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Talk Abstracts

Black Belt Prairies: biodiversity, ecology and restoration. John Barone1 and JoVonn Hill2, 1Columbus State University, Columbus, GA, 2Mississippi Entomological Museum, Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS.

John Barone, (706) 569-2832,

The Black Belt region of Mississippi and Alabama is a 500 km arc that extends from Tupelo in the northwest to Montgomery in the southeast.  Prior to the 19th century, this region included over 144,000 ha of prairies that occurred in sites with thin soils over Cretaceous-age chalk bedrock.  Extensive agricultural and urban development have greatly reduced the areas of prairie, perhaps to 1% of their former range.  Our research has focused on documenting the diversity and composition of remnant prairie sites and restoring sites degraded through succession.  For example, a two-year survey of prairies in the Black Belt (and the smaller Jackson Prairie Belt) found 196 plant species, including 168 native species.  Grasshoppers were also quite diverse, with 33 species.  Fifty-three ant species were found on these sites, including 36 species that appear to be true prairie species.  One threat to remnant prairie sites is succession to forest, led by invasions of eastern red cedar trees.  Working on sites along the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, we examined the efficacy of three approaches to removing cedar trees on remnant prairies—burning, clearing, and cutting/burning—over four years.  For plant richness, the cut/burned and cleared treatments halted the decline observed in control plots as succession continued.  While grasshopper richness was not affected by the treatments, abundance was three to four times higher in the cleared and cut/burned treatments.  Ant richness on the plots did not differ overall as a consequence of the treatments, but forest ant species declined significantly on plots with either the cleared or cut/burned treatments.  Overall, clearing cedars was judged to the best option for restoring prairies, followed by occasional burns to prevent re-invasions.  In our current work, we are using DNA barcoding to determine the diets of prairie grasshoppers with the goal of developing a food web.  In DNA barcoding, species can be identified by amplifying the bases from a particular gene region.  In our study, we have collecting feces from prairie grasshoppers and amplifying the plant DNA to determine diets.  Out of 250 fecal samples, we have determined the diets from 63 of them (about 25%).  Certain plant species, especially little bluestem and bushy bluestem seem to be particularly important component of grasshopper diets on prairies.  Current work focuses on refining the technique.


Managing the “Middle Ground” – Pyne’s “fire-catalyzed patches” in Kentucky.  Joyce Bender, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, Frankfort, KY.

Joyce Bender, (502) 573-2886,

In an upcoming book with the working title, “Middle Ground: A fire history of the oak-hickory woodlands”, fire historian Stephen J. Pyne reviews the remnant barrens of our region and discusses the history of their development and their importance.  I hosted Pyne on a tour of barrens in several Kentucky state nature preserves in April 2015.  This presentation will cover the Commission’s barrens management practices and synopsize Pyne’s impressions of our sites and their importance for not only preserving biological diversity but serving as “rallying points for spreading good fire”.

Bringing Prairies Home.  Mike Berkley, GroWild, Inc., Fairview, TN.

Mike Berkley, (615) 799-1910,

As more of our woods and fields are replaced by lawns and pavement, we as gardeners have the opportunity to become stewards of native plant communities via the suburban back yard.  Today, instead of sterile lawns, prairies or better yet ‘pocket prairies’ are being welcomed by the urban/suburban homeowner.  Although the size of the suburban prairie has changed from acres to square feet, the plant pallet has not.  Sustainable and attractive, these ‘mini-meadows’ have a place in our landscape.

The Role of Shortleaf Pine in Savanna and Woodland Management.  Mike Black, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN.

Mike Black, (423) 718-3612,

Shortleaf pine forests and associated habitats once covered a vast area of the continent stretching from the piney woods of Texas and eastern Oklahoma to the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to Florida. Over the last 30 years, this extensive ecosystem has lost over 50% of its former acreage with the most significant decline east of the Mississippi River.  Forests dominated by shortleaf pine can be thinned and burned to allow native grasses and forbs to develop, creating an extensive opportunity to promote grassland habitats. To address the multiple threats facing this imperiled ecosystem, the Shortleaf Pine Initiative (SPI) was formed in 2013 with public and private organizations as well as state and federal agencies. Workshops were held across the range in 2013 to prepare a Shortleaf Pine Restoration Plan.  This plan was finalized early in 2016 and will soon be available as a pdf on


The Pennyrile Region of KY & TN: new hope for a lost world? Julian Campbell, Bluegrass Woodland Restoration Center, Lexington, KY.

