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Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub is a temperate biome, characterized by dry summers and mild and rainy winters. Summers are typically hot in low-lying inland locations but can be cool near some seas, as near San Franciscomarker, which have a sea of cool waters.

Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub eco-regions occur in the world's five Mediterranean climate zones, on the west coast of continents in the mid-latitudes: the Mediterranean Basin, Californiamarker, Central Chilemarker, Southwest Australia, and the Western Cape in South Africa.

Diversity

These regions are home to a tremendous diversity of habitats and species. Vegetation types can range from forests to woodlands, savannas, shrublands, and grasslands; "mosaic" landscapes are common, where differing vegetation types are interleaved with one another in complex patterns created by variations in soil, topography, exposure to wind and sun, and fire history. Much of the woody vegetation in Mediterranean-climate regions is sclerophyll, which means 'hard-leaved' in Greek. Sclerophyll vegetation generally has small, dark leaves covered with awaxy outer layer to retain moisture in the dry summer months.

Biome Plant Groups

Major plant communities in this biome include:
  • Forest: Mediterranean forests are generally composed of broadleaf trees, such as the oak and mixed sclerophyll forests of California and the Mediterranean region, the Eucalyptus forests of Southwest Australia, and the Nothofagus forests of central Chile. Forests are often found in riparian areas, where they receive more summer water. Coniferous forests also occur. Pine and Decidious Oak forest are widespread across California
  • Woodland: Oak woodlands are characteristic of the Mediterranean Basin and in California, along with pine woodlands and, in California, walnut woodlands.
  • Savanna and grassland: The California Central Valley grasslandsmarker are the largest Mediterranean grassland eco-region, although these grasslands have mostly been converted to agriculture. Small Woodland area occur mainly oak, walnut, or pine woodlands.
  • Shrubland: Shrublands are dense thickets of evergreen sclerophyll shrubs and small trees, called chaparral (California), matorral (Chile and southern Spainmarker), maquis (Francemarker and elsewhere around the Mediterranean), macchia (Italy), fynbosmarker (South Africa), or kwongan (Southwest Australia). In some places shrublands are the mature vegetation type, and in other places the result of degradation of former forest or woodland by logging or overgrazing, or disturbance by major fires.
  • Scrubland: Scrublands are most common near the seacoast, and are often adapted to wind and salt air off the ocean. Low, soft-leaved scrublands around the Mediterranean are known as garrigue in France, gariga in Italymarker, phrygana in Greecemarker, tomillares in Spain, and batha in Israelmarker. Northern coastal scrub and coastal sage scrub, also known as soft chaparral, occur near the California coast; strandveld in the Western Cape of South Africa; coastal matorral in the central Chile, and sand-heath and kwongan in Southwest Australia.




Fire as a medium of change

Fire, both natural and human-caused, has played a large role in shaping the ecology of Mediterranean eco-regions. The hot, dry summers make much of the region prone to fires, and lightning-caused fires occur with some frequency. Many of the plants are pyrophytes, or fire-loving, adapted or even depending on fire for reproduction, recycling of nutrients, and the removal of dead or senescent vegetation. In both the Australian and Californian Mediterranean-climate eco-regions, native peoples used fire extensively to clear brush and trees, making way for the grasses and herbaceous vegetation that supported game animals and useful plants. The plant communities in these areas adapted to the frequent human-caused fires, and pyrophyte species grew more common and more fire-loving, while plants that were poorly adapted to fire retreated. After European colonization of these regions, fires were suppressed, which has caused some unintended consequences in these ecoregions; fuel builds up, so that when fires do come they are much more devastating, and some species dependent on fire for their reproduction are now threatened. The European shrublands have also been shaped by anthropogenic fire, historically associated with transhumance herding of sheep and goats.

Geography

Mediterranean eco-regions are semi-arid, and often have poor soils, so they are vulnerable to degradation by human activities such as logging, overgrazing, and the introduction of exotic species. These regions are also some of the most endangered on the planet, and many eco-regions have suffered tremendous degradation and habitat loss through logging, overgrazing, conversion to agriculture, urbanization, and introduction of exotic species. The eco-regions around the Mediterranean basin have been particularly affected by degradation due to human activity, suffering extensive loss of forests and soil erosion, and many native plants and animals have become extinct or endangered.

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