From the April 2017 Desktop News | The quarter of a million acres located in Alabama known as the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is considered one of the most biologically diverse environments in the country, but until recently, there was no literature fully explaining how the existing system works in laymen’s terms.
Department of Geological Sciences Chairman Dr. Fred Andrus spent the last three years working to create a book meeting those qualifications. Since 2014, Andrus has been helping to find experts in different scientific fields of study to write chapters for A State of Knowledge of the Natural, Cultural, and Economic Resources of the Greater Mobile-Tensaw River Area, and he has worked with fellow editors Dr. Gregory Waselkov, director of the Center for Archaeological Studies at the University of South Alabama, and Glenn Plumm, chief wildlife biologist for the National Park Service, to edit and combine the chapters into easily readable and understandable research.
The report that resulted from years of work is a 262-page explanation of every facet of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta area from geology, biology, and archaeology to cultural significance and the area’s influence on the economy.
“The end result is leading scientists in a variety of fields, and some authors from non-science fields, talking about the importance of this place,” Andrus said. “The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a remarkable and special environment, and there is no closely comparable system in the United States. The other major river deltas of the lower 48 states have been so heavily altered or impacted that they can’t be considered as close to natural as the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.”
However, Andrus credits other river systems with contributing to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta’s immense biodiversity. Because of its location between the Mississippi River system and the East Coast river systems, the Delta has an overlap of organisms found in each system while also hosting local flora and fauna not found in either of the other systems.
According to research compiled for the book, the delta area, despite having the highest extinction rate of any river system in North America, contains 60 percent of North America’s mussel species, 52 percent of its turtle species, 43 percent of its snail species, 38 percent of its fish species, and up to 60 vascular plant species per square meter, giving the area some of the highest biodiversity in the country which, according to Andrus, needs to be protected.
“By any measure, the geological history preserved by the delta and the biological diversity of the area are remarkable,” Andrus said. “Its human history also dates from early Native Americans, through early European colonization, to the modern day. People hold this place dearly, and I would hope no one wants it to get harmed or destroyed.”
Andrus said he and the other editors on the project worked to put the volume together to help people understand the hidden gem of the Delta, so they can form their own opinions on what to do with it moving forward.
“Sometimes scientists do a poor job of communicating to the government and decision makers,” Andrus said. “Most people, including myself sometimes, don’t understand all the technical terms used to explain research, which is why this volume represents an effort to get scientists in a breadth of fields to communicate meaningfully with decision makers and other people.”
The book is available for free download at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/reference/profile/2230281.