Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 - Earth Day - celebrated internationally.
We spent day in a native prairie of the Black Belt Region-Osborn Prairie, in Starkville, Mississippi. We supported hundreds of species ranging from endemic insects to threatened grasses. As stewards of the Earth, we believe that we can conserve, preserve, and restore the many threatened and endangered ecosystems and their respective species.
(Above photos from Luis Santiago and Mercedes Siegle-Gaither.)
We lopped, we sawed, we chain-sawed for hours. The end results-a prairie restoration. We took down hundreds of eastern redcedars ranging from saplings to 20” diameter trees. These trees are invasive to prairie ecosystems, encroaching and eventually dominating areas where they become established. Redcedar outgrow prairie grasses due to fire suppression by humans, being drought resistant, and because they have roots that can reach deeper water. They harm prairies through shading native plants and by using up nutrients that would otherwise be beneficial to prairie flora.
Historically, prairies have been maintained through fire and grazing pressures that favor many native prairie species. Fire is a main component of prairies because the grasses are fire-adapted, unlike many species of trees, including the redcedar. Normally, lightning strikes from late summer storms would naturally keep redcedar at bay. However, because humans have been suppressing wildfires and we've removed grazing mega-fauna such as the American Bison, we've reduced the success of prairie ecosystems. Our team took the place of natural fire by knocking back the growth of redcedar.
Overall we think this event was a major success with:
5 hours of labor
Acres of eastern redcedar cleared (hundreds of trees)
100 side-oat grama grasses planted
I think the best part of this entire event was that we brought a bunch of strangers together for a common goal, and not only blew our goal out of the water, but created a sense of community in the process. We, as a conservation duo, strive to get people into the outdoors, wishing to instill a sense of environmental stewardship with hard work and tangible results.
(Before and after in eroded areas that we covered in cut redcedar. Above photo credit goes to Shannon Westlake.)
In an attempt to slow the weathering and erosion that is common to these areas once the topsoil layer is lost, we covered the exposed areas with redcedar trunks and limbs. The soils of this area are rich with ancient micro-organisms that formed chalky deposits, known as Selma chalk. These chalk layers were left behind from the Mississippi Embayment, when a shallow sea covered this area in the Cretaceous Period (~65 MYA).
(Before and after clearing the prairie corridor. Above photo credit to Luis Santiago.)
Additionally, we cleared the corridor connecting the prairie remnants. Corridors are vital for many insects, such as the Monarch butterfly, who can now freely roam from prairie to prairie in search of milkweed. This unimpeded movement benefits endangered species through gene flow, or through the spread of genetic variation between populations.
This was such a successful event! We had Mississippi State University undergrads and graduate students from entomology, biology, forestry, wildlife, landscape architecture, and engineering. We even had a great faculty member, Dr. Richard Brown, prairie expert and curator of the Mississippi Entomological Museum working with us. Collaboration is crucial to solving the many problems that we face at this current juncture in time.
We would like to extend a special thanks to Dr. Dawe with the MSU Biology Department and the Biology Graduate Student Association for providing funds to purchase equipment. Osborn Prairie land is leased by a few faculty of the MSU Entomology Department, and we would like to let you all know that they rely on donations for this land to remain prairie, otherwise they pay out of their own pocket. To find out more about the Black Belt Prairie-check out their Facebook page. Thank you to Dr. Richard Brown, Dr. JoVonn Hill, and Dr. Joe MacGown for preserving this wonderful place.
We hope you all had a lovely Earth Day like we did! Thank you all for your service, and thank you all for reading!
Thank you to all of our volunteers:
-Dr. Richard Brown