California's Ecosystems

California boasts an astounding variety of natural ecosystems, found across the state's diverse and unique bioregions.  Four of the world's major biomes are represented in California: temperate conifer forests; temperate grassland and shrubland; Mediterranean forests, woodland and scrub; and desert shrubland.  The state is further divided into ten bioregions or ecoregions.  Upwards of one thousand distinct plant communities can be counted within these ecoregions, supporting a brilliant tapestry of ecosystems across the state.

On this page, you will find links to some of my most comprehensive writing, organized by ecoregion and ecosystem.

Suggested Reading: A Natural History of California (Allan A. Schoenherr)


Coastal Ecosystems


With roughly 840 miles of stunning coastline, California is home to a number of productive and fragile ecosystems that are intrinsically linked to the Pacific.  These include offshore ecosystems, rocky shore and intertidal ecosystems, estuaries, sandy beaches, coastal dunes and coastal sage scrublands.

Ecology and Restoration of California's Coastal Dune Habitat

A Land That Time Forgot: San Bruno Mountain

Elkhorn Slough: An Ecological Treasure in Central California




Valley Grassland Ecosystems


Once widespread throughout the Great Central Valley, California's native grasslands have been severely reduced to a few scattered pockets.

When California Was Wild: A Glimpse Into The Past At Carrizo Plain

Wildflowers of Carrizo Plain

Horned Larks and California's Vanishing Prairie



Wetland & Riparian Ecosystems


Much of the Great Central Valley of California was once seasonal wetland, fed by snowmelt from the Sierra.  A number of rivers, though considerably reduced, still wind their way across the valley floor, charting ancient paths from mountains to sea.  In addition to freshwater marshes, California also boasts small remnants of saltmarsh ecosystems, as well as a network of coastal estuaries and an extensively managed delta.

Elkhorn Slough: An Ecological Treasure in Central California

Wetland Wanderings: Exploring the Great Valley's Marshlands

Ode To The Wetland: More Than Just A Marsh

Fall Wildflowers Along the Tuolumne

Life Along a Valley River: The Tuolumne



The Mountains of California: Sierra Nevada, Klamath, Cascade and Coast Ranges


The mountains of California are rugged, beautiful and diverse landscapes, from rolling foothills to alpine peaks.  Ecosystems found here include chaparral, oak woodlands, coast redwood forests, montane forests, subalpine forests and alpine, as well as freshwater lakes and streams.

Snow Birds of the Sierra

Summer Wildflowers of the Sierra: A Fond Farewell

Summer Botanizing in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

A Flora of California's North Coast: Beyond the Redwoods

Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada Foothills: Table Mountain Hike

Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada Foothills: Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern

Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada Foothills: Hite Cove Hike

Quaking Aspen: Star of the Autumnal Sierra



Desert Ecosystems


Severely marginalized and underappreciated, California's three distinct desert ecosystems - the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran or Colorado deserts - support a vast array of biodiversity.  The deserts are home to a surprising variety of wildlife and put on stunning wildflower shows during the spring of rainy years!

Plant Life of the Colorado Desert

Flowering Trees and Shrubs of the Colorado Desert

Birds of the Desert: Residents & Spring Migrants

Joshua Tree Woodlands: A Tale of Sloths, Moths and the Trees that Need Them

Wildflowers of the Mojave Desert

Wildflowers of Death Valley

Streams in the Desert: Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Streams in the Desert: Red Rock Canyon State Park

Streams in the Desert: Rain and Rocks in Death Valley National Park

Brine Shrimp of Mono Lake (Great Basin Desert)



Modoc Plateau


In the out-of-the-way, seldom visited corner of northeastern California lies the Modoc Plateau, an area of volcanic lava flows, patchy forests and sagebrush scrub.  It is unlike any other part of the state, though technically lies within the Great Basin Desert.

California's Cascade Volcanoes: Medicine Lake Highland & Lava Beds National Monument

Botanizing on the Modoc Plateau

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