Californian coastal sage scrub has floristically distinct subassociations with sharp boundaries in the Santa Monica Mountains. This mesoscale biogeographic pattern has been variously attributed to the timing and pattern of fire and to differences in the moisture availability on sites. An examination of the actual fire history of sites reveals that recent fire events are unlikely to have caused the observed patterns. Sites with similar fire histories are not as similar in vegetation as sites with different fire histories but similar aspect. Single short fire intervals do not result in dissimilar communities; fires are unlikely to recur with the same boundaries as these two subassociations. A simulation of shrub response to fire interval and intensity indicates that long-term fire trends are also unlikely to have caused the distinction or the sharp boundaries of the two subassociations. Both subassociations include species with life history characteristics adapted to short and to long fire intervals. The subassociations exist without regard to fire history.
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