The Distribution of Historic Prairie Regions in the Southeast

Authors: John Anthony Barone*, Dept. of Biology, Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia
Topics: Historical Geography, Land Use and Land Cover Change, United States
Keywords: grasslands, prairies, southeastern USA, historical ecology, mapping
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Bonaparte, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since the first arrival of Europeans in what is now the southeastern United States, the landscape has been dramatically altered by widespread agriculture, forestry, and urbanization. Reconstructing the pre-historic landscape is important not only for documenting these changes but for the conservation of remnant habitats and restoration of degraded sites. Native grasslands formed an under-appreciated but important component in the region and were present from Florida to Arkansas. In this project, I have been mapping the historic distribution of grasslands in the Southeast using ArcMap, relying primarily on plat maps produced by the General Land Office (GLO) in the first half of the 19th century, though supplemented with other sources. In addition, I have used the letters, journals, and scientific accounts of travelers and residents to confirm the location and size of grasslands and to get a fuller description their natural history. The GLO maps show, for example, that the Black Belt region that stretches from east-central Alabama to northeast Mississippi, included a 144,000 ha of prairie surrounded by forest. Other large grassland areas were the coastal prairies of Louisiana (795,000 ha), the Grand Prairie of Arkansas (220,000 ha), and the diverse grasslands of central Florida (640,000 ha). The GLO maps have also revealed the existence of a small prairie region in Yazoo River basin in western Mississippi not previously known, though no existing remnants have been located. In total, about 1,818,500 ha of grasslands were present in the Southeast in the early 19th century.

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