Coastal Prairies

Fog creeping into coastal prairie at Pepperwood Preserve. Photo Credit: C. Stein

Coastal prairies are grasslands along California’s North and Central Coast, which experience a milder climate from the state’s interior grasslands due to summer fog. Winter rainfall paired with summer fog facilitates a vast array of plant species that make coastal prairies floristically distinct. They are characterized by perennial grasses such as California oatgrass (Danthonia californica), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), and red fescue (Festuca rubra) but are still associated with many wildflowers.

However, coastal prairies suffer from similar problems as the entirety of California grasslands. They are heavily invaded by non-native annual species but in addition they are also invaded by perennial grasses such as Harding grass (Phalaris aquatica) and velvet grass (Holcus lanatus). The mild climate and rich soils of coastal prairies make them very desirable areas for development and agriculture but have greatly reduced their acreage with approximately only 10% of native coastal prairie communities remaining.

Our research in coastal prairies is part of a larger collaborative effort with Dr. Harald Auge at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Dr. John Maron at the University of Montana, and Dr. Dean Pearson at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, to understand the role that herbivores play in maintaining diversity in grasslands and in the success of plant invasions across multiple grasslands.