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The Santa Clara River watershed drains an extensive and biologically rich region at the junction of five of California’s 10 identified Bioregions, and contains a particularly strong representation of the biodiversity in the South and Central Coast Bioregions. The river is the last major coastal system in southern California that retains much of its natural hydrology and still provides the ecosystem functions necessary to sustain more than 17 federally listed species. The river system provides critical habitat and landscape linkages between these bioregions, including the Sierra Madre and Santa Felicia mountains to the north and Santa Susana-Simi Hills and Santa Monica Mountains to the south.The river basin also supports some of the most valuable agricultural resources in the world, as well as water resources for surrounding urban populations. Although the SCR contains extensive natural areas, it was identified as a critically endangered river by American Rivers in 2005 because of urban development and other threats in the region. Invasion by giant reed (Arundo donax) is one of the most pressing conservation issues in the watershed.
The RIVRLab has been involved in numerous studies in the Santa Clara sytem, including evaluation of impacts of Arundo invasion and potential application of biological control of it and other invasive plants such as tamarisk and Cape ivy. In addition, we are evaluating the effects of invasive New Zealand mud snails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) on native biota, particularly competition with aquatic invertebrates and larvae of the endangered ArroyoToad (Bufo californicus). We are in the process of developing a research station in the watershed to facilitate research on native and non-native species in the watershed, as well as to explore the integration of ecological restoraton, biodiversity protection and agricultural sustainability in this valuable floodplain ecosystem.