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Science needs of southeastern grassland species of conservation concern: A framework for species status assessments

May 20, 2021

The unglaciated southeastern United States is a biodiversity hotspot, with a disproportionate amount of this biodiversity concentrated in grasslands. Like most hotspots, the Southeast is also threatened by human activities, with the total reduction of southeastern grasslands estimated as 90 percent (upwards to 100 percent for some types) and with many threats escalating today. This report summarizes the results of a multistakeholder workshop organized by the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative and the U.S. Geological Survey, held in January 2020 to provide a scientific needs assessment to help inform the Species Status Assessment (SSA) process under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, with a focus on grassland species and communities of conservation concern in the southeastern United States. This report reviews the ecology of southeastern grasslands, including influences on their origin, maintenance, and high species richness and endemism; presents findings from the workshop; and discusses science questions, hypotheses, and possibilities for future research projects to help fill key knowledge gaps.

Participants in the January 2020 workshop, representing diverse expertise in various topics in southeastern grassland ecology, were tasked with identifying major threats to grassland species in the Southeast as well as potential ways to make the SSA process more efficient and effective. An underlying assumption and starting place for workshop discussion was that an ecosystem-based approach to the SSA process is more cost-efficient than a species-by-species approach, in large part because many species with similar biological requirements can be addressed by the same actions. Nevertheless, one partner in this effort, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, does require specific attention be given to taxa that have been petitioned for Federal listing, though as often as possible these taxa are considered alongside a larger group of priority taxa with an ecosystem approach.

For group discussions, workshop participants followed a modified “World Café” method, a structured conversational approach for knowledge sharing. Group discussions focused on five categories of threats to grassland communities and species: (1) habitat loss, fragmentation, and disruption of functional population connectivity; (2) climate change, especially changes in temperature and precipitation, including intensity and seasonality, and impacts on soil moisture, groundwater levels, and other ecosystem parameters; (3) changes to disturbance regimes, as influenced by climate and land-use change, extinctions, and human attitudes and behaviors; (4) invasive species (not limited to nonnative species); and (5) localized or subregional impacts such as sea-level rise. In addition to group discussions, workshop participants—as well as other grassland experts who were unable to attend the workshop—completed a preworkshop survey concerning challenges and opportunities for grassland conservation. Findings reported here under each of these topics represent ideas, problems, hypotheses, and questions identified by a diverse community of grassland managers and researchers which may be addressed by future research and monitoring in southeastern grassland ecosystems to help guide science-based conservation of grassland-dependent species.

Publication Year 2021
Title Science needs of southeastern grassland species of conservation concern: A framework for species status assessments
DOI 10.3133/ofr20211047
Authors Reed F. Noss, Jennifer M. Cartwright, Dwayne Estes, Theo Witsell, K. Gregg Elliott, Daniel S. Adams, Matthew A. Albrecht, Ryan Boyles, Patrick J. Comer, Chris Doffitt, Don Faber-Langendoen, JoVonn G. Hill, William C. Hunter, Wesley M. Knapp, Mike Marshall, Milo Pyne, Jason R. Singhurst, Christopher Tracey, Jeffrey L. Walck, Alan Weakley
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2021-1047
Index ID ofr20211047
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center