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Project Tour - A quick visit to the Ozarks Stream Geomorphology Project


Project Introduction

During the last 100 years, stream channels in the Ozarks have become wider and shallower and deepwater fish habitat has been lost.  Recreational fishing and ecosystem preservation are important to the economy of the Ozarks, and degradation of aquatic habitat is of concern to Federal, State, and local land managers. This project is a multidisciplinary study to determine cause-and-effect links between historical land-use changes, climatic shifts, and the quality and stability of stream habitat.

This project emphasizes geomorphology because of the interconnection between stream processes and aquatic communities. The structure of a stream is the template for its community — it provides the network of habitats that determine the type and numbers of organisms. Stream structure is, in turn, controlled by stream processes that govern how sediment and water are transported through the stream system. Changes such as a decrease in rainfall or a shift from forestry to grazing can affect a stream's balance of sediment and water, thereby affecting the network of habitats it provides.

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Primary Research Questions

As the value placed in the natural resources of the region grows, people have begun to ask specific questions about the way Ozarks streams function and the biological impact of historical and future changes in land-use and climatic conditions. The principal questions that initiated this project were:

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  • How have past land-use practices affected Ozark streams?
  • On what time frame will streams recover from past disturbances?
  • What habitat conditions do stream communities need to prosper?
  • How are habitats affected by stream processes such as flooding and gravel transport?
  • Are Ozarks streams sensitive to future climate and land-use changes?


Project Affiliation

The Ozarks Stream Geomorphology Project (OSGP) is a project of the Biological Resources Division (BRD) of the U.S. Geological Survey.  The BRD mission is to work with others to provide the scientific understanding and technologies needed to support the sound management and conservation of our Nation's biological resources.  The BRD is a non-regulatory, non-managerial, and non-advocacy science agency.  Our aim is to make the best possible scientific information available to resource managers, landowners, and the public.  You can learn more about the BRD by visiting our main web page or by reading the answers to some Frequently Asked Questions.

Funding for geomorphology research in the Ozarks has come through two programs of the U.S. Geological Survey.  From 1992-1998 the OSGP was funded in part through the Global Change Research Program which sponsors research that helps anticipate and mitigate environmental reponses to stresses such as climate change.   In 1999 funding was provided through the U.S. Geological Survey's Natural Resources Preservation Program.  This program is designed to provide timely, park-oriented, scientific information that will assist park managers in their management decisions.  Additional support and funding for Ozarks stream research has also been provided by the USGS Federal-State Cooperative Program, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the US Army Corps of Engineers.


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Research Location

This project focuses on clear-water stream communities of the Ozark Highlands of Missouri and Arkansas.  Field research has taken place in two National Parks in this region, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Current and Jacks Fork Rivers) and the Buffalo National River, and in the Mark Twain National Forest (Little Piney Creek).

The Ozark Highlands is a rugged, montane region made up of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. Over thousands of years, groundwater has dissolved soluble portions of these rocks and formed karst topography, a rugged landscape with an underground waterway of caves and springs. Springflow from this network feeds clear-water streams that host over 112 species of fish, 196 species of birds, and 58 species of mammals. Local geology influences the physical characteristics of the streams — they are lined by bluffs and extensive gravel bars made of chert, a resistant quartz rock that is eroded from surrounding hillsides.


Ozarks Land-Use History

Humans have lived in the basin for at least 12,000 years; early inhabitants lived as hunters and gatherers in caves and in small villages on river terraces. Europeans introduced agriculture when they began to settle the Central Ozarks around 1800. Early settlers cleared valley bottoms for pasture and row crops and began to cut timber from valley slopes. Construction of railroads into the area in the 1870s led to a timber boom and a surge in population between 1880 and 1920. Commercial timber companies harvested shortleaf pine for sawlogs and oak for railroad ties. After the timber boom (1920-1960), Ozark residents returned to agriculture, instituting annual burning of uplands and increasing grazing on open ranges.

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Ozarks Land-Use Today

Today, the Ozarks are highly valued for mineral, timber, agricultural, and recreational resources.  Although cultivated fields have decreased since 1960, cattle populations and timber operations are increasing.  Tourism has also become an important economic activity.  Each year over 1.5 million people visit The Ozark National Scenic Riverways and the Buffalo National River to canoe, fish, camp on gravel bars, and enjoy the beauty of the steep-sided hollows, bluffs, and clear-water streams.

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Ozarks Stream Geomorphology Pages

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4200 New Haven Road, Columbia, MO 65201


Last Modification: 02/02/05