Why Does California Have Such High Plant Diversity?

California has more plant species than any other state. In fact, California has more kinds of plants than the entire Eastern Seaboard. There are more than 5,500 plant species in California; forty percent of them don't live anywhere but California.

"It's a really special place," said Kathleen Kay, a plant evolutionary biologist at University of California Santa Cruz. She has a new study, published in the journal, Evolution, that attempts to answer why that is. 

Kay says, there are different reasons a place might be high in biodiversity. It could be because a lot of new species evolve there, or because the species that do evolve, last.

Her study points to the latter answer. In California, plant species seem not to go extinct as quickly as in other places.

"I think it means that it's really important to protect those areas in California that have been allowing those species that arise to persist," Kay said.

She says the state's varied terrain and mild climate may be the reasons behind the low extinction rates.

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