Julian Campbell, (859) 229 7711,

The “Pennyrile”—karst plain of western Kentucky and adjacent Tennessee—was largely covered with grassland and thin woodland before settlement, but over 99% has been converted to farmland. Most remnants are highly degraded and lack appropriate cycles of burning and browsing that used to maintain these habitats. Efforts to restore better remnants have been limited to a few sites, totaling less than 1000 acres. A much larger acreage has been planted with a few species of “native warm season grass”, but usually adding little further diversity of native forbs or other plants. We still do not have an integrated program of restoration, which should include coordinated action at the three levels: landscape (protecting the better potential blocks), habitat (restoring the most degraded types with appropriate burning or browsing regimes), and species (recovering natives, reducing invasive aliens). The latter level tends to be neglected; we need more synthesis of information on the original condition, more organized propagation of species that have declined the most, and more concentration on better remnants or restoration with higher quality. Good botanical gardens would be very useful.  As in any regional program for conservation or restoration, success will depend on the following three fundamental principles: 1. Team-work is needed within regional sections of reasonable size; 2. It would be useful to have more regular meetings within each of these sections: western, central, Green River & Nolin River / northeastern.  All interested people should be invited to participate in such efforts; 3. Target-definition is needed with more clarity, for communication among professionals and for public education. Programs should have a good balance of effort at the three levels outlined above); 3. Trade-offs are needed in order to forge compromises for projects of satisfactory size. Success at larger scales will require deeper understanding of the ecological and economic issues involved in different burning or browsing regimes (including effects of different seasons). For extensive plantings, definitions of “native provenance” should be reasonably moderate. Where different approaches are controversial, we should frame useful questions for further research.  Areas like Land-Between-the-Lakes (USFS), Big Rivers (KDFWR, KDF, TNC), Fort Campbell Army Base, Red River watershed (APSU, USDA?), Middle Green River watershed and Mammoth Cave National Park (NPS, TNC, WKU), Nolin River watershed (TNC?), Lapland Barrens (KDFWR?) and Fort Knox (US Army) present perhaps the most interesting and promising opportunities for targeted restoration efforts.

Against the Tide: frontier conservation.  John Carter, Alliança da Terra, Brazil.

John Carter  

Over a span of four hundred years the land that now comprises the United States has undergone dramatic change: native forests logged and cleared, inherent soil fertility exploited, minerals mined, rivers dammed, wetlands drained, soils eroded, waters polluted, grasslands plowed under, an empire built. In Brazil the same process is underway, albeit half-way through. Is it too unrealistic to think that man cannot learn from mistakes of the past to produce a better outcome in the Amazon settlement process? In 2004 a Brazilian private landowner initiative, Aliança da Terra, was founded to test the theory. By focusing on the needs of landowners, Aliança da Terra created a transparent natural resource management tool called the “Producing Right Platform” which: 1.  Produces individual natural resource management diagnostic plans on a property-level basis; 2. Focuses on the most pertinent land management criteria: water, native vegetation, soil conservation, fire, legal compliance, waste management, and social; 3. Creates a continual improvement plan signed off on by the landowner; 4. Monitors each property’s annual progress; 6. Offers supply chain partners with this unique due diligence and risk management tool while providing a minimum of market access to its producers.  In its 11th year, Aliança da Terra hosts over a 1000 member properties across thirteen Brazilian states that collectively manage over 10 million acres of land. Primary indicators of success include: 1. $30,000,000 of direct investment in continual improvement on those lands; 2. 4,200,000 acres of native vegetation under management; 3. 5,800,000 acres of productive land under management; 4. 375,000 acres of riparian zone land being reforested through natural regeneration or planting; 5. Supply chain contracts with 2016 Rio Olympic Committee, ADM, Unilever, Nestle, Brookfield, and Santander to provide clean sourcing for soybeans, milk, and beef; 6. Sourced 60% of all certified soybeans shipped to the EU in 2015; 7. Reduced wildfire by 60%; 8. Reduced illegal deforestation by 98%; 9. 98% adoption of conservation tillage; 10. 93% adoption of rotational grazing systems.

This system is growing at a rapid fire pace. Market incentives are coming online. The system’s transparency thwarts corruption and organized crime, rampant on the frontier, while allowing producers the chance to speak directly to consumers. It is working.

Jennifer Ceska, Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, Athens, GA.

Jennifer Ceska, (770) 540-7129, 

Networking is a powerful tool for conservation. From restoring prairies to safeguarding the last plants of critically endangered populations, partners can divide work and share responsibility finding that they actually get a great deal more accomplished together. The state-based model used by the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance can be adapted and applied to any state. This is a project driven alliance operating on mutual trust and respect, bypassing dues or by-laws, following standard conservation ethics and best practices for maintaining plant populations and genetics. We are a group of conservation organizations, state and federal, corporate and non-profit, professors and students, professionals and volunteers, botanists, horticulturists, ecologists, land managers (and even a birder or 22) working to prevent the extinction of imperiled plant populations and rare plant communities in Georgia. The GPCA is a group of dedicated folks coming together across agencies, miles, and scientific disciplines getting conservation actions done on the land. We believe part of our mission is sharing our model and supporting other states in the creation of their own Plant Conservation Alliances.

