Longleaf Pine Ecosystem
Longleaf Pine–Grassland Ecosystem
The longleaf pine is the dominant tree species in this system and is essential to its integrity, but the floral and faunal diversity of the system lies in its understory. In fact, the longleaf pine–grassland forest may well be the most diverse North American ecosystem north of the tropics, containing rare plants and animals not found anywhere else. The understory throughout the longleaf range contains from 150 to 300 species of groundcover plants per acre, more breeding birds than any other southeastern forest type, about 60 percent of the amphibian and reptile species found in the Southeast—many of which are endemic to the longleaf forest—and at least 122 endangered or threatened plant species. In Georgia, habitat loss and fragmentation have placed
The longleaf-grassland forest that we know today is a natural system of Holocene origin. In other words, it has most likely never existed absent a human presence. Indeed, some researchers estimate that this ecosystem is no more than 5,000 years old. Native Americans arrived in the coastal-plain region while the system was taking shape, and there is considerable evidence that their land-use practices shaped the forests that Europeans found when they moved into the region thousands of years later. When those latter groups did arrive, between 1600 and the late 1800s, they coexisted tenuously with the longleaf-grassland ecosystem, altering it and substantially degrading it in places but never threatening its existence.
The difficulties that confront those interested in longleaf restoration are many. A long tradition of private land rights in the South makes it difficult to thwart commercial and residential development, and industrial forestry and agriculture continue to dominate much of the historical longleaf range. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, both industrial and nonindustrial forests converted longleaf lands to fast-growing,
Restoration and Conservation
In Georgia, in particular, there is now a strong effort toward restoration. Janisse Ray, in her elegant book of essays Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, exposed many Georgians to the beauty and importance of the longleaf-grassland ecosystem. Several good examples of longleaf-grassland forest remain in the state. The military bases Fort Stewart and Fort Benning have the largest remaining blocks, while the Nature Conservancy controls several thousand acres, the Moody Tract in Appling County being its best holding of old-growth longleaf. Several high-quality stands also thrive on privately held lands, especially on some large quail plantations near Thomasville and Albany, including the Birdsong Nature Center and the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway. In recent years groups like the Longleaf Alliance, the Georgia Forestry Commission, and the Georgia Forestry Association have encouraged private landowners to restore the coastal-plain environment to longleaf as well.
Lawrence S. Earley, Looking for Longleaf: The Fall and Rise of an American Forest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).
Bruce Means, "Longleaf Pine Forest, Going, Going . . .," in Eastern Old-Growth Forest: Prospects for Rediscovery and Recovery, ed. Mary Byrd Davis (Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1996), 210-29.
Leon Neel, with Paul S. Sutter and Albert G. Way, The Art of Managing Longleaf: A Personal History of the Stoddard-Neel Approach (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Janisse Ray, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (Minneapolis, Minn.: Milkweed Editions, 1999).
W. G. Wahlenberg, Longleaf Pine, Its Use, Ecology, Regeneration, Protection, Growth, and Management (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, ).
Albert Way, University of Georgia
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