by Dan Drees, Fire Ecologist
This summer, renowned ecologist Dr. Alan Templeton discovered collared lizards had successfully colonized the Mill Mountain prescribed fire unit at Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR). This was the continuation of a project that Dr. Templeton started in 1979 with a search of this vicinity to determine if historic populations of the Eastern collared lizard still existed. No collared lizards were observed in the initial surveys.
The area's numerous igneous and dolomite glades had become too overgrown in trees, especially eastern red cedar. The historic populations of collared lizards probably had died out due to shading of their open glade habitat.
In 1982, cedar removal and small prescribed fires were initiated to reopen the best remaining glades on nearby Stegall Mountain. In 1984, collared lizards were captured from a healthy population 40 miles away and released on Stegall Mountain. After a few years Dr. Templeton realized that collared lizards were not moving to nearby glades that were separated by thin bands of dense woody vegetation, some only 50 meters wide.
Dr. Templeton suggested burning several hundred acres of glades and woodlands at once. At the time this was a radical concept in Missouri, but Dr. Templeton's data was compelling. In 1994 the first landscape-sized burn was completed on Stegall Mountain. The collared lizards immediately responded by colonizing several nearby glades.
One of Dr. Templeton's students found that grasshoppers were the primary food of local collared lizards. The research team also discovered that there was a 650% increase in grasshoppers in the prescribed burn units. Grasshoppers, and other ground dwelling insects, are also the primary food for turkey hatchlings.