Growing slowly over 20 years, GPCA has 39 member organizations providing more than $1.3 million in direct and indirect support for plant conservation since the group’s start. GPCA received the American Public Gardens Association national honor, a Program of Excellence Award in 2013. GPCA has 99 imperiled plant species in cultivation for safeguarding, increase, and study with half of those species, so far, produced to return to wild homes. And GPCA has shared is networking mission with Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

Cultural History and Summary of Research on Barrens at Fort Campbell Military Reservation, Kentucky and Tennessee. Edward W. Chester, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN.

Edward W. Chester, (931) 221-7785,

When Europeans settled the Pennyroyal Plain Subsection (Highland Rim Section, Interior Low Plateaus Province) in the late 1700s-early 1800s, they found extensive grass-dominated areas with scattered and stunted trees and shrubs. They referred to these areas as "barrens” and much of the Pennyroyal Plain (including the Elizabethtown Plain), became known as the "Big Barrens" or sometimes as "Kentucky Meadows." Much of the landscape was level to rolling, soils were deep and fertile, and land-clearing often easy due to the lack of extensive forests. By middle 1800s much of the area was under cultivation. The origin of these barrens has received much discussion and early on they were considered to be an extension of the mid-western prairies. However, most now consider that not to be the case and credit their existence to land-clearing (burning) by Native American, but probably aided by lightning-set fires, extensive periods of drought, and even trampling by extensive herds of herbivores, especially American bison. No pre-settlement examples of Pennyroyal Plain barrens vegetation are known and the few scattered remnants along railroads/roads and within fencerows and marginal farming areas had received scant attention prior to 1990. That changed when the U.S. Congress established the Legacy Resources Management Program, designed to identify and manage important biological and cultural resources on the approximately 900 Department of Defense (DoD) lands totaling some 25 million years. One of these DoD facilities, Fort Campbell Military Reservation (FCMR), occupies 105,000 acres in parts of Montgomery and Stewart Counties, TN, and Christian and Trigg Counties, KY. Much of the central portion of FCMR lies within the southern Pennyroyal Plain. The Reservation, created in 1941-42 from lands that were mostly agricultural, includes a cantonment area with a variable population of about 30,000, extensive military training areas, and several inaccessible impact and live-fire areas. Funded by the Tennessee Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, a survey of accessible parts of the Reservation for rare plants was conducted by the author, Dr. B.E. Wofford (Univ. of Tennessee), and Landon McKinney (then with the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, now deceased). The survey allowed botanical access to FCMR for the first time and the authors were amazed to find extensive areas of barrens vegetation. These lands, agricultural from settlement to 1941, have been since maintained for military training, mostly by periodic burning, and this allowed a "barrens flora" to re-develop on former barrens that had been converted to agriculture. After the rare plants survey, Chester and Wofford were joined by Drs. Jerry and Carol Baskin (University of Kentucky) for floristic and plot studies on >20 sites. The resulting publications documented the flora, provided quantitative analyses, and alerted the botanical community and FCMR land management personnel to the presence and importance of these barrens. The flora was found to include about 350 species, dominated by taxa of Asteraceae, Poaceae, and Fabaceae. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is by far the dominant species. Various studies by others, active management by latter-day FCMR personnel who recognize the importance of this landscape type, and periodic monitoring by the author, continues.


Observations by Early Settlers Provided Evidence of Grasslands of the Tennessee Cumberland Plateau.  Clarence Coffey, TWRA retired, Shortleaf Pine Initiative.

Clarence Coffey, (931) 267-7154,

If you asked most nature lovers to describe eastern North America as it appeared in time of Columbus, you would get a variety of answers, but most people would likely describe vast forests heavily stocked with virgin timber.  We’ve all heard the tale that a squirrel could climb a tree on the Atlantic coast and travel to the Mississippi River without stepping on the ground.  A lot of people were convinced that it was true.  A closer look at recorded history reveals these images to be far from truth.  Many early American travelers recorded their observations of the landscape they saw, the plant communities, the wildlife and their encounters with Native Americans.  These records even if taken alone, are sufficient to debunk the closed canopy forest mythology.  The Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and Kentucky presented quite a challenge to the early settlers, explorers and long hunters as they attempted to expand westward hunting or seeking more land to settle on.  As they traveled and observed the landscape, its plants and wildlife, they left some records of what they saw.  They wrote letters, kept journals and told others what they had seen in their travels.  Among the noteworthy wildlife they observed were bison and elk which require grass for grazing.  The early accounts by those in westward expansion also record descriptions of barrens, meadows, glades, and large grassy areas with hardly enough wood to build a fire.  One of the first industries in parts of the Cumberland Plateau was the use of pine trees for making tar and turpentine. The “tar burning” and “stilling” occurred in some areas where cattle were grazed on the open range and native grasses provided hay during winter months.  The “pineries” of Fentress County were mentioned by Mark Twain in his autobiography.  There are many species of plants still found across the plateau and other locations today that give evidence of a much different landscape encountered by our ancestors.


The Pennyroyal Prairie: a vision for restoring a forgotten ecosystem. Dwayne Estes1,2 and Julian Campbell31Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN, 2The Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth, TX, 3Bluegrass Woodland Restoration Center.  

