Researchers at IU Bloomington are investigating restoration of prairie soils following cessation of agriculture. Kelsey Thetonia, a Master’s student at Indiana University, focuses on how the natural cycling of nutrients in the soils of the Kankakee Sands is changing as the restored prairies mature. Soil nutrients are important because they are taken up by plants in order to grow and then are released back to soils after plants die and decompose. Prairie soils have unique properties such as a thick, organic-rich surface layer that takes many years to recover. Kelsey hopes that a better understanding of soil properties will aid in the planning and development of current and future prairie restoration efforts.
In May and June 2013, Kelsey went to Kankakee Sands with Professor Chris Craft and PhD student Owen Langman to sample soils from three restored prairies of varying ages, a nearby agricultural field, and a remnant prairie for comparison. The research team at IUB also conducts studies on wetland restoration, including water quality improvement and carbon sequestration at Kankakee Sands. A future project planned for later this year will study the effects of prescribed fires on soil nutrient cycling in restored prairies.