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Maritime climate influence on chaparral composition and diversity in the coast range of central California

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We investigated the hypothesis that maritime climatic factors associated with summer fog and low cloud stratus (summer marine layer) help explain the compositional diversity of chaparral in the coast range of central California. We randomly sampled chaparral species composition in 0.1-hectare plots along a coast-to-interior gradient. For each plot, climatic variables were estimated and soil samples were analyzed. We used Cluster Analysis and Principle Components Analysis to objectively categorize plots into climate zone groups. Climate variables, vegetation composition and various diversity measures were compared across climate zone groups using ANOVA and nonmetric multidimensional scaling. Differences in climatic variables that relate to summer moisture availability and winter freeze events explained the majority of variance in measured conditions and coincided with three chaparral assemblages: maritime (lowland coast where the summer marine layer was strongest), transition (upland coast with mild summer marine layer influence and greater winter precipitation), and interior sites that generally lacked late summer water availability from either source. Species turnover (β-diversity) was higher among maritime and transition sites than interior sites. Coastal chaparral differs from interior chaparral in having a higher obligate seeder to facultative seeder (resprouter) ratio and by being dominated by various Arctostaphylos species as opposed to the interior dominant, Adenostoma fasciculatum. The maritime climate influence along the California central coast is associated with patterns of woody plant composition and β-diversity among sites. Summer fog in coastal lowlands and higher winter precipitation in coastal uplands combine to lower late dry season water deficit in coastal chaparral and contribute to longer fire return intervals that are associated with obligate seeders and more local endemism. Soil nutrients are comparatively less important in explaining plant community composition, but heterogeneous azonal soils contribute to local endemism and promote isolated chaparral patches within the dominant forest vegetation along the coast.

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