Representing the world’s major ecosystems, biosphere reserves provide study ecosystems for the United Nations Man and the Biosphere Programme. The program employs science to harmonize relationships between people and their environments. The goal: to improve human livelihoods while safeguarding natural ecosystems.
Biosphere reserves encourage research into biodiversity loss, climate change, environmental monitoring, and sustainable development. This work develops solutions relevant to local cultures and environments.
Six NRS reserves have been designated as part of four biosphere reserves. Each biosphere reserve represents a distinct habitat type, and encompasses protected lands administered by the federal government, the state of California, land trusts, universities, and others.
Protecting the mountain ranges parallel to California's northern and central Pacific coast, habitats include mixed woodlands of oak, madrone, and bay; temperate conifer forest; chaparral; grasslands; and freshwater and marine ecosystems. Human populations around the San Francisco Bay Area exert intense ecological pressures in the form of agriculture, fisheries, transportation, manufacturing, and tourism. The California Coast Ranges Biosphere Reserve encompasses two NRS reserves, Angelo Coast Range Reserve and Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve. Other natural areas within this biosphere reserve include Redwood National and State Parks; Jackson Demonstration State Forest; Redwood Experimental Forest and the western slopes of Cone Peak in Big Sur. Note: this biosphere reserve is not currently recognized within the Man and the Biosphere Programme; opportunities to rejoin the program are being considered.
The eight California Channel Islands offer some of the least-spoiled examples of southern California coastal habitats. Although invasive species, grazing, and fishing have altered these ecosystems to some extent, habitat management and fishing regulations are returning this biosphere reserve to a more natural state. Terrestrial habitats include evergreen sclerophyllous woodlands and coastal sage scrub. Offshore waters are bathed in warm and cool currents supporting a phenomenal variety of species. Giant kelp, rockfish, and marine invertebrates flourish here, attracting seabirds, pinnipeds, and protected species such as southern sea otters and blue whales. The NRS's Santa Cruz Island Reserve maintains a field station and facilitates research on an island formerly used as a cattle ranch. The entire biosphere reserve is now protected as a National Park and National Marine Sanctuary.
The lands within the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve offer recreation access, education, and other ecosystem services for over 7 million residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. Ecosystems are dominated by evergreen sclerophyllous woodland, but include coastal prairie, chaparral, coastal dunes, tidepools, and marshes. The NRS's Bodega Marine Reserve encapsulates many of these habitats at a site featuring one of the largest marine laboratories on the West Coast. The NRS is among 13 partners that administer protected areas within this biosphere reserve, which range from water districts to land trusts, state and federal parks, universities and non-profit organizations.
The hottest, driest, and lowest locations in North America are part of this biosphere reserve, which features sand dunes, creosote scrub, Joshua tree woodlands. These protected areas also straddle three types of warm deserts: the Sonoran; its lower elevation sub-region, the Colorado; and the higher elevation Mojave. Among the least densely populated areas of California, human influences here center on tourism, off-road vehicle use, and trespass grazing. The NRS's Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center and Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center provide field station facilities in areas where amenities are few and far between. Other protected lands within this biosphere reserve include Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains national monuments.