The Conservancy is proud that the more than 70,000 acres in our ownership are regularly used as outdoor classrooms - for our own staff and for the purposes of collaboration with students and faculty from colleges and universities across the country.
Along the Platte River, major areas of research emphasis include:
- Evaluation of fire/grazing management impacts on plant diversity and insect/wildlife species;
- Research on techniques needed to improve plant and animal diversity on severely degraded native prairies;
- Evaluation of prairie restoration success;
- Research on the benefits of plant diversity on ecosystem functions;
- Ecological resilience; and
For example, Eastern Nebraska Program Director Chris Helzer recently look a look at plant data from a restored/remnant prairie complex. In 2000, The Nature Conservancy added several hundred acres to our Platte River Prairies through a land acquisition. Most of the new land was cropland, but it also included 60 acres of remnant mixed-grass sand prairie with good plant diversity. Two years later, using seed harvested from the remnant prairie and other nearby sites, we seeded 100 acres of cropland directly adjacent to the sand prairie. (The restored cropland has the same kind of hilly topography as the remnant, but also includes some low areas more appropriate for mesic tallgrass prairie. Thus, the 162 species in the our seed mixture included plant species from both.) "It is like a prairie skin graft," said Conservancy Writer Jill Wells.
Nine growing seasons later, Helzer collected plant data from both the remnant and restored prairies. The data were collected by counting the plant species inside a square meter plot frame from 100 locations across each prairie.
Helzer discovered that while it was still easy to tell the difference between the remnant and restored plant communities (some plant species were much more abundant in each type), very few plant species from the remnant were completely missing in the restored prairie. So... is this a success? Or a case of one question leading to many more?