Coastal sage scrub in southern California

Coastal sage scrub in Southern California. Photo Credit: M. Talluto

Coastal sage scrub (CSS) is a drought deciduous, shrubland found along coastal California from San Francisco down to northern Baja California. It is well known for its low-growing aromatic shrub species, which give it a fragment smell. Common species include California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), coast brittlebush (Encelia californica), black sage (Salvia mellifera), white sage (Salvia apiana), Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) and Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia littoralis).

CSS is one of the most endangered vegetation types of the U.S. due to losses to urbanization, agriculture, and exotic invasions. Invasion of exotic grasses into the remaining CSS has led to significant reduction in plant and animal diversity commonly associated with this shrubland ecosystem. In spite of this loss, the remaining intact areas contain over 200 rare and endangered species.

The natural patchy distribution of CSS canopy and shrub interspaces leads to heterogeneity in microclimates and resources that provides habitat for a variety of species including the rare Steven’s Kangaroo Rat, California Gnatcatcher and Cactus Wren. Our research in coastal sage scrub is part of a larger project trying that is trying to integrate information from past restoration projects with site-specific environmental conditions to understand how to maximize restoration efforts.