Save The Date! July 13, 2012

It’s going to be a big day.  I’m not sure what to call it yet, but it’ll be big.  Mark July 13 on your calendar, and make plans to travel to the Platte River Prairies in Nebraska!

Prairie Ecologist readers may remember previous posts about how to measure success in prairie restoration (reconstruction) and some early attempts to evaluate how insects are reacting to our prairie restorations.  Next July, I’m taking the next big step, and you’re invited to join in the fun.

With the help of entomologists James Trager (Shaw Nature Reserve, Missouri) and Mike Arduser (Missouri Department of Conservation) – and hopefully some others – I’m going to try to do three things.

1) Ramp up efforts to establish an inventory of the insect and animal species in our prairies – including both our remnant prairies and those we restored from cropland.  I have a pretty good handle on the plant communities, but we’ve just scratched the surface on the insect and animal communities.

2) Build a list of species that can help indicate whether or not our restored prairies are functioning correctly (e.g. expanding and re-connecting our fragmented prairies).   That list will include habitat specialists with specific needs our restored prairies will have to meet if we are to be successful.

3) Establish sampling protocols that we can follow, using staff and volunteers, to track those species over time to see if they are moving into and through our restored prairies.

Do you know what kind of ant this is? Me neither!! That's why I'm excited to have James Trager - who DOES know - coming to our prairies to help me figure out what we've got, and why.

James and Mike have already committed to come to the Platte and help me do some initial sampling and think about how to set all of this up for the future.  We’ll spend a good part of the week of July 9th collecting critters, analyzing what we find, and thinking about what makes the most sense for future evaluation work.

Then, the big day is Friday (yes, Friday the 13th) and you’re all invited to join in the conversation.  The agenda is still under development, but at this point, the plan is to have a public field day/open house revolving around prairie ecology, management, and restoration – with a particular emphasis on insects and other prairie animals.  We’ll have tours and demonstrations of prairie management and restoration work and research projects, displays of plant and animal species from our sites, and presentations by various prairie ecologists.  Besides James and Mike, I hope to have several other experts on insects and other prairie animals on hand to talk about those species and their ecology, and hopefully give you a close-up look at them (the animals, not the experts).  It should a great time of year to see wildflowers, birds, and lots of insects – including regal fritillaries, which should be near their peak abundance at that time of year.

Overall, the day should be a great opportunity to learn more about the natural history and identification of prairie species, trade ideas about prairie management, restoration and research, and network with other people who are just as interested in prairies as you are.  In addition, it will allow us to build upon some of the conversations we’ve had through this blog – but to do it in person.  We can walk through the same prairies, look at the same fire, grazing, and seeding results, and compare observations.  I hope that a number of the regular readers of this blog will be able to come – especially those of you from outside Nebraska – because I think it can only increase the value of our future blog conversations to have you see our prairies in person.

We work hard to maximize native plant diversity in our prairie restoration work, then use fire and grazing to maintain that diversity - and hopefully also ecological resilience. Does it work? Come judge for yourself. Most importantly, we need to know how insects and other animals are responding, and I hope to learn more about that.

So – if you’re interested, please put the day on your calendar, start thinking about your travel plans, and we’ll hope to see you next July!

(Stay tuned for more details)

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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20 Responses to Save The Date! July 13, 2012

  1. Dan Staehr says:

    Platte Prairies BIOBLITZ!!!

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Yeah, I hesitate to use that term, because it’s gotten to be kind of a fad lately. Not that there’s anything wrong with bioblitzes… I just want this to be a more focused effort – aimed at measuring some specific objectives – than a broad inventory of what we’ve got. I don’t have a better term yet, though!

  2. Karen Hamburger says:

    Hey Chris
    how about “prairie biltz’!????????? Or parairie-a- palooza!!!
    Karen

  3. Patrick Swanson says:

    Hi Chris,
    This sounds like a great opportunity to gauge and compare the diversity of restored and remnant prairies. Are you hoping to add blitzes earlier and later in the growing season? I notice many insect species on my own prairie that I only observe at the “bookends” of the growing season that would be missed in mid-July.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Patrick – you’re absolutely right. We’ll miss a lot by looking on in July – especially with insects. My hope is that this will jumpstart a much longer process of measures. The big trick is to pick the right species to look for, and that selection will drive the timing of future sampling. When picking bee species, for example, Mike A will be able to tell me what bees I should expect to specialize on particular plant species even if they’re not flying while he’s here (I HOPE).

      Anyway, this will hopefully get the ball rolling – and the big day is mostly about a conversation on the topic rather than trying to do a tremendous amount of measuring on that one day. Which is why I hesitate to call it a bioblitz… I need a better name.

      • Patrick Swanson says:

        Chris, as a follow-up question, are plant species of high C value fairly evenly distributed through the growing season with respect to growth and flowering? I wonder whether more might be clustered early in the growing season to avoid competition with the tall grasses.

        • Chris Helzer says:

          You know, I’ve never looked at that. My impression is that they’re pretty evenly distributed through the flowering season. I’ll send you a separate email with the Nebraska list, and you can see for yourself! (Though I’m going to have to look now too…)

  4. James McGee says:

    Maybe this post would be a good time for Mr. Trager to give us all his thoughts on introducing ants into restorations.

    James

    • I’m quite sure this will be discussed, James.
      Lasius is a genus that typically establishes itself well in prairie restorations, with a few exceptions of those prairie (and Lasius) types that have very speciallized hydrological requirements, i.e., spring-watered prairie fens and sedge meadows (and their specialist ants). But from a broader perspective, there is still much we don’t know about the dynamics and establishment of ants in restorations. Apparently, most or perhaps all prairie ants found in Nebraska mesic prairies are also found in Illinois prairies. Now, sandhill species are another matter, and also, Illinois has some, especially of wetter habitats, that apparently do not occur in Nebraska. Overall though, Nebraska antdom is a virtual Terra Incognita, ripe for study.

      • Doug McEvers says:

        James,

        In NW Minnesota one of the ant species we have lives in a domed mound, are quite large and they bite, what are they? I remember these mounds as a kid (many years ago) and they are still in the same locations today on our prairie remnants. I believe they have moved into our restored prairie because I see the mounds after I burn, I will have to look closer. I love ants, a very important part of nature’s unpaid workforce.

  5. James McGee says:

    The species is alluding me. It might not occur in my home state of Illinois. I think it is in the genus Lasius.

  6. David says:

    Hi Chris,

    I really like your idea of identifying “indicator” species followed by developing protocols for monitoring them. Like you mentioned, we have a good handle on this with vascular plant species and some animal species (i.e. birds). I have heard some entomologists talk about conservative insect species but have not seen a comprehensive list of CC values for insects.

    This research is exciting and could potentially be a great aid to practitioners. Knowing that conservative bug “XYZ” exists in your prairie and that you, the practitioner, understands some of the reasons why is a great motivator that will likely lead to more discoveries.

    Congrats to you, TNC and others (James and Mike) for taking this on.

    David

  7. john says:

    Be careful, Dad, if it’s Friday the 13th, you might be run over by a cow, or something else unlucky.

  8. Chris – I think you’ll have a couple of visitors from Texas. We’ve been planning a summer prairie pilgrimage and we can add a stop at Platte River.

  9. James McGee says:

    Chris, I wish I could make it. I just do not think I could justify the trip. Money, carbon footprint, leaving wife with kid, etc… Hopefully, you will take some good notes and include them on your blog.

    James

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