The Challenge: Basic research is still a major need within Southern grasslands. Unfortunately, funding for suchbaseline studies is nearly non-existent.
Basic Discovery: It’s hard to believe but there are whole systems of Southeastern grasslands that have never been surveyed. One of the biggest botanical discoveries in the U.S. in the 20th century was made when surveys of barrens along the Little Cahaba River near Birmingham, AL, resulted in the finding of a “botanical lost world,” since featured by Uhaul on the sides of its vans. These sites yielded undescribed communities and 10 undescribed plant species, one of which became extinct shortly after its discovery. Many other grasslands need systematic survey work before they and the species that depend on them disappear altogether.
What have we lost? In addition to studying what is left, we also need to better understand what we’ve lost. Ecologists are just now understanding that there are forgotten grasslands of the South that we never knew existed. Studies of 200-year-old land surveys, old maps and journals, and tree-rings are offering new perspectives but so much more work is needed.