Prime Location and Varied Habitat Help Make Point Reyes National Seashore a Biodiversity Treasure Trove
Point Reyes National Seashore plays a vital role in maintaining healthy biodiversity. A prime location and key physical factors have combined to make the park, which marks its 46th anniversary September 13, one of the six most biologically significant areas of the United States. The variety of life found there is astonishing.
Point Reyes’ location, habitat variety, and size are all conducive to biological diversity. The park’s situation, or relative location, is a key element of its biodiversity success story. Point Reyes is a rugged peninsula sandwiched between low coastal mountains and the Pacific Ocean near the middle of the California coast and close to San Francisco Bay and its Golden Gate entrance.
These locational factors position the park ideally to serve the nesting and resting needs of a wide variety of migratory or widely ranging species. Thus, in addition to the great number of resident species, there are numerous seasonally or intermittently present species that are just passing through, biding a while to reenergize, or staying long enough to reproduce.
The natural occurrence of many different kinds of habitat has a lot to do with the variety of life that visitors (of which there were 2.2 million last year) can see at the park. Within the park’s boundaries and along its edges are open ocean, rocky shorelines and points, sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, coastal dunes, coastal scrub, inlets, bays, spits, estuaries, intertidal zones, salt marshes, tide pools, mudflats, creeks, lagoons, riparian corridors, freshwater wetlands, brushy canyons, coastal grasslands, maritime forest, bishop pine forest, Douglas-fir/mixed evergreen forest, and other kinds of habitat.
Largely as a consequence of this rich habitat variety, the inventory of plants and animals species at Point Reyes includes 750 species of plants (including nearly 20% of California’s native plants and flowering plant species), nearly half of North America’s bird species (over 400 in all), and at least 23 federally listed threatened and endangered species.
Land mammals number about 37 species, including black-tailed deer, mule deer, two non-native deer species (fallow deer and axis deer), tule elk, and even an occasional mountain lion or black bear.
About a dozen species of marine mammals use this part of the California coastline, including sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals. In managing the marine animal and bird species, Point Reyes cooperates with the adjacent Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary.
The large size of the park, about 111 square miles, is a very important asset. To maintain healthy populations, many resident species need plenty of room for individuals to find food, breeding grounds, nesting areas, and escape cover. Having a larger protected area also increases the likelihood that there will be enough genetic variety in species populations as well as buffering against undue stress. In locales where plant and animal populations have lots of room to spread out instead of being confined to small islands of habitat, there is a greatly reduced likelihood that diseases, insect infestations, excessive predation, and similar stresses will become unduly disruptive.
Many visitors are surprised to learn that some areas of Point Reyes are sufficiently large and pristine to qualify for protected wilderness status. Congress placed a 25,370-acre tract of the park into the category of federally protected wilderness in 1976, and by 2007 designated wilderness in the park totaled some 33,000 acres. An additional wilderness area will be established (at Drakes Bay/Estero) by 2012, the Congressionally mandated deadline.
Hearty Traveler best wishes to 46-year old Reyes National Seashore, a treasure trove of biodiversity.