A two-decade research project headed by a UW-Madison professor has shown that minor modifications to the landscape can dramatically improve the chances of plants in increasingly rare and fragmented ecosystems.
Using narrow corridors to connect small patches of restored savanna at an experimental site at the U.S. Department of Energy’s savanna River Site in South Carolina, researchers found an annual increase in the number of plants species.
Habitat loss and fragmentation, is the number one cause of extinction, said Ellen Damschen, a professor of biology at UW-Madison and lead author of the paper, which was published this week in the journal Science.
Hundreds of species depend on prairies and savannas, dry, grassy habitats that once covered much of North America but have largely vanished since the arrival of European settlers.
“There used to be a lot of it, and now there’s not much,” said Matt Zine, conservation biologist and statewide habitat management specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Zine estimates less than 1 percent of Wisconsin’s prairie and savanna land remains intact. And much of what’s left is in isolated patches separated by farmland, development or forests that take over in the absence of regular fires.