From the base of the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico there is a large amount of elevation change. The Mississippi River and Tennessee River water systems also add to the landscape with the various streams and creeks feeding into them.
“The state of Alabama is beautiful and diverse which is surprising in so small a place,” said Morgan Beadles, Curator of the Donald E. Davis Arboretum.
Alabama is the fifth highest state in the diversity of wildlife or biodiversity and the most diverse state east of the Mississippi River according to the NatureServe report.
“This is surprising because it is number 30 in land area,” Beadles said. “With so many states so much larger it seems almost impossible that Alabama could be ranked so high.”
The arboretum has been making a push for Alabama’s diversity to be well known, as well as reflected in the arboretum. “We are ranked number one in so many things it would astound people,” Beadles said. “Number one in freshwater fish, mussels, crawfish, snails, turtles, carnivorous plants, oaks, magnolias, big trees and small trees.”
NatureServe and the Nature Conservancy wrote the report “State of the Union: Ranking America’s Biodiversity” which was the source of most of Beadles research.
“Between the ocean and rivers, Alabama has 18 different types of turtles which is more than any area this size anywhere else in the world,” Beadles said. “This includes exotic places such as the Amazon.”
Because of these water systems, Alabama is home to over 350 types of freshwater fish.
“Alabama is the state of surprises,” Beadles said.
There are several reasons for this diversity in Alabama, but the main reason it has been protected is the large amount of private and undeveloped land in the state.
“Hunting is a huge industry in Alabama,” Beadles said. “Many hunters rely on this private land for their sport. This protects their game as well as the land to hunt on. With the conservation of this land, they have also been saving several different types of wildlife.”
While these are all encouraging facts, Alabama is also number one in aquatic extinctions and number two in overall extinctions. These facts lead to Alabama being the fourth most at risk state, according to the NatureServe report.
“Alabama’s increase in population has done a large amount of damage to the natural lands,” Beadles said.
With the increase in urban development, these ecosystems are being damaged. When waterways are dammed, the area is changed. These changes make it impossible for certain species to then continue living there, according to the NatureServe report.
Certain species only exist in a few places in the world, including Alabama. The damming of these water systems changes the aquatic ecosystem, causing species to disappear.
Another issue under discussion is water quality in the area.
The Arboretum is taking steps to raise awareness of the impacts on water quality. A way they strive to protect special ecosystems is by examining what is going into the water, from gardening practices to littering, Beadles said.
“The Arboretum is one of the headwaters of Town Creek,” Beadles said. “We take caution by starting at the top of the water source and keeping it clean.”
Not only does the water quality effect species of aquatic life, the trees rely on the soil as well, which is dependent on the water, Beadles said.
“In Auburn there is a lot of attention given to the famous oak trees on Toomer’s Corner,” Beadles said. “These trees are Live Oaks and not actually native to the area. Live Oaks are native to more southern areas of Alabama.”
The Arboretum has a large amount of the trees that Alabama is so well known for. Housing 38 of 39 native oaks and a native plant garden, visitors get a peek of the natural landscape. Their collection of oak trees are nationally accredited among other botanical gardens, Beadles said.
There are three other well-known botanical gardens across Alabama in Huntsville, Mobile and Birmingham. Each garden is working together to get people more excited about their state and hopefully get involved.
“Alabama is a beautiful state and it’s a way to start that conversation,” Beadles said.