California Chaparral

Chaparral, or Sclerophyll forest biomes, occur in Europe, Africa, Asia Minor, North America, and South America. Chaparrals exist between 30° and 40° North and South latitude on the west coasts of continents. The favorable climatic conditions which produce this biome includes shore areas with nearby cold ocean currents. Mediterranean Chaparral biome is localized in the coastal areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea including parts of Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor.

This subtropical Mediterranean biome, composed of shrub lands and woodlands is called the maquis in Europe. Chaparral is the California name for this biome. Cactus and other water storing plants do well in this environment. The cacti often form dense thickets. Most of the plant growth is leafy and relatively short, less than eight feet tall. It is important for plants to be drought resistant, to survive the short wet winters and long dry summers. The geography of this region begins at the seashore and extends through rolling farmlands, with grazing and cultivation, into the mountains. The climate in this area is unique with the wet season occurring in winter. Many plants that do well in other European areas are unable to thrive in this Mediterranean biome due to the summer drought, with annual rainfall of only 15-40 inches. Temperatures are affected by cold ocean currents and fog, limiting the growing season.

Shrubs and low growing vegetation are the main components of this biome. In some areas the growth extends to larger trees and hard leaf forests, as well as aromatic plants. The vegetation must be hardy and drought resistant and will include evergreens, cacti, olive and fruit trees, and cork oak, among others. Small hard needles are an asset in this environment, as well as plants with small leathery leafs. Aromatic plants and herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano do well in this biome. These aromatics do contain highly flammable oils which could contribute to forest fires.

The Mediterranean biome houses many forms of wildlife such as wild goats, sheep, cattle, mouflon, and horses. The land supports lynx, wild boar, rabbits, vultures and three types of eagles. Many small mammals, reptiles and insects inhabit this region. Local people graze goats, sheep, cattle, donkeys, and horses on this rugged land. This area is also known for the breeding of the famous bullfighting bulls.

Animals have adapted to this sparse and rough terrain by becoming agile climbers, foraging over larger areas, and varying their diet to include the often scrubby brush lands. Plants have adapted by storing water through thick bark or waxy coverings, and by growing thorns to prevent animals from eating them. Adaptations also include regeneration after fire.

People have adapted by grazing herds over large areas, even tying them to the roadsides to make the most of the roadside vegetation. Herding them from area to area to maintains adequate feeding grounds for their herds. People profit by growing olives, oranges, culinary herbs and harvesting cork.

The Mediterranean chaparral differs from similar areas in Australia and areas adjacent to the Caspian Sea. Specialized plants and animals have developed in these localities as well. For example, the subtropical climate of Australia supports eucalyptus and the koala that feed on it. The Caspian area supports antelope, sand badgers, jerboas, and sand marmots which are not found in the Mediterranean biome as described herein.

Mediterranean regions have long been impacted by humans especially through the use of fire and livestock grazing. We know the Mediterranean was formerly forested with live oaks, pines, cedars, wild carob and wild olive. The shrub lands are more extensive today than before aboriginal burning and Spanish livestock grazing. Today the Spanish Mediterranean area supports extensive olive groves, cork forests, cattle farming and the production of sherry.

by Kevin S.  2001



Interview with Michelle Segel about her horseback tour through Andalusia, 11/8/00

"Mediterranean Chaparral" 11/ 8 / 00

"Mediterranean Chaparral" 11/ 8/ 00

DK Guide to Andalusia. New York: DK Publishing, Inc. 1996.

"Mediterranean Chaparral",, (01/2/01)

Our Planet
World Biomes