Dwayne Estes, (931) 221-7771,

Most of us have heard the old adage about how a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River without ever having to touch the ground. As a child, I remember marveling at the thought of dense, dark forests covering the great expanse of eastern North America. Such an enterprising squirrel would had to have taken a very circuitous route in order to accomplish such a feat, for the Mid-South U.S. was riddled in pre-settlement times with millions of acres of naturally open prairies, savannas, barrens, glades, and open woodlands. The largest grassland system in the Mid-South was the “Big Barrens” of the Pennyroyal Plain of Kentucky and Tennessee, which covered an estimated 3.7 million acres as of 1800. The annual fires that once swept this extensive karst plain began to subside in the 1820s and 1830s and eyewitness accounts detail how the prairie vanished by the Civil War as it succeeded to oak-hickory woodlands or was converted to agricultural fields and pastures. Today, more than 99.9 percent of the Pennyroyal Plain Prairie has been lost. Fortunately, an estimated 25,000 acres remain at Fort Campbell Army Base, but most of this is off-limits for study and is located in the Base’s impact zone. These prairies are home to numerous rare plant and animal species and were once home to bison and prairie chickens.  Today, the few remaining remnants outside of Fort Campbell are barely discernible on the modern landscape, obliterated by 230+ years of land use changes, obscured by decades of fire suppression and competition from woody growth, and infestation by non-native species. Most are tucked away in some lonely corner of a pasture, woodland edge, or rural roadside. These privately owned remnants are steadily slipping away and many will be lost forever in coming years unless swift action is taken. As they slip into oblivion, we as a society will lose our ability to reimagine the once great prairies, hindering future conservation and restoration efforts.  The goal of this project is to (1) document, protect, and restore presently unprotected privately owned prairie remnants; (2) work with Roundstone Native Seed LLC. to create 60+ acres of all local-genotype high species richness prairie/oak savanna using Fort Campbell’s prairies as a seed source; (3) restore nearly 300 acres of degraded prairie lands in Kentucky and Tennessee; and (4) develop a system of fieldtrips, seminars, and workshops to help educate and interact with private landowners, land managers, and professionals in an attempt to assemble a diverse network of collaborators to find creative solutions to rebuilding the prairie piece by piece.


Lessons for Canebrake Restoration from Historical Accounts and from Disturbance Ecology Experiments. Paul R. Gagnon, Watershed Studies Institute and Department of Biological Sciences, Murray State University, Murray, KY.

Paul R. Gagnon, (270) 809-6174,

Like most true bamboos, river cane (Arundinaria gigantea Muhl.) is widely recognized as a lightloving, disturbance-obligate species. Just what sort of disturbance cane requires, however, is open for debate. The outcome of this debate is important for resource managers seeking to restore river cane on their holdings. I will use historical accounts of cane’s distribution and stand structure along with personal observations and results from my own ecological experiments to explore a range of potential outcomes for cane stand structure. I posit that, especially on fertile soils, cane is likely to maintain itself at relatively low densities under a regime of small-scale and somewhat infrequent disturbances akin to what we might expect in old-growth forests in alluvial valleys and loess hills. However, today’s regenerating second-growth forests, with their tightly closed canopies and deeply shaded understories, can exclude cane altogether. At the same time, the dense, monodominant bamboo stands called “canebrakes” described by many early explorers require more intense and frequent disturbances than would have been found even under most old-growth forests. I argue that numerous accounts of these dense, tall canebrakes were likely the artifact of recurrent fires. The implication for land managers seeking dense and lasting cane thickets akin to canebrakes is that they will need to plan to keep forest overstories open and to periodically “reset” cane stands by burning or cutting them. I will also discuss restoration implications of cane’s mysterious semelparous reproductive cycle in the context of its disturbance ecology.

Grassland Restoration for Quail in the Mid-South: Is there hope? Craig Harper, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. 

