by Neal Matthews
Griffith Park’s surprisingly rich matrix of wildlife depends on pathways linking at least eight different habitat zones. Visitors can experience all of these vivid landscapes on a short hike or pony ride, or simply looking up into the slopes surrounding the park’s parking lots, including the one at Griffith Observatory.
The Park has grown from the 3,015 acres Col. Griffith Jenkins Griffith originally donated to the current 4,310 acres, or about 6.5 square miles, within the shadow of the Hollywood Sign. Encompassing wildlife corridors linking the mountains to the sea, via the Los Angeles River, Griffith Park lies within the California Floristic Province, a biodiversity hotspot. UCLA’s Educational Research Center has designated Griffith Park a Significant Ecological Area (SEA), in part for its crucial role “as a corridor for any gene flow and species movement between the Santa Monica, San Gabriel, and Verdugo Mountains.”
Researchers have documented about 200 species of birds in the park, about sixty of them year-round residents. Around 50 species of butterflies have been spotted, and 40 species of mammals, including the resident mountain lion, P-22. There are nineteen species of reptiles. But some of the most important residents happen to be the smallest: Harvester ants are a “keystone” species in the park, as they not only collect and disperse seeds, but are the main food source for the increasingly rare Coast Horned Lizard.
The habitat zones include –
Where: North and east-facing slopes; above the Merry-Go-Round; along Crystal Springs Rd.; around the Trails Café in Fern Dell. With the trees providing shade for a variety of wildlife in summer and fall, here’s what to look for:
Oak- Sycamore Woodlands
Where: Lower Canyons and draws, Brush Canyon, Fern Canyon, Royce Canyon, and the drainages around the Hollywood Reservoir. The distinctive tree-lined canyons support riparian woodlands where seasonal water flows, or more likely trickles. The complex understory of bushes and trees harbors –
Where: Especially robust on gentle, north-facing slopes throughout the park, this is the dominant plant community throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. Established by man-made fire at least ten thousand years ago, it regenerates quickly after fire, and co-exists with other habitats, including non-native pines and silk oak.
What lives there:
Coastal Sage Scrub
Where: Northeastern corner of the park, near the L.A.Zoo, and along an arc from Vermont Canyon west across West Canyon, Brush Canyon, and Cahuenga Pass, including Hollywood Reservoir.
Where: The lower canyons and draws throughout the park support seasonal streams that drain into the Los Angeles River. The six-mile stretch of the river with an elbow bend forms the northeastern boundary of the park. The Griffith Riverside tennis facility, at Los Feliz and Riverside Dr., provides parking and access to the river. It is especially lively along here because, unlike most of the levee-lined river channel in metro L.A., the bottom in this section could not be cemented over, and remains soft and semi-natural. This gravel-and-mud bottom hosts macro-invertebrates, such as crayfish, that live in both clean water and in storm water runoff, as well as insects and amphibians. Common carp can reach 20 inches, and migratory birds including geese and flycatchers make regular stopovers here.
Griffith Park Nature Links
L.A’s devotion to Griffith Park as a living thing is reflected in the numerous groups and individuals working to protect the park’s present, past, and future. Their efforts, illustrated in the following links, were invaluable in the creation of this web page:
Friends of Griffith Park
Griffith Park Natural History Survey
Cooper Ecological Monitoring
L.A. Department of Parks and Recreation
2011 #SciFund Challenge – Urban Butterfly Blues Project
Griffith Park Trail Camera
View From the Park (blog)
Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society
Griffith Park History Project, Glendale Community College