Spatial patterns of shrub life history and Ceanothus distribution are examined in relation to topographically‐mediated differences in drought severity within 3 watersheds on the coastal and inland flank of the Santa Ynez Mountains, California. Spatially distributed fields of drought severity are simulated for the studied watersheds using high‐resolution digital terrain data and daily climate data in combination with a process‐based hydro‐ecological model (RHESSys). Field samples of species composition are spatially integrated with the distributed drought data for analysis of ecological relationships. Patterns of seedling recruitment type correspond to topographic variability in drought severity in ways that are consistent with concepts presented in the literature. Species that depend on fire for recruitment are increasingly represented with increasing drought severity, the converse also applies. Sites that experience moderate drought severity permit co‐dominance of species from both recruitment modes. Residual analysis suggests that some of the unexplained variability is related to substrate. Analyses also indicate that the distribution of 5 Ceanothus shrubs reflect differences in drought severity in ways that are consistent with their resistance to water stress‐induced xylem dysfunction. Species from the subgenus Cerastes sort in accordance with moisture availability and have unique spatial distributions. Results are evaluated and discussed with respect to studies on plant morphology, resource use and seedling establishment patterns.
Abbreviations: DEM = Digital Elevation Model; FOV = Field of View; MT‐CLIM = Mountain Microclimate Simulator; RHESSys = Regional Hydro‐Ecological Simulation System.
Nomenclature: Hickman (1993).