MoBot researchers use fire to save the Ozarks' deserts | St. Louis Public Radio

MoBot researchers use fire to save the Ozarks' deserts

Jul 11, 2017

While the Ozarks are known for forests, but visitors to the highland region also will find open, desert-like areas between trees that contain a special combination of rare plants and animals  found in few other places. 

The areas, called glades, are hot and dry places with thin soils. To a visitor, the rocky appearance of glades make them look like an old road that has been overtaken by tall grasses. They're defined by the type of rocks that lie underneath, which in Missouri are largely limestone and dolomite. Glades were once more common in Missouri's Ozarks, but since they need to be burned to exist, the areas have disappeared over the last century as forest managers sought to suppress fires. 

Scientists are conducting controlled fires at the Shaw Nature Reserve to understand how to best conserve them.

If the glades are not regularly burned, cedar trees and other woody plants, such as the invasive bush honeysuckle, will take over the landscape.

"If we don't control the invasive species that are taking them over, if we don't keep fire on the landscape, we will lose a lot of the species and a lot of the beauty and cultural heritage that these glades represent," said Michael Saxton, a restoration specialist with the Missouri Botanical Garden. 

A large variety of wildlife live in the glades, among them collared lizards, tarantulas and other animals that are associated with deserts. There are also rare and endangered plants, such as St. John's wort and Pyne's ground plum, which restoration biologists want to conserve. 

"The glades support some kinds of plants and animals that are found nowhere else," said James Trager, restoration biologist at the Missouri Botanical Garden. "So they're absolutely essential habitat for those, the glade specialists." 

Researchers are using their work at the Shaw Nature Reserve to help determine management strategies for rare plants in glades located in Tennessee

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