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EPA - GRO funded project

Michael Palmer

Daniel McGlinn

and other LIBRA members

Powerpoint Proposal (spring 2005)

Background Information
This preserve's unique features make it one of the best sites to study a naturally functioning tallgrass prairie in the world. The TGPP is one of the largest unplowed tallgrass prairie preserves with an extent of 15,200 ha, and it is embedded within the last large remnant tallgrass prairie in the world (the Flint Hills). Steinauer and Collins (1996) speculate that the large size of the preserve and intact matrix of tallgrass prairie surrounding the preserve should counteract local species extinction by encompassing a wide range of habitat types and ensuring an influx of native propagules from the regional species pool. In 1993 the Nature Conservancy began implementing a more natural disturbance regime on the landscape in which annual burning and cattle grazing were gradually replaced by randomized less frequent burning and bison grazing (Palmer et al. 2000b). The temporal distribution of prescribed fires throughout the year is designed to mimic the prehistoric fire regime, with the majority of fires occurring during the dormant season (winter), but a sizable minority occurring at other times (Hamilton 1996). The spatial distribution of prescribed patch burns at TGPP are determined using a randomization procedure which is weighted toward sites that have accumulated large amounts of litter. This method creates a more natural mosaic on the landscape than more rigidly prescribed fire regimes that are used at other tallgrass preserves such as Konza prairie. Grazing in the TGPP was initially divided between cattle and bison, with the goal of increasing the area allotted to the bison as the herd increased in size (Palmer et al. 2000b). The bison are allowed to roam freely to sites they prefer which are those that have been recently burned (Biondini et al. 1999). Also it is important to note that bison are expected to effect on the vegetation differently then cattle because bison prefer graminoids more, create large wallow depressions, and their shedding and horning behaviors are likely to have strong effects on the landscape (Palmer et al. 2000b). By allowing some patches to remain unburned (and therefore ungrazed) for different periods of time the Nature Conservancy hopes to create a shifting-mosaic vegetation pattern that reflects the evolutionary landscape and therefore promotes native plant diversity (Hamilton 1996).

Research Questions
Recent literature has theorized that using management techniques that recreate evolutionary patterns of disturbance and herbivory in the Great Plains will increase the heterogeneity of the landscape and therefore increase diversity of plants that are indigenous to this area (Fuhlendorf and Engle 2001). Palmer et. al. (2000a) recognize that that this is a reasonable hypothesis to apply to the management of the TGPP, but that it must be tested once enough years of data have accumulated. My mentor, Michael Palmer, began collecting data at the preserve beginning in 1993, now more then ten years later it is timely for me to address the following questions:

1) If you build it will THEY come... (Margret Palmer et al. 1997). Is the management regime promoting native diversity and decreasing exotic diversity and abundance? More specifically what is the effect of varying the amounts of time since last burned on plant composition at a site, and do bison affect plant diversity differently then cattle grazing?
2) Gradient analysis - A related question which is also important for management is along what environmental and fire-grazing gradients do certain plant associations appear to be located?

In order to address these questions I will use a combination of 10 years of permanent plot data that Michael Palmer has collected with the addition of transect data that I will collect myself at the preserve. Twenty quadrats were placed randomly on the landscape and have been resampled annually since the TNC began their management regime at the TGPP. These data will provide fine scale spatial and temporal information about patterns of native diversity. Also 252 permanent quadrats established across the TGPP have not yet been resurveyed. I will resample these permanent plots in order to determine long-term changes in vegetation composition. The transects that I will establish at the preserve will enable me to address how native plant diversity is changing across different environmental gradients. At each of my quadrats and along my transects I will collect data on environmental variables (soil moisture, Ca, Mn, Fe, and topography) that have been identified as important in determining the local plant assemblages at the TGPP (Palmer et al. 2000a).

My research will have direct application for restoration ecologists who are attempting to restore native grasslands around the world. One of the underlying tenets of restoration ecology is that ecosystems function best under their recent evolutionary conditions in which they adapted (Swanson et al. 1994). My research will directly test if this is indeed true for a Tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Does restoring a natural disturbance regime does actually enhance "naturalness" of vegetation, and/or promotes native diversity? Another important application of my research will be its usage as a baseline for other restoration projects. White and Walker (1997) emphasize the importance of contemporary reference points in which vegetation heterogeneity is described both a spatially and temporally for the landscape; such points are necessary for guiding restoration. Furthermore each reference site should be placed along a gradient in which managers can extrapolate the findings from other sites to their own site (White and Walker 1997). My research will generate data for the natural end of the gradient, and it function as an extension of much of the research that is carried out at Konza prairie which receives a much more controlled management regime.

Literature Cited
Biondini, M. E., A. A. Steuter, and R. G. Hamilton. 1999. Bison use of fire-managed remnant prairies. Journal of Range Management 52:454-461.
Fuhlendorf, S. D., and D. M. Engle. 2001. Restoring heterogeneity on rangelands: ecosystem management based on evolutionary grazing patterns. Bioscience 51:625-632.
Fuhlendorf, S. D., and D. M. Engle. 2004. Application of the fire-grazing interaction to restore a shifting mosaic on a tallgrass prairie. Journal of Applied Ecology 41:604-614.
Hamilton, R. G. 1996. Using fire and bison to restore a functional tallgrass prairie landscape. in Transactions of the 61st North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference. Wildlife Management Institute, Washington D.C.
Knopf, F. 1994. Avian assemblages on altered grasslands. Studies in Avian Biology 15:247-257.
Palmer, M. W., P. Earls, and J. R. Arévalo. 2000a. The vegetation of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. unpublished report.
Palmer, M. W., T. Wohlgemuth, P. Earls, J. R. Arévalo, and S. D. Thompson. 2000b. Opportunities for long-term ecological research at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma. Pages 123-128 in K. Lajtha and K. Vanderbilt, editors. Cooperation in long term ecological research in central and eastern Europe: proceedings of the ILTER regional workshop, Budapest, Hungary. Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR.
Palmer, M. A., R. F. Ambrose, and N. L. Poff. 1997. Ecological theory and community restoration. Restoration Ecology 5:291-300.
Samson, F., and F. Knopf. 1994. Prairie conservation in North America. Bioscience 44:418-421.
Steinauer, E. M., and S. L. Collins. 1996. Prairie ecology - the tallgrass prairie. Pages 39-65 in F. Samson and F. Knopf, editors. Prairie conservation: preserving North America's most endangered ecosystem. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
Swanson, F. J., J. A. Jones, D. A. Wallin, and J. H. Cissel. 1994. Natural variability -- implications for ecosystem management. Pages 85-99 in M. E. Jense and P. S. Bourgeron, editors. Eastside forest ecosystem health assessment. Volume II. Ecosystem management: principles and applications. USDA Forest Service, Missoula, Montana, USA.
White, P. S., and J. L. Walker. 1997. Approximating nature's variation: selecting and using reference information in restoration ecology. Restoration Ecology 5:338-349.
White, R., S. Murray, and M. Rohweder. 2000. Pilot analysis of global ecosystems: grassland ecosystems. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
Williams, J. R., and P. L. Diebel. 1996. The economic value of the prairie. Pages 18-35 in F. Samson and F. Knopf, editors. Prairie conservation: preserving North America's most endangered ecosystem. Island Press, Washington D.C.

Laboratory for Innovative Biodiveristy Research and Analysis