The best hope for recovering and maintaining ecosystem function and services for the tallgrass prairie ecosystem is reconstruction. To that end, tallgrass prairie reconstruction efforts are on-going across federal, state, and non-profit organizations and among private landowners throughout the upper Midwest. Despite this heightened activity, a framework for comprehensive evaluation and adaptive learning from past reconstruction efforts is lacking. With an increasing percentage of already limited natural resource budgets being applied to reconstruction activities, it is imperative that we make the best use of these funds by developing best practices for reconstructions. The growing number of completed reconstructions provides an opportunity to evaluate different techniques and determine which best achieve management objectives. The goal of this project is to improve the practice of prairie reconstruction by developing criteria by which success can be measured and related to reconstruction methodology. To accomplish this goal, the project will utilize past reconstruction efforts and records for two of the largest tallgrass prairie reconstructions in North America, Neal Smith National wildlife Refuge near Des Moines, Iowa and Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge near Crookston, Minnesota. The extensive size, prolonged timeline, and records of seeding practices and site management that were kept for the reconstructions at these two refuges provide an ideal resource for evaluating which factors best predict establishment of high diversity prairie across a broad range of edaphic conditions. Surveys in 2015 will document the outcome of each of the reconstructions, allowing us to evaluate methodologies in relation to plant species richness, diversity and dominance, presence of exotic plants, establishment of planted species, and other management objectives. Concurrent with this project, funding has been secured to develop a Sharepoint data base and decision support tool which will automate certain aspects of data entry (e.g., with drop-down selections) and some basic analyses. Both the tool and the evaluation of prior reconstruction outcomes will benefit from combining the two activities. By populating the data base with information from Neal Smith and Glacial Ridge and conducting analyses of the methods they used, we will demonstrate the value of the decision support tool, which will feed back into greater acceptance and utilization by the prairie reconstruction community.
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