Craig Harper, (865) 974-7992,

Grasslands and other early successional plant communities in the Mid-South region have been diminished, degraded, and altered severely over the past century. The change in the distribution and composition of these communities is the result of changing land-use practices and it has negatively affected many wildlife species, including northern bobwhite. Although the northern bobwhite has been studied extensively, research continues to bring forth new information related to how bobwhite use various vegetation types in an “altered” landscape. Efforts toward restoring quail populations in the region over the past 30 years have focused on planting food plots and native grasses and forbs. Bobwhite populations have not responded to food plot plantings, and response to native grass/forb plantings is strongly influenced by landscape composition as well as the planting mixture. Densely planted stands of tall native grasses may be avoided by bobwhite, whereas sparsely seeded short-grass with forbs or naturally occurring vegetation are used by bobwhite. Habitat improvement efforts, such as establishing field borders around crop fields and whole-field conversion to early successional vegetation, have led to increased bobwhite abundance in open landscapes, but field management strategies in forested landscapes have not influenced the downward trajectory of bobwhite populations in those landscapes. Considerable increases in bobwhite abundance have been documented where forests have been cleared and early successional vegetation allowed to establish naturally to create additional bobwhite habitat within or adjacent to open landscapes. Planting is not necessary to provide suitable cover for bobwhite on a majority of sites, whether previously forested or cropland. Nesting cover and food rarely have been identified as limiting factors. Instead, an open landscape with adequate shrub cover is the primary limiting factor for population growth in the region. An increasing human population with decreasing property sizes, however, minimizes scale of management and will not permit a region-wide increase in the bobwhite population. Identification of focal areas for quail management in appropriate landscapes within the region has begun. However, huge incentives will be necessary for landowners to clear forests and maintain savannas and other early successional communities. Success on private lands is most likely in agricultural landscapes where bobwhite populations have been documented to increase following implementation of various conservation programs, such as CP38E Bobwhite SAFE in Tennessee, that provide adequate usable space for the birds. However, sustainability of bobwhite habitat through government-subsidized programs must be questioned. Large-scale restoration of grasslands and savanna with judicious use of prescribed fire likely is the only hope for bobwhite on public lands in the Mid-South, especially where private lands management may provide connectivity between public lands that are managed appropriately.

An Overview of Naturally Occurring Grasslands in the Interior Low Plateaus of Indiana.  Michael Homoya, Indiana DNR Division of Nature Preserves, Indianapolis, IN.

Michael Homoya, (317) 232-0208,

Most extant natural grasslands in the Interior Low Plateaus of Indiana are limestone barrens (glades) positioned on steep south and south-west facing slopes. They possess droughty substrates containing various quantities of sedimentary rock, particularly limestone and siltstone. Those with a siltstone component are confined to the Knobstone Escarpment Section of the Highland Rim Natural Region whereas those of limestone are mostly within the Mitchell Karst Plain Section and also the Shawnee Hills Natural Region. Chert barrens once composed the largest occurrence (about 80,000 acres) of natural grassland in the physiographic province.  The barrens region occurred mostly in central Harrison and Washington counties within the Mitchell Karst Plain, a landscape characterized by numerous sinkholes. Another grassland type formerly extensive in the region was characterized by extensive growths of giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea). Known as canebrakes, they were mostly associated with mesic terraces of the Ohio River, some over 8000 acres in extent. In a few places canebrakes were identified in rugged upland hills bordering the river. A grassland natural community classified by NatureServe as Midwestern Brush Prairie Gravel Wash occurs along the Ohio River and some of its tributaries. One such site harbors the globally endangered Short’s goldenrod (Solidago shortii) and the state endangered prairie redroot (Ceanothus herbaceus).         


Herbaceous Communities on Fragipan Soils.  Martina Hines, Kentucky Natural Heritage Program, Frankfort, KY. 

Martina Hines, (502) 573-2886 x111,

All plant communities on fragipan soils in our region are rare, but especially herbaceous communities. These support a multitude of rare and uncommon forbs, including several disjuncts of coastal plain species. This presentation will discuss physiognomic site characteristics, as well as the unique disturbance regime that gives rise to the unusual xero-hydric plant communities associated with fragipan soils.  Present distribution of these herbaceous communities in Kentucky, with emphasis on the eastern Highland Rim, as well as theories regarding historic importance and distribution will be discussed. The presentation will include thoughts on community classification and niche definition, as well as examples of recent site specific conservation efforts.


Restoration of Grasslands on Working Landscapes: pieces parts and process.  Patrick Keyser, Center for Native Grasslands Management, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN

Patrick Keyser, (865) 974-0644,

Even where restoration of degraded Mid-South prairies leads to historic community composition and structure, the process will not be complete until appropriate disturbance regimes are restored.  In fact, achieving proper structure also requires appropriate disturbance.  Available evidence makes it clear that this cannot be achieved by fire alone; herbivory was an integral part of these intrinsically disturbance-dependent systems.  Short of bison reintroduction, use of domestic livestock and prescribed fire (i.e., pyric herbivory) may come as close to achieving historic disturbance regimes as any tool otherwise available, or likely to become available.  Thus, all prairie restoration can be viewed along a continuum with respect to the relative importance of grazing.  At one end of this spectrum are sites that have been only marginally degraded, that still hold high conservation and scientific value, and that should be managed carefully (limited use of grazing).  On the opposite end of the continuum are sites that have been heavily degraded, upon which management or restoration activities pose little risk to relict resources, and livestock production could be substantial.  Despite a greater emphasis on cattle than what some may consider ideal from a natural heritage standpoint, this approach still can lead to tremendous gains with respect to most ecosystem services (e.g., soil health, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and improved disturbance regimes).  Although this approach may not always lead to idealized restoration, net benefits are likely to be quite substantial given the potential scale involved.  Indeed, private landowners, by far the largest category of ownership for degraded grasslands in the region, are likely to be motivated by market-based incentives associated with working land options.  Recent research in the Mid-South has demonstrated that native grasses can be very productive forages.  In the context of more frequent and intense droughts and increasing input costs (e.g., diesel, fertilizer, and agrochemicals), native grasses are becoming a very compelling option even for landowners not primarily motivated by conservation goals.  Furthermore, reintroduction of native grass forages can increase awareness of and appreciation for native prairies.  Such an interest could lead producers to become engaged in more complete and complex native-based forage systems and management approaches that could ultimately shorten the working grasslands-prairie restoration continuum.  If that were to occur, the contribution of the working grasslands approach to prairie restoration could be quite substantial in the long run.  Regardless, a variety of approaches, including development of native grass-based working pastures, should be pursued to achieve the larger goal of restoring native grasslands in the Mid-South.

