Cross Timbers Ecosystem:
A Natural Wonder!
The Cross Timbers ecosystem consists of a swath of trees and prairie land stretching from present-day Kansas and Oklahoma and to just north of Waco, Texas along the Brazos River. The region represents a boundary between the forests of eastern North America and the southern Great Plains. Prior to European settlement, the system covered more than 30,000 square miles. Unique because of its geology, climate and weather, the resulting interplay of forests, rich with an understory of shrubs, vines and brambles and prairies full of grasses and wildflowers, truly makes the Cross Timbers a “natural wonder.” The Bob Jones Nature Center and Preserve is located in the eastern band of the Texas Cross Timbers which consists of two parallel strips of forest region extending southward from Oklahoma into Texas.
The ecoregion is home to diverse flora and fauna. Historically, bison roamed the vast grasslands along with prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, and burrowing owls. Mountain lions and black bears ranged across the Cross Timbers. Today, most of these species have been fully or nearly extirpated from the area, but it is still a sanctuary for coyotes, bobcats, foxes, wild turkeys, and white-tailed deer. The ecoregion lies within the Central Flyway of avian migration. Many neotropical migratory birds, waterfowl, and birds of prey pass through the area or stop to spend their breeding or winter season. The forest is dominated by post oak and blackjack oak trees with populations of eastern red cedar, black oak, black hickory, ash and numerous other species.
According to Vision North Texas, a private-public partnership headed by the Urban Land Institute, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and the University of Texas at Arlington, this ecoregion and the High Plains region rank the lowest in conserved status. There is little public land, few private preserves and a low percentage of private land under wildlife management plans. The Cross Timbers and Prairies ecoregion ranked medium in terms of land conversion, but the potential for rapid conversion and fragmentation in the future is imminent, and protecting the ecoregion’s prairies, woodlands and remaining river corridors should be a priority. The Cross Timbers preserves important components of eroding biodiversity and can play a significant role in offering a laboratory and classroom for research and education in understanding the role of forests and prairies in ecology, biodiversity and climate change.