|Prairie grasses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Named for conservation pioneers Charles W. and Elizabeth R. Schwartz, the Foundation’s Schwartz Prairie in St. Clair County harbors more than 300 plant species and many prairie-dependent animals within its original, unplowed 240 acres.
“The Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Prairie BioBlitz is a blend of easy-going nature discoveries, fellowship with naturalists, and your favorite biology field trip all wrapped into one relaxing weekend,” said Jeff Cantrell, education consultant with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “I find folks who’ve participated in the past talking about the Foundation’s Prairie BioBlitz experience for the entire year.”
Across the country, nature lovers and professional biologists team up at “BioBlitz’s” to identify as many species as possible (the “bio”) in an area over the course of 24 hours (the “blitz”). The Foundation’s version will begin June 9 at 2 p.m. and end the afternoon of June 10. In addition to plant and animal team activities, there will be a potluck picnic dinner, stargazing, nocturnal insect observations and free tent camping on the prairie.
“Today, ecologists consider temperate grasslands to be the most endangered, least conserved of any major terrestrial habitat on earth, so Missouri’s tallgrass prairies have global conservation significance,” said Carol Davit, the Foundation’s executive director. “Collectively, our remaining prairies in Missouri support up to 800 plant species, dozens of vertebrates and thousands of invertebrates, but there is still much to learn. We want to see how many species we can find at Schwartz Prairie, and BioBlitz participants will help in that effort.”
On the afternoon and evening of June 9 and the morning of June 10, biologists who study ants, bees, birds, beetles, butterflies, true bugs, insect mimicry, moths, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, land snails, vascular plants, mosses and liverworts will lead groups across the prairie to survey and inventory as many species as possible.
Several MDC biologists will be group leaders, including mammalogist Debbie Fantz, natural history biologist Mike Arduser , wildlife biologist Rochelle Renken and naturalist Shelly Cox. Other leaders will include entomologist James Trager, botanists Justin Thomas, John Atwood, and Nels Holmberg, malacologist Ron Oesch, lepidopterist Phillip Koenig and naturalist Elizabeth Hamilton.
“We are thrilled that so many biologists are giving their time to help uncover the plant and animal treasures of this prairie,” said Davit. “If you love wildlife, this is a great opportunity to learn from experts passionate about their given subjects, and play a role in much-needed data collection as well.”
When the Missouri Prairie Foundation purchased the 240-acre Schwartz Prairie in 1991, the tract, though original prairie, was dissected by a woody draw that fragmented the native grassland habitat. The Foundation’s thorough removal of trees and brush from the draw has resulted in an unbroken prairie vista at Schwartz. Relentless annual control of sericea lespedeza and other invasive plants conserves and maintains the abundant biodiversity of the site.
Home to an impressive 337 plants species, most of them dependent on high quality prairie, Schwartz also is one of fewer than 50 locations in the world with a population of Geocarpon minimum, a tiny plant that is federally listed. A number of state-listed animal species occur at the prairie as well. Prairie mole crickets, regal fritillary butterflies and northern crawfish frogs can be seen or heard in the warm months, and short-eared owls use Schwartz Prairie regularly in the winter.
The BioBlitz is free, but participants must RSVP. For a detailed BioBlitz schedule, directions to the prairie and to RSVP, visit the Upcoming Events page at moprairie.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-843-6739.
The Missouri Prairie Foundation is a 46-year-old membership organization that protects and restores prairie and other native grasslands through acquisition, management, education and support of prairie research. The organization owns more than 2,600 acres of prairie across the state and helps manage an additional 1,500 acres owned by conservation partners.