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Projects

  • Dark Data Project logo - a lightbulb that looks like an acron

    Dark Data

    The Dark Data Project began as an effort to bring the thousands of early 20th century natural history specimens at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory “to light”.  By digitizing, transcribing, and releasing this natural history data set to researchers around the world, the legions of ecologists that have worked at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory continue to contribute to science.

  • Prairie with a cloudy sky

    Over 99% of the original tall grass prairie in the Midwest has been converted to annual agriculture.  Those remaining prairie remnants are, like other natural systems, exposed to increasing levels of disturbance through human activities. The Nutrient Network is a worldwide network of grasslands that studies changes in species diversity and productivity following experimental manipulations in nutrient supply and herbivory.

  • Biochar Testing Field Groundwork Setup

    Biochar is a carbon-rich material similar to charcoal that is produced when biomass is burned in the absence of oxygen - a process known as pyrolysis.  When applied to agricultural soil biochar can impart benefits, such as improved nutrient cycling, increased productivity, and carbon sequestration, but there are limited data concerning its effect in mixed perennial communities, such as tallgrass prairie. Our investigation addresses this research gap and identifies both positive effects and negative externalities associated with intentional or unintentional prairie exposure to biochar.

  • Florida Collector Experiment

    Nitrogen (N) is one of the major elements that are essential for plant and animal growth. Human activities, including fossil fuel burning and fertilizer production, have doubled the amount of bio-available nitrogen globally. Much of this excess nitrogen is emitted to the atmosphere and eventually returns to the Earth's surface through wet or dry deposition.

  • Western prairie fringed orchid, a 24-inch flower stalk with white flowers with whispy petals

    The western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara) may once have been widespread throughout the Midwest, but is now primarily found in small isolated prairies. Their populations (as estimated by the number of flowering individuals) experience large fluctuations from year to year in response to precipitation. Using methods developed by the Natural Heritage and Non-Game Research Program at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, we have been monitoring 2 western prairie fringed orchid populations in Iowa.

  • Soil Researchers in a grassland near a tree

    Woody plant encroachment into grass-dominated ecosystems is a globally extensive shift in plant community structure that alters key processes at ecosystem, regional, and global scales. As part of the Stable Isotope lab at Texas A&M University we measured the influence of this structural change on the biodiversity and trophic structure of belowground biological communities. 

  • Prairie Field Testing

    Plant community structure and ecological processes, such as nutrient cycling and water retention, must be reestablished for a restored community to survive the harsh environment of highly disturbed areas. For my dissertation research on prairie community development on a landfill cap, we used mulch treatments and mounds constructed of different materials to create variation and influence both plant and soil community development.

  • Minnesota's Highway Prairie

    The loss of the prairie to agriculture followed the railroad network as Europeans settled the Midwest. However, the areas adjacent to the tracks were less likely to be cultivated. As part of a team of botanists from the Department of Natural Resources that surveyed Minnesota railroad rights-of-way for prairie remnants in 1998. We found that these narrow strips were important reservoirs for mesic prairie and rare species.

  • Forest Plants

    Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is one of the largest remaining fragments of maple-basswood forest in Minnesota.  The park was created in 1945 through consolidation of 147 individual privately-owned parcels each with known land-use histories.  For my Master's of Science thesis I sampled the understory of thirty of the forested parcels to determine the influence of history on the density of wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) and co-occurring understory species.