Riverscour Survey Project

Pristine grasslands are almost nonexistent in the Southeast, but in the deep canyons of Southern Appalachia on the Cumberland Plateau are amazing riverscour barrens that are riparian, flood-maintained grasslands stranded in otherwise forested gorges hemmed in by high sandstone cliffs. Trees can’t endure the floods, which can exceed 150,000 cubic feet per second. Through millennia, each deeply entrenched river system has developed its own unique grassland plant communities. These harbor at least a half-dozen endemic plants and are home to several undescribed species of plants. 

A Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI) team of biodiversity explorers has been systematically exploring these unique communities in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky with future efforts anticipated to study those of Arkansas and Oklahoma. These communities have high biodiversity, including a riverscour woodland with 87 species of plants in one 10 x 10 meter plot. This richness rivals that of longleaf pine savannas, and for some river systems we have found more than 500 species of plants in as little as 9 river miles, restricted to within the flood-scoured zone! SGI is working with the National Park Service on these projects and this it represents yet another example of SGI’s commitment to science-driven conservation.