Southeastern Grasslands Institute
A Grasslands-Focused Research, Conservation and Education Branch of the College of STEM at Austin Peay State University.
Why is protecting and restoring Southeastern grasslands important?
The late E.O. Wilson, a world-famous biologist and conservationist, referred to the Southeastern grasslands as “probably the richest terrestrial biome in all of North America.” Many of our rarest and fastest declining species of plants, pollinators, and birds depend on grassland ecosystems. However, Southeastern grassland ecosystems are also rapidly disappearing. For some of our grassland communities, less than 1% of their original size and distribution remain in the entire world. Protecting and restoring our Southeastern grasslands protects and conserves all of the organisms that are found there and ensures that future generations will have access to and be able to enjoy North America’s richest terrestrial ecosystems.
Telling the Untold Story of American History and Conservation
Did you know?
- The Southeastern grasslands are more biologically diverse than the Great Plains and the Midwestern grasslands.
- Grassland birds are one of our most imperiled groups of birds with 74% of grassland bird species in decline. Grassland bird populations as a whole have declined by approximately 53% in the last 50 years.
- Monarch butterflies, rusty-patched bumble bees, American bumblebees, and many other rare or declining pollinator species depend on plants and habitats associated with grasslands.
- Not all grasslands are treeless. There are almost 200 different types of Southeastern grasslands, several of which include scattered trees. For some grassland types, we have less than 1% remaining.
- Private landowners can play an important role in grassland conservation because many of our remnant, old-growth Southeastern grasslands are located on private land or along rights-of-ways.
- Cities like Chattanooga, Charlotte, Houston, Knoxville, Lexington, Little Rock, Montgomery, Nashville, Orlando, Raleigh, Roanoke and many others in the Southeast were once home to grassland ecosystems and are as much grassland cities as are many Midwestern cities.
If Southeastern grasslands are so important, then why haven’t I heard about them before?
Our Southeastern grasslands began disappearing from the landscape well before the Civil War. By the time the major botanical surveys were done in this region, many of the grasslands had been turned into crop fields or pastures or had become overgrown with trees. Because the original savanna grasslands had disappeared so long before, the new forests that replaced them were considered “normal.” The original grassland ecosystems were simply forgotten. Scientists and conservationists are only beginning to realize the importance and former extent of our original Southeastern grasslands.
Save Southeastern Grasslands!
What is the Southeastern Grasslands Institute doing?
- Leading and facilitating grassland research, conservation, and education efforts throughout our focal region.
- Working directly with private and public land owners and managers to identify, preserve, conserve, and restore grasslands throughout our focal region.
- Surveying, mapping, and documenting grassland plants, animals, and communities.
- Researching the role Southeastern grasslands had in shaping American History.
- Developing a Southeastern hub for regionally-adapted (local genotype) native seeds that will support national efforts to increase the quality and quantity of native plant materials available for restoring and supporting resilient ecosystems.
- Collecting and preserving seeds of grassland plants for restoration and propagation.
- Purchasing and managing rare, fragile, and hard-to-protect grassland remnants.
- Training the next generation of conservation professionals and resource managers.
- Raising awareness and providing educational opportunities about our Southeastern grasslands and their ecological importance.
How can you help?
- Tell others about the importance of our Southeastern grasslands.
- Determine whether part of your property could be managed for grassland communities.
- Make a donation to help support the Southeastern Grassland Institute’s efforts to preserve and restore our Southeastern grasslands while raising awareness about the importance of these rapidly disappearing ecosystems.
To understand, cherish, and preserve the great natural heritage of the Southern Grassland Biome should be a priority goal in America's environmental movement.
Message from the SGI Executive Director
Our precious Southeastern grasslands are nearly extinct and the species that depend on them are fading fast. The losses have been truly staggering, with most types of grasslands having suffered losses exceeding 90% and some more than 99%. Many of the grasslands that managed to persist through the past two centuries of intense change have disappeared in the past quarter-century. With such an accelerating decline, what will the next 25 years bring? If we want to reverse the tide of grassland biodiversity loss, our response must be rapid as well as unparalleled in its magnitude. This is an immensely complex and ambitious challenge that will take some of the brightest and most creative minds in American conservation to solve.
The Southeastern Grasslands Institute is proud to be charting a new course for conserving our vanishing Southeastern grasslands. It is our goal to give grasslands an equal seat at the conservation table here in the Southeast, along with forests, wetlands, streams, and coastal ecosystems. We recognize that achieving our goals will take an unparalleled investment in corporate, philanthropic, and government funding, as well as strong grassroots efforts and a dedicated team of volunteers and prairie evangelists. We are grateful to all our partners, funders, supporters, and volunteers. Will you join us?
SGI Executive Director