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Sustainable Urban Landscape > Habitat and Biodiversity


Don Schultz

Phone: (619) 660-4023


Sustainable urban landscape


Microclimates and Habitat Conservation


A microclimate is a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area.

Microclimates can be found, for example, near large bodies of water that cool the local atmosphere, or in very urban areas where brick, concrete, and asphalt absorb the sun's energy, heat up, and reradiate that heat to the air temperature resulting as an urban heat island.

It is easy to forget that our homes and gardens are a small but important part of the larger region of micro-climates and habitats that are home to thousands of species. These integrated life forms, or eco-systems, have evolved and are native to the environment that we also call home. Our efforts to conserve and preserve biodiversity brings us one step closer to living sustainably.

These microclimates combined with our generally Mediterranean climate and varied landforms create a number of distinct habitats.

This habitat range includes:

  • Beaches, salt marshes and lagoons, along the coastal strip where coastal sage scrub is the dominant plant community.
  • Inland valleys support grasslands, chaparral, oak woodlands, and stream side plant communities where sycamore and cottonwood trees thrive.
  • Mountain areas where there are mixed conifer forests, freshwater marshes and meadows.
  • Desert habitats that support entirely different range of plant and animal species.

San Diego has four distinct microclimates:

  • Coastal climate - where rainfall decreases temperatures are mild and vary little seasonally.
  • Inland valleys - get more rain from winter storms and seasonal temperatures vary from near freezing to triple digits in the summer.
  • Mountains which are especially susceptible to summer thunderstorms and brief periods of winter snowfall.
  • Deserts which are generally arid because moisture laden clouds are often trapped on the western facing side of the mountains so rainfall is limited to the winter months. Temperatures vary widely from a night-time lows that are below freezing to intense mid-day heat.


Habitat Loss

Habitat destruction occurs when a natural habitat is found to be functionally unable to support the species present. The organisms which previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity.

Perhaps the greatest threat to organisms and biodiversity is the process of habitat loss in the process of development and construction of sites that were previously wild lands. Habitat degradation, fragmentation, and pollution are aspects of habitat destruction caused by humans that result in habitat collapse.

Habitat destruction is often caused by humans and includes conversion of land for:

  • Agriculture purposes
  • Urban sprawl and new home construction
  • Infrastructure development such as roads, power transfer lines, and water or gas utilizes

Habitat Preservation

The California Environmental Quality Act required reduction and mitigation of impacts from development projects that include new construction and the installation of associated landscape areas. Development often creates small areas of open space that are disconnected from other habitat areas, and often result in isolated areas that are too small to support any significant populations of wildlife.


California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

In San Diego County, the objective of the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) is to provide for large, connected preserve areas that address a number of species from a integrated habitat perspective. This creates a more efficient and effective preserve system and is better adapted to protect the rare, threatened and endangered species in the region.

The laws and guidelines of the MSCP:

  • Preserve San Diego's unique, native habitats and wildlife for future generation.
  • Work across political boundaries in a unique regional conservation effort.
  • Protect watersheds and water quality.
  • Streamlines the permitting process for development projects.
  • Ensures compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act, state Endangered Species Act, and state Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act.


County of San Diego-  Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP)


Maintaining Habitats

The variety in micro-climates provide habitats for a wide range of native species. The San Diego region is a conservation “hotspot” because of the vast numbers and variety of threatened and endangered species that reside here.

Some useful guidelines to consider when planning a landscape remodeling project, or new land development include:

  • Preserve wildlife diversity by retaining a variety of native environments.
  • Allow large interconnected habitats to remain.
  • Avoid isolated and fragmented habitats.


 The San Diego Wildfires Education Project


Maintaining Species Biodiversity

Biological diversity, or biodiversity refers to the variety of plants, animals and other living things in a particular area or region. It includes genetic variety, species diversity, and variety in local ecosystems, and landscapes.

San Diego County is among the top 10 biodiversity regions on earth and 20% of all plant species are found in Mediterranean climates like San Diego. The County of San Diego recognizes 20 unique Vegetation Communities each with a diverse number of plant and animal species that are native to Southern California.


County of San Diego- Biodiversity


Career Technical Education

This web site is supported by Carl D. Perkins VTEA IC funds through the System. Office, California Community Colleges,
Grant #08-C01-020

Revised  November 05, 2014
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