Remnant Prairie Tracts in Arkansas Studied with GIS

header-nac09THE SEARCH FOR TALLGRASS PRAIRIE REMNANTS, GRASSLAND BIRDS, ORNATE BOX TURTLE, AND AROGOS SKIPPER IN THE ARKANSAS VALLEY OF ARKANSAS

Jennifer Akin, William C. Holimon, Michael D. Warriner, C. Theo Witsell, and William H. Baltosser.

Presented at the 36th Natural Areas Conference, “Living on the Edge: Why Natural Areas Matter”, Vancouver, Washington, USA, September 15-18, 2009.

Tallgrass prairie is one of Arkansas‘ rarest community types resulting from centuries of conversion to agricultural use and urban development. Grassland dependent species have also declined dramatically due to this large scale habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Despite this loss, prairie remnants remain scattered across the state with the largest tracts of unplowed prairie found in the Arkansas Valley Ecoregion. The area supports several relatively large tracts of protected prairie and other remnant prairie tracts of unknown status on privately owned land. Two years of surveys to determine the size and quality of prairie remnants and potential remnants were conducted in conjunction with surveys for wintering and breeding grassland birds and rare grassland dependent animal species: the
Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) and the Arogos Skipper (Atrytone arogos). Potential remnants were mapped based on aerial photography, soil maps, and site surveys from the 1980s and 1990s. Permission was granted to access privately owned tracts, remnant size was estimated using GIS, and floristic inventories were conducted to assess quality. Remnants were ranked based on presence of prairie grasses (Andropogon gerardii, Schizachyrium scoparium, Sorghastrum nutans, Panicum virgatum) and presence of conservative forbs restricted to unplowed prairies. A combination of survey methods was used to determine the distribution and abundance of grassland birds, population size of the Ornate Box Turtle, and distribution of the Arogos Skipper. The results are discussed and will provide critical data for conservation action strategies and focus conservation efforts to high priority areas.