Project Leader: Adam C. Brown Project Dates: 4/12/10 - 8/27/10 E-mail: email@example.com
The Kentucky Native Plant Corps will be working in the Mammoth Cave National Park and several surrounding state parks and nature preserves. Mammoth Cave National Park is located in the heart of Kentucky’s South-Central karst, an extensive system of subterranean drainage basins covering more than 400 square miles. Atop this labyrinth, lies a biologically diverse ecosystem inextricably interlinked with the ecosystems underground. A unique set of physiographic influences and diverse habitat types led to the area being designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990. The park was also named as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Mammoth Cave was established as a national park in 1941 but evidence suggests that the earliest human exploration of the cave occurred more than 4000 years ago! These aboriginal explorers probed the depths of the cave for salt and mineral deposits. The true exploration of the caves began in earnest with their rediscovered in the late 18th century. In 1926 only 40 miles of passageway had been mapped. As survey techniques improved many caves, believed to be separate, were found to be connected and today Mammoth Cave is recognized internationally as the longest cave system in the entire world. The cave system, measuring over 350 miles long, is three times longer than any other known cave. Even if the second and third longest caves were connected together Mammoth would still be longer with over a hundred miles to spare!
Aside from this staggering feature, the botanical diversity alone is deserving of international attention. The park, encompassing merely 53,000 surface acres, contains more than 1,300 flowering species; rivaling that of the Great Smoky Mountains in one tenth the acreage. The South-Central region of Kentucky is located in multiple transitional zones. To the west lie open grasslands and drier oak-hickory forests and to the east lie moist mixed mesophytic forests. The climate is also influenced jointly by the warmer sub-tropical regions to the south and the colder climates to the north. Many species found within the park, and its surrounding areas, are at the northern, southern, eastern, and western limits of their natural range. A wide variety of habitats further support differing plant communities. These include: dry upland flats and sandstone-capped ridges, limestone exposed slopes, ravines and karst valleys, broad alluvial bottoms along the Green River, gorge-like hemlock ravines, deep sinks with exposed subterranean streams, old-growth timber, successional growth forests, barrens and savannah habitats, and wetlands, including ponds, forest swamps, springs, seasonal wet woodlands, and cobble bars and banks along the Green River.
Botanical surveys in the park have found 25 species listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern by Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission. Mammoth Cave National Park is a vital refuge for the protection of plant communities and individual species in danger. This mosaic of habitats and diversity of forests types and grasslands is, unfortunately, just as attractive to a wide variety of introduced plants. The Student Conservation Association, in close cooperation with the National Park Service and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, will be working diligently to help monitor and control the spread of these invasive exotic plants. These plants include Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard, kudzu, Nepalese browntop, tree-of-heaven, oriental bittersweet, non-native wisterias, and paulownia. These species out-compete native species and, behind habitat destruction, are the single greatest threats to biodiversity.