Landscape architecture students burn down a field to restore habitat

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The community of native plants found in this ancient remnant is a community that is completely intolerant of plowing and other deep soil disturbances. The grouping is also quite dependent on fire and tends to move very slowly through the landscape. It takes a long time to become established, and new research suggests that the average age of ancient grassland remnants on many continents is over 1,000 years old.

“They tend to be groups of plants that have slow dispersal rates and require specific conditions to germinate, grow and reproduce,” Floyd said. “Plants have a variety of strategies to spread. Some make tons of seeds and some are carried by the wind or moved by birds or mammals. Others, like mountain mints, spread primarily by gravity seed dispersal and creeping roots that send up new growth, so they move very slowly through the field. They need sunlight for long periods of time to move through the territory, and this condition – without dark forest – is perpetuated by surface disturbance regimes such as fire, both natural and human-induced.

“We find these small plots spread out and separated from each other, whereas they were once contiguous across the country. For them, getting from one place to another, say a few kilometers, can take hundreds of years, and during this time the path of movement must be sunny.

“When we find these slow-moving plants that need that stable soil and sunny environment, we start to see a story emerge that goes against what most of us were taught growing up. “Floyd said. “Conservators now call it the ‘myth of the rainforest’ – unbroken forests that stretch from the Atlantic to Mississippi. Fortunately, we have the records of dozens of early explorers and mapmakers that help explain some of what we see in grassland research data. In fact, one can imagine that the Piedmont region is home to an incredible diversity of ecological systems, from wetlands to moors, from forests to grasslands. It’s a safe bet to assume that around half of the region would have been forest and the other half grassland, including heathland, grassland, savannah and woodland – much more diverse than the forest countryside and government-led firefighting drove us all. to believe the beginning of the early 1900s.

Floyd’s work is part of a larger movement that hopes to bring attention to the forgotten grasslands that still exist. The focus is on restoring natural systems, so that the diversity of native plants and animals can continue to persist.

“These burns involve systems, or what ecologists call ‘natural plant communities,'” Floyd said. “It is important that we begin to influence the public with an education that discourages an obsession with individual species and so-called ‘gardening’ and enables them to think about systems and restoration in the inhabited landscape; communities, not individuals. If the community is healthy, individual plants and animals thrive. And the same can be said for all the various organisms that inhabit these grassland systems.

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