The spatial arrangement of land uses and habitats has a tremendous effect on the way ecosystems are able to function, and consequently on the plants and animals that live there. Some of the greatest stressors on Southern California’s ecosystems come from human-caused changes to landscape patterns, such as conversion from one use to another (e.g. coastal sage scrub to agricultural fields or urban development), introduction of invasive species, alteration of local fire regimes, climate change, and water, air and light pollution. While landscapes may change through natural processes, for example rapidly following a wildfire, or gradually through climate shits, humans have by far had the greatest effect on landscapes in and around the Mediterranean Coast Network (MEDN).

As part of a long-term collaboration between the National Park Service and the University of California, Los Angeles, the MEDN Inventory and Monitoring Program is monitoring landscape change within the three network parks to learn:

  • How has land use and land cover changed over time—not only conversion of open space to development or human uses, but changes in how the land is being used (e.g., farming versus housing)?
  • How are the boundaries of vegetation communities changing?
  • How are phenological variables, such as the start and end of the growing season, and date of maximum productivity of vegetation changing?
  • How is light pollution changing over time?

Remote sensing, satellite imagery, and aerial photographs will be used to assess overall landscape dynamics and their effects, as well as identify specific areas of change. Managers can then assess the causes of those changes, explore connections between these variables and other vital signs, and implement appropriate management actions. The methodology developed for this program can also be applied to other landscape monitoring programs in the future.