Tag: prairie conservation

Bison Bellows and Bones: Student-Scientists on the Prairie

Editor’s Note: At the Samuel H. Ordway Prairie Preserve, students from Gustavus Adolphus College will soon be arriving to follow bison herds for the summer. This research program is not only taking an in-depth look at animal behavior, it’s also providing information on how to best manage bison on fenced reserves. Today, we’re running a previously published blog on last year’s student researchers at Ordway Prairie.

I’m in the back seat of the vehicle as two female college students drive around, listen to music and—in their words—“look for guys.”

Just another evening for students on break, right?

Well, not quite.

These students aren’t driving to a party, nor are they cruising around downtown. There is no town. For that matter, there’s no road.

We’re bouncing around mixed grass prairie in South Dakota, the four-wheel-drive pick-up thumping over ruts and rocks. The vehicle’s loaded with notebooks, GPS units and animal bones.

And the”guys”?

They’re large, shaggy and prone to bellowing, wallowing and urinating on themselves.

They’re bison bulls, the subject of these students’ summer research project.

Michelle Hulke and Mary Joy Sun, entering their sophomore years at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, have spent day after day recording the bison bulls’ fights, vocalizations and even tongue positions.

It’s a research effort aimed at determining if bison bull behavior can be managed to produce more genetically diverse herds in fenced preserves and ranches, the type of environments where most bison herds now roam.

Hulke and Sun are the sixth set of Gustavus Adolphus students to research herd behavior at The Nature Conservancy’s Samuel H. Ordway Prairie Preserve, a 7,800-acre grassland property near Leola. Each year, students at Gustavus Adolphus have the opportunity to participate in research projects following their freshmen year. The bison project has become one of the most popular.

Conservancy preserves and projects offer the perfect outdoor laboratories for undergraduate field research. The Conservancy employs mentors in the form of 550 scientists, and many projects already have a “science infrastructure”—the tools, established research protocols and housing and logistics that support fieldwork. Students learn not only science but also community relations, marketing and land management.

Preserves are places where budding scientists can develop their skills and contribute to meaningful conservation. It’s a place where tomorrow’s conservation leaders can gain field experience in spectacular settings.

In this case, that means living amongst bison herds.

Full Article

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.

Full Article


Forest Dilemmas

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Beginning Monday, July 21, join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

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Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

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