November 22, 2016

UM Students Volunteer at Bibb County Alligator Glade Complex

This semester, 28 University of Montevallo students spent a day working in the Bibb County Alligator Glade complex to help restore critical habitat for numerous rare and endangered plant species. 


The UM volunteers worked alongside members of the Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance (APCA), educators, plant professionals and enthusiastic citizens dedicated to preserving Alabama’s rarest and most-vulnerable plant species. 


The Alligator Glade complex, composed of two disjunct glades; Alligator Glade East (AGE) and Alligator Glade West (AGW), is part of the larger Bibb County Ketona Glades system, located in eastern Bibb County, Alabama.


With unique soils derived from the underlying Ketona Dolomite, the Ketona Glades system is home to many rare plant taxa, including nine found nowhere else in the world.  One of those nine species is Xyris spathifolia Kral & Moffett, which was discovered growing in AGW in 2009. 


“During the intervening years, episodic drought and fire suppression activity have resulted in encroachment by various native and non-native shrubs and greatly reduced the size of the X. spathifolia population,” said APCA member and UM Professor of Biology Mike Hardig. “Subsequent explorations of the other Ketona glades have failed to locate additional populations of X. spathifolia.” A 2015 survey of AGW detected fewer than 20 specimens.


According to Hardig, restoring Alligator Glade West is crucial for the preservation and perpetuation of X. spathifolia in its natural context. 


As part of their efforts across the state, APCA developed a comprehensive management plan for the Alligator Glade complex and the Oct. 8 work party was the first step in the implementation of that plan.


Hardig organized the UM volunteers in an effort to help the APCA clear out the glades. The biology professor attempts to organize at least one conservation cleanup event each semester as extra credit for his students.


The UM volunteers and others spent the day lopping, chopping, sawing and hauling encroaching vegetation, with great success.


Despite the hard labor, Hardig reports that the students laughed and joked as they worked and later enjoyed a sack lunch in the natural environment of the glades.


To Hardig, the chance for his students to venture beyond the brick streets of the University and physically touch the environment discussed in the classroom is an important facet of UM’s unique liberal arts education.