Organisms across a dynamic landscape: Reflections on the natural and unnatural history of Central and Southern Texas
This lecture is focused on the southern Texas ecosystem where the speaker Larry Gilbert grew up. Much of the region lacks permanent streams and has a highly unpredictable climate. These factors shaped the ecology and natural history of organisms (including people) in the area known as the brush country. Explorer’s accounts from the early 16th century to the early 19th century allow interpretation of certain myths about the vegetation that have shaped management tactics from the 1950s. Conservation of diversity in this region will rely on a certain amount of myth busting along with private initiatives to recognize and retain remaining tracts of native landscape matching earliest accounts. Economic incentives to conserve natural landscapes in the region include hunting and holistic range management for cattle production. Fragmentation of large private ranches is encouraged by inheritance taxes. Tax “write-offs” for “range improvement” encourage removal of natural vegetation. Legal mechanisms to reverse such trends would indirectly promote conservation of remaining tracts of quality habitat.