Kentucky’s Rarest Glade, Barren and Prairie Plants:  current status and conservation measures. Tara R. Littlefield, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, Frankfort, KY.

Tara Littlefield, (859) 333-9887,

Kentucky has 59 state listed plants (endangered, threatened, special concern, historic, and candidate) and one federally threatened plant associated with native glades, barrens, and prairies. The majority of these plants depend on some type of disturbance to maintain their associated open habitats.  Occurrences of fire, grazing, and drought, in addition to anthropogenic substitutes, can reduce competition and alter the competitive balance among disturbance dependent species. The focus of the talk will look at rare grassland plants distributions and our attempt at documenting population fluctuations and viability over time. Kentucky projects supported by the USFWS section 6 federal plants grant include Kentucky glade cress (Leavenworthia exigua var. laciniosa), royal catchfly (Silene regia), slim flower scurfpea (Psorlidium tenuiflora), and limestone fameflower (Talinum calcaricum). These projects will be the center of discussion, with topics ranging from status surveys to land protection.

Iowa’s Interstate Prairies, Leading the Nation in Restoration of Grasslands in Transportation Corridors.  Mark MastellerIowa Department of Transportation, Ames, IA.

Mark Masteller, (515) 239-1424,

The Iowa Department of Transportation has been using native species in its highway rights of way for approximately 30 years.  This presentation will discuss the benefits and challenges of this practice, seed supply and how the seed industry has responded, methods for establishment, roadside vegetation management and the public’s perception of native prairie species.

Defining Targets and Anticipating Outcomes for Prairie Wetland Restoration. Jeffrey W. Matthews, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL.

Jeffrey Matthews, (217) 244-2168,

Wetland restoration outcomes have been difficult to predict due to the erratic and context-dependent nature of restoration trajectories.  As a consequence, restored wetlands often fail to meet expectations.  For restoration ecology to advance beyond descriptions of case studies and toward predictive and mechanistic science that can be used to meet restoration goals, we need to uncover commonalities among trajectories.  To this end, we have conducted long-term monitoring and comparative studies of plant communities at several natural and restored wetlands in Illinois.  Comparative approaches allow us to generalize common developmental pathways and link those pathways to features of the landscape.  The results of restoration are seemingly idiosyncratic if we follow a single site for a few years, but not at all surprising if we consider the broader context within which restoration is taking place.  For example, in Illinois, restoration of prairie wetlands is plagued by reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) invasion.  Reed canarygrass forms dense, monospecific stands in wetlands, and reed canarygrass invasion is associated with declines in plant and insect diversity.  This undesirable trajectory, common to many restorations, mirrors broader trends in Illinois wetlands: long-term monitoring of naturally occurring wetlands in Illinois reveals a regional pattern of biotic homogenization as reed canarygrass invades wetlands statewide.  If restoration practitioners wish to predict restoration outcomes, they must first identify the undesirable states that are most likely in a given landscape and recognize the landscape-level factors that channelize succession toward these undesirable states.  If undesirable outcomes are highly probable given the context within which a site is being restored, practitioners face a difficult choice between lowering their expectations and allowing a site to “be what it may” or increasing effort and investment in an attempt to bulwark the restoration against a growing tide of degrading influences.  Our hope is that we can avoid this conundrum by studying the developmental patterns of a large number of restorations, both successful and unsuccessful, identifying the factors that drive desirable restoration trajectories, and managing successional dynamics by intervening at critical turning points.

The Central Hardwoods Joint Venture Glade Conservation Assessment and Glade Inventory. Paul Nelson, Consultant to the American Bird Conservancy, Bonnots Mill, Missouri.

Paul Nelson, (573) 578-0891,

Eight states collaborated to document the status and distribution of 24 distinct glade ecosystems and over 200 plant and animal species of conservation concern within the Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region. This assessment (Nelson, P.W. et al. 2013) is an important step in identifying glade complexes that have the greatest potential to satisfy the needs of species that depend on glades (and adjacent natural communities) for their survival. The assessment consists of a number of products that include a definition, ecological framework, descriptions of the 24 glade associations, tables outlining detailed information for each of the 207 species of conservation concern, glade distribution, conservation recommendations, and state-by-state inventory status. The authors agreed that if we are to develop conservation strategies for conserving glade ecosystems, we needed to know their extent, distribution, patterns and relationships to species viability. In 2009 the author initiated a comprehensive spatial mapping project to map significant and image-detectable restorable glades beginning in Missouri. With Missouri complete, the author is nearing completion of glade mapping in Arkansas. Dr. Dwayne Estes has initiated a similar inventory in other states within the assessment region. The author will discuss the inventory methodology, what the map products reveal, and preliminary conservation implications. A significant portion of the resulting map product is available as a spatial, interactive map product online. 

