyotes, and kangaroo rats.

California Interior Chaparral and Woodlands

The California interior chaparral and woodlands is another eco-region of the California chaparral and cover 24,900 square miles of the California Central Valley. The California interior chaparral and woodlands biome are comprised of woodlands, scrub and Mediterranean forests and feature many plant and animal species. The animal species in the ecoregion include the scrub jays, wrentit, and the acorn woodpeckers. Other animals found include the kangaroo rat which is endemic to the region. As for plant species, the most common tree species is the blue oak and some cypress species with few patches of conifers.

Threats and Conservation

The high temperatures experienced during summer season, combined with low precipitation, make the area prone to bush and forest fires which are a common occurrence. These fires have forced the plant species to adapt in order to become hardy and rejuvenate quickly after the fires. Some scientists believe that the fires are vital to the ecosystem with some tree species such as conifers relying on the fires to open up their cones and release seeds. Others believe that the fires, combined with extended periods of drought caused by global warming, have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem and cause a reduced variety in the biosphere. The primary threat to the chaparral is human activities including logging, grazing, and urban development. However, in recent years the government has responded to lobbying from environmentalists and has established protected areas where human activities are discouraged.

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