Olympic Peninsula Biodiversity - Explaining the Island-Effect

Close-up of a furry moth with a long break-like proboscis and clear wings sitting on the end of a plant bud

Wilderness protects Olympic Peninsula biodiversity

Looking up the steep gradient valley of a glacier-fed stream to the Olympic mountain peaks and associated glaciers

Olympic Peninsula plate tectonics

When considering the unique flora and fauna found on the Olympic Peninsula, one must first consider the geology of the Olympic Peninsula. The subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate under the North American Plate has resulted in the distinct topography found on the Olympic Peninsula. According to Schultz (1990), the Olympic Peninsula is part of a leading edge coast, which results in a characteristically short distance between the coastline and the Olympic Mountains, creating a variety of ecosystems and biodiversity within this steep gradient.  Olympic Peninsula tours that highlight a diversity of ecosystem types can be conducted over relatively short driving distances allowing us more time for hiking, snowshoeing, sightseeing, tidepooling, wildlife viewing, or birding.

An Olympic Marmot peeking its head out of the crevice of a large boulder

Olympic Peninsula isolation

During the last ice age, only certain areas on the Olympic Peninsula were free of ice. This geologic “island-effect” combined with the Olympic Peninsula being surrounded by water on three sides geographically, has resulted in isolation and the evolution of unique flora and fauna.  "Olympic Peninsula biodiversity" is another way of describing the unique flora and fauna found on the Olympic Peninsula.  The Olympic Marmot is an example of unique fauna and Piper’s Bellflower is an example of unique flora of the Olympic Peninsula.  The unique qualities of the Olympic Peninsula and the protection of ancient forests from logging by Olympic National Park have led to the important designation of World Heritage Site.

Close-up of a Mountain Beaver showing its human-like ears and otherwise rodent-like features

Olympic Peninsula biodiversity lists

As a knowledgeable Olympic Peninsula tour operator, we are working on making Olympic Peninsula biodiversity lists during scouting hikes and certain tours where we keep lists.  Since the species lists are largely comprised of common names, we include citations below for sources of the list taxonomy. Some of the birds listed were heard, but not seen. The Olympic Peninsula biodiversity list categories are marine invertebrate animals, mammals, birds, plants, wildflowers, marine seaweeds, and “other” (including reptiles, amphibians, terrestrial invertebrate animals, and mushrooms).

Close-up of the micro-flora growing on rock that includes moss, lichen, and a vascular plant (Stonecrop)

Olympic Peninsula biodiversity not listed

Grasses, sedges, rushes, liverworts, mosses, and lichens are flora that have not been included in the Olympic Peninsula biodiversity lists and make up a considerable amount of plant biomass and species richness on the Olympic Peninsula. Most fish, insects, and “hidden” terrestrial fauna (such as those that live in soil, water, and woody debris) are also omitted. Lists were generated using leave no trace principles for your Olympic National Park Tour with ExperienceOlympic, Port Angeles WA 98362.

The flower of the higher thistle flower is being pollinated by a bee while the lower thistle flower is being pollinated by a fly mimicking a bee

Olympic Peninsula biodiversity citations

Acorn, John and Ian Sheldon (2001). Bugs of Washington and Oregon. Edmonton: Lone Pine Publishing.

Arora, David (1991). All the Rain Promises and More – A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Arora, David (1986). Mushrooms Demystified, Second Edition. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Corkran, Charlotte C. and Chris Thoms (1996). Amphibians of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia – A Field Identification Guide. Renton: Lone Pine Publishing.

The endemic Olympic Chipmunk, which has very defined gray haunches, sits on top of a rock in a subalpine meadow on the Olympic Peninsula

Kozloff, Eugene N. (1976). Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest - An Illustrated Guide to the Natural History of Western Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.

Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon (1994). Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast - Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska. Vancouver: Lone Pine Publishing.

Schultz, Stewart T. (1990). The Northwest Coast, A Natural History. Portland: Timber Press.

Sept, J. Duane (1999). The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing.

Sibley, David Allen (2003). The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America. Computer Software. Apple App Store. Version 1.7.1. mydigitalearth.com. December 14, 2011. Web. itunes.apple.com/us/app/sibley-eguide-to-birds-north/id354101483?mt=8

Stewart, Charles (1994). Wildflowers of the Olympics and Cascades. Port Angeles: Nature Education Enterprises.

Close-up of a light yellow banana slug with dark brown spots crawling towards the camera