Natural History, Ecology, and Evolution can tell us how to Protect, Restore, and Manage our Grasslands. Reed F. Noss, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL. 

Reed F. Noss, (407) 489-5778,

Most conservation scientists agree that the best science should be used to inform conservation, restoration, and management decisions. What constitutes “the best science,” however, is up to debate. Science alone is not sufficient to guide conservation. Just as important are perspective and values. In many cases all we have to inform us about the conservation value of a site or group of sites are species lists (almost always incomplete), some aerial photos, and perhaps a few notes from naturalists who visited the site(s) in question. I argue that a big-picture approach is needed to guide grassland conservation strategies and decisions. By “big” I mean expansive in space, time, and ambition. My definition of “grassland” is broad and includes more than treeless prairies. Grasslands in general have declined more in extent and quality than any other major category of ecosystem In North America since European settlement. Ancient grasslands are imperiled globally, yet an emphasis on forest conservation and carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change results in grasslands being unappreciated and often destroyed. Selection of sites for conservation should be based on the best available natural history information, but also on broad conservation goals and on knowled9ge of the phylogenetic distinctiveness of taxa, the uniqueness or representativeness of communities, and of the manageability of sites and networks of sites to retain conservation values over the long term. Especially important is knowledge of the origin and history of different types of grasslands, i.e., what factors created and maintained these communities over time, and how can these ecological and evolutionary processes be maintained or mimicked through management? For example, many grasslands require frequent fire, but some edaphic grasslands may not. Also, historic disturbance regimes often cannot be replicated precisely, non-native species often cannot be totally eradicated, and novel (no analog) communities are inevitable and are not entirely undesirable. Rules of thumb and general design principles for reserve networks should be considered but not followed blindly. For example, bigger is not necessarily better, if the community type in question naturally occurs in small patches. Connectivity among grassland remnants may or may not be important, depending on the species in question and their life histories, among other issues. Landscape (historic and current) context is always worth considering. Thinking big in terms of ambition may be most critical: we never get what we ask for, but the bigger our vision, the more we will achieve.


Kankakee Sands, the Marvels and Mistakes of a Restoration 19 Years in the Making. Alyssa Nyberg, The Nature Conservancy, IN.

Alyssa Nyberg, (219) 866-1706

Kankakee Sands is an 8,000 acre prairie restoration in rural Northwest Indiana owned and managed by The Indiana Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, who happened to have zero experience in large scale prairie restoration when they purchased the land in 1996. The presentation will focus on the goals of the project, the planning and preparation that took place, and the on-the-ground action that has happened for good and for bad, over the last 19 years in an effort to restore not just a prairie, but an ecosystem.


Field of Dreams: vegetation and wildlife response to oak woodland and savanna restoration on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. Andy Vander Yacht1, Pat Keyser1, Emma Willcox2 Chrissy Henderson1, and Maxwell Cox21Center for Native Grasslands Management, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, 2Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN.

Andy Vander Yacht, (734) 925-3626,

Heavy salvage cutting of shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) following the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) outbreak of 1999-2000 resulted in stands of widely spaced oaks (Quercus spp.) at Catoosa Wildlife Management Area near Crossville, Tennessee. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency used this opportunity to address the >99% decline of oak savannas in the Eastern U.S. since European settlement through returning fire. We implemented an experiment in 2008 at this site and have documented vegetation, bird, and bat response to 5 treatments: spring fire (March) with woodland (60 ft2 ac-1, SpW) and savanna (30 ft2 ac-1, SpS) residual basal area, fall fire (October) with woodland (FaW) and savanna (FaS) residual basal area, and unmanaged controls (Control). Prior to restoration (2008) we documented 8 herbaceous species, but after canopy disturbance and 3 fires we documented >200 herbaceous species. Herbaceous groundcover increases were greater in S than W treatments. We observed increases in herbaceous groundcover following fire, but little differences between fire-season treatments. Woody groundcover increased (largely red maple [Acer rubrum]) more than two-fold from 2008-2012 across all treatments, but FaS was intermediate between control and all other treatments. Herbaceous gains in cover, richness, and diversity were related to overstory basal area and canopy cover reduction. Alternate growing-season burn dates (August/September) may accelerate oak woodland and savanna restoration, including the establishment of native ground-layer vegetation. Woodland conditions of 44 ft2 ac-1 live basal area and 20% herbaceous groundcover maximized occupancy of early-successional avian species with little consequences for late-successional species. Proceeding further toward savanna conditions negatively impacted avian species associated with lower strata of mature-forests, but further increased the presence of disturbance-dependent birds. Ongoing assessment of restoration impacts on avian abundance and nesting success will also be discussed, and include a greater number of focal species’ nests found within S treatments. Total bat activity as measured by acoustic recording of bat echolocation call sequences was greater in S treatments than in W or Controls. Savanna treatments reduce physical obstructions to flight leading to improved foraging conditions for bats, particularly the larger bodied species with lower call frequencies that are adapted to fly and forage in open conditions. We found no evidence that prey abundance or biomass influenced bat activity, indicating clutter is more important than prey availability in determining habitat use by bats in this system. Together, these results support oak woodland and savanna restoration using prescribed fire and overstory thinning as a strategy for encouraging robust herbaceous layers and enhancing disturbance-dependent bird and bat habitat throughout the Southeastern U.S.


