Chaparral

Types of animal science: Ecology, geography Fields of study: Ecology, environmental science

Chaparral is the name of a major ecosystem (or biome) found in areas with moist, cool to cold winters and long, dry hot summers (Mediterranean climate).

Principal Terms elfin forest: a stunted forest growing at high elevations in warm, moist climates fire ecology: an ecosystem that depends on periodic fires to clear underbrush; the seeds of many plants in such an ecosystem require fire in order to germinate

Chaparral ecosystems with different names occur in the Mediterranean, South Africa, Chile, Australia, and Mexico. The word "chaparral" is a colloquial adaptation of the original Mexican name, chaparro. While the chaparral communities in other parts of the world have the same basic characteristics and very similar adaptations, this article will focus on the chaparral of California and the American Southwest.

Chaparral is an interesting and unique ecosystem. It is an elfin (stunted) forest dependent on a fire ecology, and its adaptations to a harsh and variable climate are remarkable. The chaparral's geology, latitude, altitude, and climate are all related and have played a role in its formation.

In California, the chaparral is located mainly along the central and southern coastal areas, primarily between elevations of 500 and 2,500 feet. It is also found in some areas of the Sierra Nevada foothills, one hundred miles or more inland, and in the lower elevations of some other interior mountains. The geology of most of the areas where this ecosystem occurs is believed to have started with massive upheavals from half a million to ten thousand years ago. The most common substrate was granite. Relentless disintegration resulted in rocky and sandy debris which would allow increasing amounts of plant life to grow. As the organic matter became more abundant, its debris (leaves, twigs, and decaying dead plants) became more and more mixed into the materials of the granite decomposition. This resulted in a rich, sandy loam.

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