M262 California Coastal Range Open Woodland--Shrub--Coniferous Forest--Meadow Province


Southern California, 24,900 mi2 (64,500 km2)


Land-surface form.--This province occupies the central part of the California Coast Ranges and the mountains of southern California. The Coast Ranges are gently to steeply sloping low mountains underlain by shale, sandstone, and igneous and volcanic rocks. Elevations range from 500 to 2,500 ft (150 to 800 m); some peaks rise to 5,000 ft (1,500 m). Stream valleys are narrow and widely spaced. The mountains of southern California are steeply sloping to precipitous; high mountains have unstable slopes and sharp crests; valleys are narrow. Elevations range from 2,000 to 8,000 ft (600 to 2,400 m); some peaks reach 12,000 ft (3,700 m).

Chaparral (dominated by red shank, ceanothus, and sage) on southern California mountains, with Mt. Palomar in background, Cleveland National Forest. Chaparral (dominated by red shank, ceanothus, and sage) on southern California mountains, with Mt. Palomar in background, Cleveland National Forest.

Climate.--The climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and rainy, mild winters. Temperatures average 53 to 65F (12 to 18C) in the Coast Range, but are only 32 to 60F (0 to 16C) in the mountains of southern California, always falling with rising elevation. Precipitation, which ranges from 12 to 40 in (310 to 1,020 mm) per year, is evenly distributed through fall, winter, and spring, and increases with elevation. Most of this is rain; the little snow that falls in winter melts quickly. Frost and short periods of freezing weather occur occasionally in winter. Coastal areas have a more moderate climate than the interior and receive some moisture from fog in summer.

Vegetation.--The montane vegetation of this region consists of species with thick, hard evergreen leaves. One climax association, dominated by trees, is called sclerophyll forest. The other, called chaparral, is a shrub climax. These two associations appear in alternating patches in almost every part of the region, but chaparral occupies the greater area. The forest consistently appears on northfacing slopes and on wetter sites; chaparral occupies southfacing slopes and drier sites.

The most important evergreen trees of the sclerophyll forest are California live oak, canyon live oak, interior live oak, tanoak, California laurel, Pacific madrone, golden chinkapin, and Pacific bayberry. Several deciduous trees, shrubs, and herb associates are also characteristic.

The chaparral community of fire-adapted shrubs extends over a wide area with a diversity of habitats. It includes at least 40 species of evergreen shrubs with varying degrees of dominance and importance. Some are so dense that they practically eliminate understory vegetation; other types support a highly productive understory. The most important species are chamise and manzanita. Other common species are Christmasberry, California scrub oak, mountain mahogany, and many species of ceanothus. At higher elevations and near the ocean, chaparral is often interspersed with, or alternates with, coniferous forests.

The interior valleys have sagebrush and grassland communities. A riparian forest with many broadleaf species grows along streams.

Soils.--The pattern of Alfisols, Entisols, and Mollisols in this region is complex. Mollisols are usually found along the coast; Alfisols occur in the north; and the south consists mostly of Entisols.

Fauna.--Mule deer are the most important large mammals. Other large mammals include the coyote, mountain lion, California bobcat, gray fox, wood rat, and spotted and striped skunks. Small mammals peculiar to chaparral include the Merriam chipmunk, California mouse, and five-toed kangaroo rat.

The most common birds seen in the dry summer season are wrentit, common bushtit, and rufous-sided towhee. In October, white-and-golden-crowned sparrows, several races of fox sparrows, hermit thrushes, ruby-crowned kinglets, and Audubon's warblers are present. The California condor is classified as an endangered species.

Reptiles, including the coast horned lizard and gopher snake, are numerous in all vegetation types. Amphibians appear to be scarce, except for the Pacific treefrog.