Thomas Rosburg, professor of biology, has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to study the effects of patch-burn grazing by cattle on Kirchner Prairie, near Spencer, Iowa. This award marks a $1 million milestone in Rosburg’s research program at Drake.
Patch-burn grazing is a grazing system that models the pattern of bison herbivory that occurred on native prairies. When fire occurs on the prairie, the areas that burn undergo a change that attracts the bison. The vegetation that regrows is nutritionally higher quality. As bison graze these areas they prevent the accumulation of litter and thereby diminish the probability of another fire. Bison essentially follow fire as it occurs in different parts of the landscape, and at the same time influence where fire will occur next.
Rosburg will investigate the effects of patch-burn grazing on two levels: the plant species composition of the prairie; and the growth, vigor and reproduction of the western prairie fringed orchid, a species that is on the federal list of endangered plants. The study will begin this year and continue through 2016.
The grant brings the total funding received since Rosburg began at Drake in 1996 to $1,024,504. This total represents 65 different research projects funded by a wide variety of sources and encompassing studies that have investigated the ecology of wetlands, forests and prairies. Other projects currently underway include an assessment of vegetation and plant communities in Des Moines parks, ecological monitoring of trail use at Whiterock Conservancy, threatened and endangered species at the Jasper County Conservation Environmental Education Center and photographs of Midwestern wetland plants for a wetland field guide.