Here’s something new for this blog. Can we crowd-source the locality of a rare plant habitat in central Victoria to help save endangered prairies in Iowa and Nebraska?
Regular reader, Glenn P from Omaha Nebraska, emailed me this photo of a small cemetery near Bendigo that he visited many years ago, during a tour of remnant grasslands in Australia. Glenn is searching for the location of the cemetery, as part of an initiative to highlight the importance of cemeteries for endangered grasslands and prairies across the world. Glenn writes,
Since commodity prices have increased, corn and soybeans, farmers in Iowa and Nebraska have been destroying prairie and forest on marginal land to gain a few more acres of crop land. I am trying to inform people of the importance of properly managing these rare plant locations in old Cemeteries to save what we have left.
Can you help Glenn to find out where the photo was taken? If you know where the cemetery is, and what rare species it contains, please leave a comment below.
In Australia, cemeteries provide a lifeline for endangered grassland and woodland plants. They are among the few places that haven’t been cropped or heavily grazed in agricultural areas. During the rabbit plagues from the 1880s to 1950s, many rural cemeteries were protected with wire netting. The goal was to save the graves but netting also saved the plants that prospered in these tiny refuges.
In the past decade, one of the strongest research topics in ecology has been species distribution modelling. Climate change has triggered an enormous interest in predicting where species occur now, and where they may occur in the future. Unfortunately, it’s easy to predict where rare plants occur in most agricultural areas. Human land use is the strongest driver of plant distributions, so ecologists and naturalists search for the tiny patches that haven’t been ‘improved’.
For many threatened species, the best species distribution model we can formulate has just three words, ‘visit a cemetery’.
Over the past 20 years, the importance of cemeteries for rare plants and endangered ecosystems has been widely recognized. Early work by Bob Parsons, Jamie Kirkpatrick, Suzanne Prober, Kevin Thiele and others paved the way for Conservation Management Networks that protect small remnants on private and public land, including many cemeteries. Many local groups enthusiastically extol the cultural and natural heritage that lies within their local cemetery. The web site on the North Berry Jerry Cemetery in western NSW is a great example. This attention was unheard of 20 years ago.
Given the interest in saving rural cemeteries, and our great ability to predict species distributions in agricultural landscapes, hopefully we can help Glenn to pinpoint the locality of the cemetery near Bendigo, and raise awareness of the global importance of cemeteries for endangered grasslands, woodlands, prairies and savannas.
Cemeteries: lifelines for endangered species.
Thanks again for your help, Ian