Scientific Publications from the Virginia Museum of Natural History
Antiquity of Southern Appalachian Grass Balds: The Role of Keystone Megaherbivores
by Peter D. Weigl and Travis W. Knowles
from Proceedings of the Appalachian Biogeography Symposium
Ralph P. Eckerlin, editor
The origin and persistence of the high elevation grass balds of the southern Appalachians have been the subject of long standing controversy that now threatens the preservation of this community, with its unique array of plants and animals. Those who claim that the balds are the result of recent, anthropogenic factors are content to allow successional processes to obliterate most of the balds. On the other hand, those who believe that balds are, in many cases, natural and quite ancient communities argue for their study and preservation. On the basis of information drawn from regional history, community ecology, agricultural studies and paleontology, we hypothesize that open grasslands probably always existed locally in mountain landscapes and elsewhere in the Southeast during the Pleistocene and that these areas were maintained and modified initially by large keystone herbivores, later by bison, elk and deer and, since about 1840, by domestic livestock. The rapid decline of grass balds today may be largely attributed to the absence of large herbivores, and the best method for restoring them and conserving their rare biota may involve the reintroduction of wild or domestic animals in the future.
To purchase the complete volume, please visit the VMNH Museum Store.