A Prairie Ecologist Holiday Reading List

If you’re like me, this period just before and after the New Year provides a good opportunity to enjoy some quality reading time.  Maybe you’ve already got a stack of books or list or blog posts you’re waiting to read.  If not, maybe I can help.

Here is a selection of some of my favorite blog posts from The Prairie Ecologist dating back to 2010.  If you’ve only recently found this blog, some of the older posts may be brand new to you.  If you’ve been here since the beginning, maybe these will stoke some old ideas or just be fun to read again.

For your convenience, I’ve split these into five categories: Species profiles, conservation science, prairie management, prairie restoration, and humor/photography.  If you have a favorite post that didn’t make the list, you can add it by leaving a comment below with the name or link to the post.

Species Profiles

1. One of the most viewed posts I’ve ever written was about the mutualistic relationship between the yucca plant and the yucca moth.  It is a fascinating story of interdependence in nature.

The relationship between the yucca moth and yucca plant is one of the most fascinating in nature.

The relationship between the yucca moth and yucca plant is one of the most fascinating in nature.

2.  The camouflaged inchworm is my favorite insect.  How could you not love an inchworm that camouflages itself with bits of the flowers it eats?

3. Knowing how many crazy things have to happen to pollinate milkweed flowers makes you wonder how it ever happens at all.

4. The sora is a bird that has quite a reputation for being able to hide in wetlands.  I found out one big reason it might be so good at that.

5. The lower portions of thistle flowers seem to be death traps for many insects, even while the upper portions provide a bonanza of nectar and pollen.

Conservation Science

1. Resilience is a word that gets a lot of play these days – in multiple settings.  Ecologically speaking, though, resilience may be the key to survival for ecosystems such as prairies.  Read about what defines ecological resilience and how it applies to grasslands.

2. Invasive plants are a major challenge for prairie ecologists.  We can’t stop them all, so we have to prioritize.  One big step in that process is coming to terms with the idea that not all exotic plants are invasive.

3. Conservationists are always looking for indicator species that can help us decide how our conservation work is going.  Unfortunately, I think we rely much too heavily on birds as indicators because they are really not that useful in that role – at least in prairies.

4. Prescribed fire is a very important tool for prairie conservation (as well as the conservation of many other ecosystems).  However, with all the smoke created by prairie fires, are we causing more problems than we’re solving – especially related to global warming?  When you look at the facts, the answer seems to be no.

Prescribed fire is an important prairie management tool and shouldn't be blamed for contributing to climate change.

Prescribed fire is an important prairie management tool and shouldn’t be blamed for contributing to climate change.

Prairie Management

1. Keeping prairies healthy and diverse relies on diverse management that maintains habitat and growing conditions for as many species as possible.  Unfortunately, our human nature tends to work against us sometimes, including a tendency to manage for what I call “Calendar Prairies.” 

2. Many management strategies that work well in large prairies just aren’t feasible in smaller ones.  How should we manage those small prairies?

3. Here is some fascinating evidence of the interconnectedness of prairies and impacts from management treatments that link fire, cattle, mice, and prairie clover.

Prairie Restoration

1. Too many people think of prairie restoration as recreating something that used to exist – like restoring an historic building to help preserve the past.  There is certainly value in that, but we also have the opportunity to create prairie in a way that rebuilds the ecological function of grassland landscapes.

2. Prior to writing the above essay, I laid out a more specific set of ideas about how prairie restoration can help us rebuild fragmented landscapes.

Humor/Photography

1. Many of my attempts to photograph wildlife turn out to be relatively humorous adventures.  My attempt to photograph prairie dogs not far from my house, for example, turned out to be kind of a fiasco.  A second attempt at a different location resulted in better photographs, but was also good fodder for some laughs.

2. A porcupine sitting in a short tree in beautiful evening light seems like a prime opportunity for some great photographs.  But only if the porcupine is cooperative

3. In one post, I shared some information about one of my favorite techniques for photographing small creatures in my backyard.  It requires one very important piece of equipment: a wheelbarrow.  It’s a good thing my neighbors can’t see me (I hope!).

4. We have lots of river otter use in our Platte River Prairies.  Guess how many I’ve seen?

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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.
This entry was posted in General, Prairie Animals, Prairie Insects, Prairie Management, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Prairie Ecologist Holiday Reading List

  1. Brian says:

    Lots of fascinating facts on the natural world. Thanks.

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