Bugs, Biodiversity, and the Big Picture
By Conservancy Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak
While we celebrate the extraordinary diversity of all life forms on the Ranch, we have a much better, albeit evolving, understanding of some taxonomic groups than others. On Tejon, to date, we are aware of approximately 54 mammals (30 percent of all state species), 45 reptiles and amphibians (18 percent), over 260 birds (40 percent), and around 1,000 plants (15 percent). The vast majority of these organisms are native to California. This is impressive biodiversity, especially when considering that Tejon Ranch only encompasses 0.25 percent of the state’s total area.
California is known as one of the most biodiverse states in the union, largely attributed to the incredible variety in geography and climate. We have both the highest and lowest elevations in the continental U.S., with biotic regions ranging from temperate rainforest to arid deserts, plus about 840 miles of coastline. Tejon Ranch is exemplary of this geographic variety, seated at the dynamic juncture of four unique regions: the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mojave Desert, Transverse Ranges, and Central Valley. No wonder the biological diversity here is so amazing!
Taxonomic groups that we still know little about are all things invertebrate – insects, spiders, snails, worms, and more. While less glorified than the charismatic bears, eagles, and oaks that inhabit the Ranch, invertebrates are the unsung heroes that make plant and animal communities thrive. From pollination to nutrient cycling, and from forage to foragers, invertebrates orchestrate the ecological processes that direct the vital functioning of these complicated wild landscapes. Mosquitos and houseflies may give this important group a bad rap, but without the pollination power of invertebrates, we would go hungry, as would our favorite birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. It is one of many key ecological functions they perform, largely unnoticed and underappreciated. In evidence of this, we don’t have accurate estimates for the number of invertebrate species – on Tejon Ranch, in California, in our country, or across the globe.
We do know that the diversity of invertebrates is unbelievably large – just the number of beetles in California is thought to be around 8,000 species. This high diversity has a lot to do with the unique niches in which many invertebrates have evolved, often associated with specific organismal relationships. Knowing very little about who exists and their specific ecological roles has broad conservation impacts, as invertebrates are among the least recognized and protected organisms.
Of the approximately 600-plus bird species in the state, 33 of these have threatened and/or endangered status protections under state and/or federal law – that’s about 6 percent. With plants, about 122 of approximately 6,500 species, or 2 percent, are protected. Mammals, and reptiles and amphibians have the highest ratio of protected species at about 14 percent (25 in 181 and 34 in 250 species, respectively).
How many invertebrate species are protected, you ask? Although we don’t have a good understanding of how many invertebrates exist in California today, we know it is a large number. Yet only 35 species have protected status. For beetles alone, that is five in an estimated 8,000 species, or 0.06 percent, with protected status. In short, we have a long way to go before we can understand and value these organisms that provide the critical ecosystem services we rely on for our well-being and that of the landscapes we love.
One can expect with the extraordinary geographic variety we find on the Ranch, along with the impressive numbers of species we see here among other taxonomic groups, that we likely have an inordinately high number of invertebrate species on Tejon. We are doing our best to learn more about them.
Over the last few years, we have partnered with the Lorquin Entomological Society from Los Angeles to try to better understand who lives here. With this passionate group of enthusiasts and professionals, we have dramatically expanded the number of species documented on the property and are beginning to fill in a tiny sliver of the complicated ecological picture these exceedingly important life forms play. You can check out some of their observations on our project pages in iNaturalist .
Stay tuned for more reports from the field as we explore the Ranch’s buzzing corners. Many thanks to the incredibly generous contributions of time, expertise, and enthusiasm of Lorquin members!