Chris Helzer

Chris-HelzerChris 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.


Chris's Posts

Bison Good, Cattle Bad? A Prairie Ecologist’s Perspective

Among some prairie enthusiasts, bison are magical beings while cattle are vile creatures. The reality? The differences may not be as great as you think, writes prairie ecologist Chris Helzer.

Posted In: Grasslands
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The Yucca and its Moth

It sounds too good to be true; two species helping each other survive for millions of years – each getting as much as they give.

For more than 40 million years there has been a relationship between yucca plants and yucca moths.  It’s a particularly important one because neither the yucca or the moth can survive without the other.  The moth’s larvae depend on the seeds of the yucca plant for food, and the yucca plant can only be pollinated by the yucca moth.

In the central United States, soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca) is pollinated by a moth known as Tegeticulla yuccasella.  Each spring, adult moths emerge from underground cocoons and the males and females meet up with each other on yucca plants to mate.

When a female is ready to lay eggs, she first goes to a yucca flower to collect pollen.  Unlike most moth species, yucca moths have two short tentacles near their mouth that they use to scrape pollen from the anthers of the flower.  As she collects the sticky pollen, the yucca moth packs it into a ball and sticks it under her head.  She then flies off to another yucca flower.

Posted In: Insects, Plants, Science
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Why Grassland Birds are Poor Indicators of Prairie Quality

Let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of birds. 

I really enjoyed working on my graduate research, which focused on grassland birds and their vulnerability to prairie fragmentation.

I also think birds are generally pretty and interesting.

However, the truth is that prairie birds make up only a tiny percentage of the species in prairies (most of which are invertebrates, followed by plants).

Still, grassland birds are often held up as indicators of whether or not a prairie – or a prairie landscape – is “healthy” or “high quality.”

A common refrain in prairie conservation goes something like this; “If we have our full complement of grassland birds in this prairie and/or landscape, it’s a good bet that all the other species are also doing well.”

Unfortunately, while prairie birds are relatively easy to study and monitor, they may not do a good job of reflecting how the rest of the prairie is doing.  Let’s look at some of the most important attributes of prairies and some of their major threats – and consider how well birds correlate with them.

Posted In: Birds, Science
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Salmon Cam Returns

We’re pleased to return Salmon Cam, a live view of spawning Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout.

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