Emulating Natural Disturbance Factors: 33 years of Ecosystem Restoration in Missouri State Parks. Allison Vaughn, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Jefferson City, MO.

  Allison Vaughn, (573) 522-3260,

 Ecosystem restoration efforts involving prescribed fire began in Missouri State Parks in the late 1970s as the shift in management philosophy moved away from “hands-off preservation” to active restoration and protection. In the mid-1970s, under the direction of Paul Nelson of the Natural History Program for the Division of State Parks, native prairies were treated with regularly occurring prescribed fire. In 1983, after having seen the positive botanical response to fire in woodlands following a small escape from a prairie fire, MoDNR initiated a prescribed fire program at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, long recognized as a microcosm of the Ozark Highlands. Through time and experience, restoration efforts became entrenched in the state park system as fulfillment of the Division’s mission statement to “preserve and protect Missouri’s best remaining natural landscapes.” Restoration involving thinning projects and prescribed fire in state parks paved the way for other agencies and states to initiate ecologically sound restoration projects. By the mid-1980s, with a better understanding of Missouri’s biologically rich floral and faunal attributes that were present in state park lands, restoration efforts expanded to include the reintroduction of other natural processes that involved waterways and fens. Today, the Division of State Parks manages over 40,000 acres of land with prescribed fire and restoration efforts continue in our streams and wetlands. Biological monitoring continues to be a vital part of the restoration process.


Diamonds in the Coal Bin: the importance of small, high-quality remnants to large-scale grassland restoration. Theo Witsell, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Little Rock, AR, The Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth, TX.

Theo Witsell, (501) 324-9615,

Intact remnants of most native grasslands in the eastern United States have become exceedingly rare. For many types of grasslands the only remaining examples are small hayfields, mowed areas around airport runways, or small areas within roadside, utility, or railroad rights-of-way. The small size and difficulty of managing such remnants have made them the subject of some derision among certain conservation agencies and organizations. However, it is these remnants, despite their small size and intrinsic management challenges, that contain most of the floristic and invertebrate biodiversity in many types of eastern grasslands. A focus on larger, lower quality grassland reconstructions, while beneficial to some animal species dependent on grassland structure or on a few common plant species, does little to protect remnant-dependent biodiversity.  Furthermore, small remnants contain essential restoration potential in terms of sources of seed, populations of rare invertebrates and other small fauna, and soil microbial communities. Keeping such remnants as a central focus is essential to a larger grassland conservation strategy. This talk will highlight the biodiversity and conservation value of small remnants using examples from around the mid-south.

In need of TLC: tried and tested methods of managing and restoring small prairies. Joe Woolbright, Ozark Ecological Restoration Incorporated, Siloam Springs, AR.

Joe Woolbright, (479) 427-4277,

At least 50,000 acres of tallgrass prairie occurred in Northwest Arkansas in the early 1800s. Today, only 232 acres, scattered over six remnants, remain as medium to high quality examples worthy of management and restoration. Since 1998, Ozark Ecological Restoration Incorporated has performed stewardship activties on these sites consisting of prescribed burning, specific herbicide treatments, hand and mechanical removal of undesired plant species, and prairie sod transfer. Multiple plant inventories of these six sites have been conducted by botanists from the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and The Nature Conservancy since 1998. The overall results of these stewardship activities have shown an increase in native plant species, including multiple species of conservation concern as well as new state and county records. On one site, the plant inventory increased from 75 native species in 2006 to 367 native species in 2015 without planting.

Kentucky’s Vanishing Grasslands: significant remnants without conservation protection. Brian D. Yahn, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission (KSNPC), Frankfort, Kentucky.

Brian D. Yahn, (502) 573-2886 ext.157

This presentation will provide examples of prairie and barren sites in need of further protection, as well as several sites that have been lost or severely degraded over the last decade in Kentucky. The talk will also focus on prairie, barren and glade classification, both from KSNPC and NatureServe, and provide lists and tables referring to current community records from the KSNPC Natural Heritage Database. Recent projects further documenting native grassland remnants will also be discussed, with preliminary results showing distribution and proposed conservation focus areas.