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Precious HeritageThe Status of Biodiversity in the United States$
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Bruce Stein, Lynn S. Kutner, and Jonathan S. Adams

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195125191

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195125191.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 20 September 2021

Safeguarding Our Precious Heritage

Safeguarding Our Precious Heritage

(p.301) 11 Safeguarding Our Precious Heritage
Precious Heritage

Mark L. Shaffer

Bruce A. Stein

Oxford University Press

Nestled amid the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee lies the Clinch Valley, the nation’s leading hot spot for imperiled aquatic organisms. The Clinch River is the only undimmed headwater of the Tennessee River basin, which in turn is the nation’s most biologically diverse drainage system. The surface waters of the Clinch run rich indeed: They are home to at least 29 rare mussels and 19 rare fish. Underground, the region’s limestone bedrock is honeycombed by more than a thousand caves and uncounted underground springs and streams. This little-known world is filled with a menagerie of rare beetles, isopods, and other subterranean insects. These underground realms have yielded more than 30 species new to science in just the past few years. The Clinch Valley is largely rural and sparsely populated. Most residents make their living directly from the land, either mining coal, harvesting timber, grazing cattle, or planting crops. These rural lifestyles have maintained much of the region in a relatively natural state, and more than two-thirds of the Clinch Valley remains forested. The forested hills mask a history of ecologically unsound land use practices, however, that have degraded the legendary quality of the region’s waterways. Virtually anything released in the valley flows downhill into the streams and rivers. Among the greatest threats to the valley’s extraordinary aquatic life are heavy metals leaching from abandoned coal mines, sediment eroding from cutover slopes, and nutrients released by streamside-grazing cattle. These and other threats have already taken a toll on the region’s extraordinary biological richness. Where once there were 60 kinds of freshwater mussels, only about 40 remain. Coastal southern California, in contrast, is one of the most densely populated regions in the nation. It, too, is a hot spot for imperiled species. Its dry Mediterranean climate and varied topography have favored the evolution of a host of unique plants and animals. Altogether, some 86 imperiled species are found along the coast and in the mountains of this nationally significant center of biodiversity. Certain areas stand out even by California standards as having a truly extraordinary diversity of rare species.

Keywords:   Big Cypress National Preserve, Central Shortgrass Prairie, Eglin Air Force Base, Felis concolor, Gopherus polyphemus, Hemizonia conjugens, Iowa, Kansas, Lama guanicoe, Manitoba

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