STOP 2: SOUTH UNIT (A DIVERSE LANDSCAPE EQUALS ECOLOGICAL DIVERSITY)
While most people admire the South Unit for its scenic quality, wildlife biologists also recognize it as a site of great plant and animal diversity. Steep slopes facing the sun are hotter and dryer than those facing away from the sun. Hilltops may experience direct sunlight most of the day while valleys may be shaded part of the day. Wind and water erosion cause hilltops to have more sterile soils than bottomlands. Varying fire intensities favor different species of plants. All of these variables create a great diversity of vegetation across the South Unit. Wildlife responds to this variability as well with different species of rodents, reptiles, insects, birds, and mammals being abundant in some parts of the barrens and nearly absent in others.
Some of the more obvious plant
diversity can be seen from where you are standing. Young aspen, or
popple trees, are abundant on the wetter, cooler, north facing
slopes. Oak thrives in the dryer, more direct sunlight areas.
Wetlands are noticeable in the bottomlands. A pair of binoculars
might show more subtle changes in vegetation as well as document some
bird species favoring certain habitat types. Scientific collections
of both plants and animals have documented this great variability and
reinforces the need to preserve this rare barrens habitat
predominated by rolling topography.