Plants, Animals & Habitats
Prairie Ridge Ecostation consists of 38.5 acres of old cow pasture. This pasture has been transformed into a variety of habitats including prairie grassland, bottomland forest, ponds and stream. A diversity of plants, animals and other life can be found among the myriad habitats of this special place.
We use a variety of tools to monitor wildlife populations at Prairie Ridge, including infrared cameras, camera traps, and nestcams.
As early as 1540, explorers reported “savannas” in the Carolina Piedmont. These open expanses were probably the result of lightning fires or of fires set by Native Americans to clear land for planting. Grazing animals such as elk and bison may have also helped maintain the prairies. The many streams and rivers in the Piedmont created natural firebreaks, causing these prairies to be smaller than those in the Midwest.
As the Native Americans and grazing animal populations declined, so did the prairies. Remnant prairies are all that are left in North Carolina. Our prairie was established in a former cow pasture in the spring of 2004.
North Carolina has a great diversity of forested wetlands, including Coastal Plain swamps, Piedmont floodplains, Mountain bogs and streamsides. Prairie Ridge’s bottomland showcases trees from moist areas across the state. Some species, such as Bald Cypress, oaks and hickories, are fairly well known, while others, such as Water Tupelo, Pumpkin Ash and Water Elm, are less familiar. In 2004, a group of volunteers and Museum staff planted 56 trees in the first phase of our effort to restore this forested wetlands habitat.
The perennial stream, pond and wetlands at Prairie Ridge provide breeding and feeding sites for many animals. A variety of habitats come together here to meet the needs of many amphibians, reptiles, birds, invertebrates and mammals. Vegetation in wetland areas is also important for stream stabilization and water quality.
Seasonal pools are one of the critical aquatic habitats here at Prairie Ridge. These pools fill with water in the fall and winter but dry up during the summer, making them inhospitable to fish. The lack of these predators makes the seasonal pools good breeding habitats for salamanders, frogs and a variety of invertebrates.
The permanent pond is an important habitat for turtles and amphibians. It also serves as refuge for waterfowl, with shoreline and native wetland plants that attract birds and other wildlife.
We maintain a species list for the plants and animals of Prairie Ridge, which you may view or download here: