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Wildlife Overview

With habitats ranging from thick foothill chaparral to expanses of alpine rock, Yosemite National Park supports over 250 species of vertebrates, which include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. This high diversity of species is also the result of habitats in Yosemite that are largely intact, compared to areas outside the park where various human activities have resulted in habitat degradation or destruction.

Along much of Yosemite's western boundary, habitats are dominated by mixed coniferous forests of ponderosa pine, sugar pine, incense cedar, white fir, and Douglas fir, and a few stands of giant sequoia, interspersed by areas of black oak and canyon live oak. A relatively high diversity of wildlife species are supported by these habitats, due to relatively mild, lower-elevation climate, and the mixture of habitat types and plant species. Wildlife species typically found in these habitats include black bear, bobcat, gray fox, mountain kingsnake, Gilbert's skink, white-headed woodpecker, brown creeper, spotted owl, and a wide variety of bat species. In the case of bats, large snags are important as roost sites.

Going higher in elevation, the coniferous forests become purer stands of red fir, western white pine, jeffrey pine, and lodgepole pine. Fewer wildlife species tend to be found in these habitats, due to their higher elevation, and lower complexity. Species likely to be found include golden- mantled ground squirrel, chickaree, marten, Steller's jay, hermit thrush, and northern goshawk. Reptiles are not common, but include rubber boa, western fence lizard, and alligator lizard.

As the landscape rises, trees become smaller and more sparse, with stands broken by areas of exposed granite. These include lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, and mountain hemlock that, at highest elevations, give way to vast expanses of granite as treeline is reached. The climate in these habitats is harsh and the growing season is short, but species such as pika, yellow-bellied marmot, white-tailed hare, Clark's nutcracker, and rosy finch are adapted to these conditions. Also, the treeless alpine habitats are the areas favored by Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. This species, however, is now found in the Yosemite area only around Tioga Pass, where a small, reintroduced population exists.

At a variety of elevations, meadows provide important, productive habitat for wildlife. Animals come to feed on the green grasses and use the flowing and standing water found in many meadows. Predators, in turn, are attracted to these areas. The interface between meadow and forest is also favored by many animal species because of the proximity of open areas for foraging, and cover for protection. Species that are highly dependent upon meadow habitat include great gray owl, willow flycatcher, Yosemite toad, and mountain beaver.

Despite the richness of high-quality habitats in Yosemite, three species have become extinct in the park within historical time, and another 37 species currently have special status under either California or federal endangered species legislation. The most serious current threats toYosemite's wildlife and the ecosystems they occupy include loss of a natural fire regime, exotic species, air pollution, habitat fragmentation, and climate change. On a more local basis, factors such as road kills and the availability of human food have affected some wildlife species.

 
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Last modified Wednesday, 22-Dec-2004 10:15:08 Eastern Standard Time
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