Assessment of Science Needs for Rare Plants of Conservation Concern in Southeastern Grasslands

Dr. Reed Noss, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative, Florida Institute for Conservation Science and Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (Contractor) Jennifer Cartwright, U.S. Geological Survey Dwayne Estes, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative Theo Witsell, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative

Grasslands of the southeastern United States are considered “endangered ecosystems,” with many grassland types having been reduced by more than 90% since European settlement and some types approaching 100% loss. Many southeastern grassland ecosystems and the rare species they support are now facing additional threats from climate change, invasive species, and other habitat changes. Recently, grassland managers and researchers from state and federal agencies, NGOs, and universities collaboratively held a regional workshop to identify key science needs for the conservation of southeastern grassland ecosystems and species. The workshop focused on identifying the types of scientific information needed to support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies in the development of Species Status Assessments (SSAs) for grassland species listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) or under consideration for such listing. Because SSAs provide a unified, official resource for species’ biological information pertinent to all ESA-related decisions (e.g., listing, permitting, Habitat Conservation Plans, and recovery planning), it is critical that they be informed by the best available science. However, research and data are often limited for rare plant species, especially related to potential future climate-change effects on habitat and population trajectories. This presentation addresses some of the major findings from the needs-assessment workshop and discusses possibilities for future research projects to help fill key knowledge gaps identified by workshop participants. Collectively, this needs assessment will help guide the development of collaborative research projects targeted at addressing the most pressing scientific needs for conserving southeastern grassland species of conservation concern.