Boots On The Ground Conservation


  • Prairie STRIPS for pollinators...and farmers


    Despite a reduction in plant diversity that comes with the production of corn and soybeans, there may still be biodiversity that could respond to conservation efforts. So, what kind of insect pollinators are commonly found in corn and soybean fields?

    The most abundant insects found in corn and soybean fields are solitary, ground-nesting bees, accounting for 65% of the insects collected from both crops. Honey bees and bumble bees accounted for only 0.5 percent of all insects captured.

    STRIPS, which stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips, began in the fall of 2003 at a single site at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City. Today, STRIPS personnel have helped 18 farmers across Iowa and northern Missouri install native prairie on their fields, unlocking a range of conservation benefits such as cleaner water, healthier soil and new wildlife habitat.

    So, how do you design a prairie which will be part of a corn field? Read more...

  • Aerial Ping Pong for Prairies

    One ecologist wants to change the way we think about prescribed burns. The professor says he can harness extreme fire to restore grasslands on the Great Plains -- and he has created a small drone that launches ping-pong balls of fire to help him do it safely and cheaply.


  • Which is it, Biodiversity or Bioproportionality?

    Writing in the journal Biological Conservation, environmental philosopher Freya Mathews challenges biodiversity: not its scientific meaning, but the way it’s used in policy settings. There the word is not just scientific but political, says Mathews, and “it drastically limits what conservationists may aspire to achieve.”

    So long as there’s enough members of a given species to avoid extinction, or so long as representative examples of a given ecosystem exist, biodiversity’s policy requirements are met. “This results in a tendency towards an ‘ecology of the minimal,’” writes Mathews.


  • Seed Shed Doings, July 2016

    Dear Prairie Enthusiast,
    Seed picking for the fall restorations is underway, although the bulk of seed harvesting won’t begin until August. Check our schedule here, if you forgot to print it out earlier. As always, we are depending on you to help us get the work done.

    The Prairie Divas have been busy and we already have 34 species dried, or drying, in the seed shed. Many of these are trace quantities harvested from small plant populations—but it only takes one seed to grow into a new population—and that’s our aim.

    I’ve kept busy with weeding, weeding and more weeding…if you’re a gardener, you know how it goes. I am also working out percentages for the seed that we harvest. So far I’ve calculated the amount of seed to chaff for 12 species and have a thirteenth drying for later processing. We do this to get a reasonable estimate of how much we need to pick to attain that magic formula of one seed from that plant on so many square feet of restoration.

    Here’s how it works: Barbara or Laura bring me a small quantity of the plant in question direct from the field and I lay it out on a cookie sheet to dry. I then weigh the sample to get a gross weight (usually no more than half an ounce of chaff and seed combined) and then I separate the seed from the chaff, weigh the seed and divide chaff into seed to get a percentage of seed in the sample.

    Here’s what I’ve found out: Bugs and caterpillars must be evicted before any weighing can take place! Every species has a different way of ‘packaging’ the seed it produces. Some seed comes in capsules that explode when dry, e.g. Phlox pilosa (to effect maximum seed distribution) some have fuzzy tails attached, e.g. Clematis virginiana (they remind me of kites floating on air, and perhaps that’s the aim.) Some have their own umbrellas for navigation, e.g. the Asclepias species (like Mary Poppins!)

    Some seed is wrapped in glumes (a term I learned from the Prairie meister) that are hard for the naked eye to differentiate from the true seed, e.g. Koeleria macrantha. This one also had a lot of LBIs—little black insects that were so small that I couldn’t see anything but a dark moving mote.  Some come double-wrapped and must be pried out one triangular seed at a time, e.g. Rumex altissimum and some seed is so small that the ‘seed dust’ looks like cinnamon in the bottom of the bag, e.g. Heuchera richardsonii.

    In this baker’s dozen the most interesting looking seed came from Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). Just 8 % of the sample turned out to be seed which came in a variety of colors from bone white through beige and brown to almost black. The top looks different from the bottom and the shape reminded me of a fossilized sea critter I found in Florida.  Each seed is no wider than a millimeter but can produce a plant that is 2’ to 4’ tall.

    The lesson learned? It seems Nature has worked out some optimum shapes that she relies on again and again. As The Prairie meister says: “Nature’s underlying mechanisms are reflected in similar structures arising in different contexts” or, to quote Johannes Kepler: “Where there is matter, there is geometry.”

    Happy Prairie Gardening!
    Regards, Rickie Rachuy