2013 Weaver Grants Announced

Research Results Could Have Important Impacts

Aurora, NE | March 26, 2013

Named after J.E. Weaver, a grassland biologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Weaver Grants Program at The Nature Conservancy was started in 1995 with a very special donation.  “Judy gave this program to me as a wedding present. She visited with Conservancy staff about something she could do for me to celebrate our marriage.  Because of my love of the prairie and the Niobrara Valley Preserve, they came up with the J.E. Weaver project,” said Ron Parks.  

The Parks, long-time supporters of the Conservancy and its mission, wanted to provide grants to encourage graduate students whose research focuses on Great Plains ecosystems and their conservation. They encouraged others to donate to the fund as well, and grew the endowment. “In our fundraising efforts we met and corresponded with many of Dr. Weaver’s former students. It is a real eye-opener to learn how much his work affected the contemporary understanding of the prairie ecosystem,” said Ron. 

The Weaver Program was also initially funded with a grant from Archer Daniels Midlands, and the Nebraska chapter matched funding to help grow the endowment to a sustainable level that provides up to five grants a year. “We especially appreciate the Nebraska Chapter's interest in developing the Weaver Program, because it recognizes that the future of conservation is in the hands of our young scientists-in-training,” said Judy.  

To date, the Weaver program has helped to fund 74 projects.  These efforts were selected for $1,000 awards in 2013: 

Seasonal succession of floral resources and butterfly community responses in different grassland habitats: implications for conservation in the Great Plains
John Delaney
This study will look at the availability of nectar flowers in remnant, restored, and “novel” prairies in south-central Iowa.  “Pollination is a very important component of prairies, and one we need to better understand, especially in landscapes where fragmentation and habitat degradation are rampant,” said Chris Helzer, Eastern Nebraska Program Director. 

Eradicating large populations of Lespedeza cuneata using unique combinations of new and existing management practices
David R. Hall
Sericea lespedeza is an invasive plant that was just designated a noxious weed in Nebraska this year.  David’s study aims to find methods of Sericea control that are effective and also accessible for landowners.  (The Conservancy is fighting it at our Rulo Bluffs Preserve and it is in a number of natural areas throughout southeastern Nebraska.) 

The Community Structure of Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) Across Gradients of Prairie Restoration in the Chicagoland Area
Susan Kirt Alterio
“This study is particularly interesting to me in light of our recent attempts to study how ants are using our restored prairies along the Platte,” said Helzer.  “We found that most ant species in our remnant prairies are also found in our restored prairies, giving us hope that our restoration work is adding habitat for ants.  However, we have a lot more to learn.”  Susan is going to be doing a lot of ant sampling at a lot of different sites - and will continue her work over several years and multiple seasons.  That should give her good information for the ant community at each site, and she will then attempt to analyze what factors are determining the presence/abundance of each ant species.    It is an ambitious project that will provide a lot of data on the kinds of ants that use various sites.  

Investigating the Impacts of Land Use Intensification and Restoration Efforts on the Structure of Tallgrass Prairie Plant-Pollinator Networks
Kathy Roccaforte
Kathy is going beyond many pollinator studies and using a relatively new way of assessing pollinator services at various sites.  She is looking at both the pollinator insects and the various flower species they pollinate to build models of the pollinator “networks” that result from those interactions.  More complex networks are likely stronger and less vulnerable to collapse.  Among other things she will compare networks in restored and remnant prairies to see whether restored prairies are building networks that are as strong as those in remnant prairies.  She will then use computer simulations built upon those models to “mess with” the data and see what happens if a particular species disappears from a site.  This may help identify which plant or insect species are most important in terms of maintaining healthy pollinator networks. 

Understanding the Role of Trust in Cooperating with Natural Resource Institutions
Joseph A. Hamm
“What interests me about Joe’s work is that he’s looking for the social reasons that conservation will or will not work (and/or how),” said Helzer. “If conservationists can gain the trust of landowners, there is a better chance of collaborating on habitat projects that will be successful and be maintained into the future. Joe’s surveys may help us understand how to better build collaboration based on mutual trust. Ideally, we’ll be able to apply what we learn from those surveys and train conservation staff to work more effectively with landowners."

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global. To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Jill Wells
(402) 342-0282

Chris Helzer
Eastern Nebraska Program Director
(402) 694-4191


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