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P.O. Box 43
Williamsburg, MO 63388

(573) 254-3990

Research Projects

Development of Savanna Communities

Period: January 30, 2003 - April 15, 2010

Contact: Nadia Navarrete-Tindall
Organization: University of Missouri
Funding Source: Prairie Fork Trust

Objectives: Savannas and woodland communities are high in plant diversity, based on remnants found throughout Missouri, with most of their richness found in the understory layer (McCarty 1998). At present, one of the main goals of the Prairie Fork Conservation Area (PFCA) is to restore or reconstruct 100 acres of prairie and 100 acres or more of savanna natural communities to increase plant and wildlife species diversity and to bring back species like Bellís vireo that depend on savanna ecosystems (Prairie Fork Creek Conservation Area 1998).

It will take a few years to accomplish this goal and we expect that the present study can help to speed up this process. Our main goal is to develop a management plan for savanna and woodland restoration at PFCA. With this we are addressing three areas of emphasis at Prairie Fork: control and management of exotic plant species, restoration ecology research in savannas and other woodlands, and environmental education.

For the purposes of this study the definition of savanna and woodland by Packard (1997) were adopted. Savanna is a fire-maintained natural community dominated by grasses and/or sedges, but with scattered fire-tolerant species of trees with 20-30% canopy cover. Woodland is also a fire maintained community with a grassy turf dominated by trees with less than 80% canopy cover. We plan to restore 2 savanna and 2 woodland remnants at PFCA to be used as parameters to continue restoring similar remnants in following years.

During the first year of this project (May to December 2003), permanent plots in the uplands (savanna) and lowlands (woodland) communities were established. A management plan will be developed for each community based on the inventory of the first year results which were started in the fall of this year and will be continued in the spring and fall of 2004. In order to understand how management is affecting the restoration of plant communities a monitoring program will be planned for consecutive years to evaluate the effect of management on restoration, as recommended by Masters (1997). Initially, overgrown shrubs, tree sprouts, and exotics like multiflora rose, autumn olive, and bush honeysuckle will be removed mechanically or through prescribed burns to provide light to the ground layer.

We expect that plants will become established after releasing them from leaf litter, heavy competition and heavy shade; however, if the number of species is still limited we will reintroduce those that are found in high quality savannas and woodlands. By controlling invasive species we may create better growing conditions for understory species and by directly planting extirpated species we would be increasing not only plant diversity but also creating habitat for wildlife that depends mostly on good quality savanna and woodlands.

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