Much of our knowledge about prairie restoration comes from observation, and building on that information in tandem with formal, replicated experimentation is a strong way to improve our understanding of the craft. As part of a new project funded by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and the Farm Service Agency, the Tallgrass Prairie Center has established a new research and demonstration area on 3 acres of temporarily retired farmland adjacent to the Center. This new site, established in fall 2018-2019, will help answer some key questions about prairie restoration in ag landscapes, as well as provide a space for learning about the process of reconstructing prairies using side-by-side demonstrations.
The majority of the new site is devoted to replicating an experiment carried out by the Tallgrass Prairie Center staff and students that was installed at the ISU Northeast Research and Teaching Farm in Nashua, IA. This experiment will verify the importance of mowing as an establishment management tool, as well as validate principles of cost effective seed mix design for common CRP practices. We also added a seeding time component to the experiment to assess the impact of season of planting on cost effectiveness and other measures of success.
Other new demonstrations exist on the site, including a small randomized study exploring the importance of surface seeding as opposed to drill seeding for small seeded species. This study will help practitioners choose the right equipment or operate their existing equipment in the best way to promote establishment of all the seeds they plant. The site is also home to a prairie restoration chronosequence, where the same seed mix will be planted adjacent to another each year, allowing a glimpse of what a prairie restoration looks like at different ages. Another demonstration will test the application of upland sedge dominated seed mixes to be used as a “short” mix for grass waterways or other situations where turf is typically used.
Visitors are encouraged to explore the demonstration areas, but please stay out of the staked research plots. A map of the research and demonstration area can be found here.