Sunday, May 19, 2013

Finding Sandstone Glades

Outside of the Pennsylvanian channel sandstones in the southwestern Ozarks, there are thousands of acres of landscape atop other sandstone formations. Roubidoux is clearly the most abundant in the neck of the woods I visited last week, with Gunter sandstone coming in as a close second. Just as there are only small caves formed in Gunter sandstone in the Ozarks, we discovered large glades in Roubidoux sandstone, but you wouldn't know it from examining the Natural Features Inventory or the Heritage Database. As part of the field verification process of mapping glades, I visited two massive sandstone glade complexes last week, both with the rich array of obligate sandstone glade flora.

Granted, none of the newly discovered sandstone glades were in great shape (having been ravaged by a long history of grazing by domestic livestock), but the signature elements were still in place: Selenia aurea, Linaria canadensis, and Oenothera linifolia. These large, privately owned glades have no Element of Occurrence Records on them, which means that in recent times it is highly unlikely that a botanist or other natural historian has visited them.

Peculiar about the site I visited last week was the proximity to the Lake of the Ozarks country. Far away from the channel sandstones glades we visited last month, I found the same assortment of sandstone glade flora in Maries County. I haven't checked Steyermark's distribution maps, but this area may represent the eastern most extension of Selenia aurea in Missouri. And there's no Element of Occurrence Record for the glade.

One of the challenges of this glade mapping project is the concept of restorable versus non-restorable glades. Two of the sandstone glades I visited this week have been so heavily grazed that the bedrock exposure was immense. While sandstone glades as well as glades on other substrates have a component of exposed bedrock, I think these areas had been grazed to hell by domestic livestock to the degree that there is no soil left. The following two photos show the area with a long history of grazing versus what the glade looks like on the protected side of the fence:

The field verification side of this mapping project has taken me to glades that I wish I owned so I could manage them, so I could do what any restorable glade needs: to cut and burn cedars. Conversely, there are glades like the photo above that are so trashed out from grazing that no soil is left and therefore no semblance of biodiversity remains. It was once a glade, and while it remains a shallow bedrock natural community type, it lacks glade flora and associated fauna. It remains unthinkable that anyone would willingly allow domestic livestock grazing in intact natural communities considering that we have lost thousands of acres to this very same destructive process.


Doug said...

I read your blog regularly. You sure know a lot about native plants and stuff.

I had no idea the Ozark ecosystem was damaged. I truly thought everything was fine.

Thank you for doing this.

Allison Vaughn said...

Thanks for reading, Doug. Unfortunately every square inch of the Ozarks has had livestock on it at some point in the past two hundred years and aside from fire suppression and widescale logging, grazing remains the single most destructive process that has occurred in Ozark natural communities. While nature can be resilient, sometimes ecosystems can't bounce back from serious damage. I like to spend time in the nice places where biodiverse landscapes are still around, but the soft underbelly needs to be exposed so that we can learn from our past mistakes.