Why care about southern grasslands?
- they are hotspots of biodiversity rich in endemic and undescribed species
- nearly 1/3 of all rare Southeastern land vertebrates require or prefer grasslands
- 2/3 of all rare plants in the Southeast require or prefer grasslands
- 60% of the nearly 6,000 native plant species of the Southeast require or prefer grasslands
- >600 of the 1,213 rare habitats of the Southeast are rare grassland types
- they provide ecosystem services such as reducing topsoil erosion and runoff, improving water quality, and carbon sequestration
- they provide critical habitat and food for pollinators
- native grasslands can supply drought-tolerant forage for cattle, increasing profits for farmers while providing benefits to the environment
- grasslands supply us with a large number of native plant species used in horticultural trade (e.g. coneflowers), ecological restoration (warm-season grasses & milkweeds), and biofuel production (switchgrass)
- grasslands are aesthetically beautiful and can beautify a variety of landscapes, including industrial parks, roadsides, rooftops, city parks, and backyard gardens
- grasslands played an important part in the human history of the Southeast, influencing the locations of towns and cities, patterns of settlement, industry, agriculture, and other land use
The challenges facing southern grasslands are complex
- Lack of Education: We still don’t know how many grasslands we’ve lost, where they were, or what they contained. There is still a lack of public awareness about the current and historical importance of grasslands. Education must be an integral factor going forth.
- Declining Expertise: Universities are moving away from training new generations of field biologists & conservationists, resulting in a scarcity of skilled professionals needed now more than ever to identify, study, and conserve grasslands and grassland biodiversity.
- Diminished Resources: Critical resources such as staffing, equipment, fire crews, and seed sources needed for conservation are lacking.
- Scarcity of Funding: Grants are biased towards Midwestern grasslands. They are highly competitive and not a reliable source of funding. Many aspects of Southeastern grasslands conservation has no funding source.
- Extreme Rarity: There are few remnants. We can’t afford to lose anymore. Many grasslands are functionally extinct and only re-creation can save them.