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Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Ellington Agricultural Center
440 Hogan Road
Nashville, TN 37220
(615) 781-6500
Bringing Back the Lost Grasslands of the Mississippi Embayment

The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI) is a new effort to lead integrated grassland conservation across much of the southeastern and south-central U.S. (Fig. 1). Led by Dr. Dwayne Estes, a biologist at Austin Peay State University's Center of Excellence for Field Biology in Tennessee and Theo Witsell, a botanist based in Arkansas, the SGI aims to work across organizational, state, and ecoregional boundaries to coordinate planning and implementation efforts among a multitude of stakeholders.

The SGI's aim is to leverage funding from a variety of sources to catalyze on-the-ground conservation and recreate lost grasslands of the Mississippi Embayment. This region is significant because it has experienced the greatest percentage of grassland loss - due to almost complete conversion to row-crop agriculture - of any grassland-supporting region in central North America. Yet despite this and despite being part of the recently designated North American Coastal Plain Global Biodiversity Hotspot (CEPF 2017), the area suffers from a lack of historical investment in conservation. Located along the eastern edge of the Central flyway for Monarch butterflies and the center of the Mississippi Flyway for migratory birds, the Mississippi Embayment is home to several distinct types of grasslands (such as Black Belt prairie and oak savannas) as well as many rare species of grassland-dependent plants and animals.

The loss of Southern grasslands has contributed to the loss or dramatic decline of many iconic species of animals - the Greater Prairie Chicken (lost from this region), Northern Bobwhite, Henslow's Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, and Monarch Butterfly - as well as dozens of plants (e.g. Snowy Orchid, Prairie Parsley). These losses are triggering unprecedented interest from the scientific and conservation communities who, in the past five years, have started to realize the true historical extent of Southern grasslands and their importance to the biodiversity of North America. While there have been pockets of conservation momentum building, there has been no organized region-wide effort to address the imminent threats facing Southern grasslands, until now.

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