Tallgrass prairies in some parts of South Dakota have been reduced to a fraction of their natural land cover due to agriculture and crop production. Meghann Jarchow, Ph.D., sustainability coordinator and assistant biology professor at USD, is testing how diversity and disturbance affect these prairies.

“Almost all of our remaining tallgrass prairies are actively managed by people,” Jarchow said. “This research will help us to understand how the timing of our management affects the composition and functioning of the prairies.”

USD graduate students Eva Soluk and Adam Warrix are working with Jarchow at the Comparing Managed Prairie Systems (COMPS) experiment north of Vermillion, which includes 192 plots 5 meters by 5 meters in size that are seeded with different species of grasses and wildflowers.

Researchers cut and remove hay from the plots in either May, July or September. Then, the COMPS researchers look at how management can impact a newly restored tallgrass prairie and how a restored prairie develops over time.

“There are many unique plant species and fascinating wildlife that live in tallgrass prairies,” Soluk said. “They also provide buffering from floods, reduced nutrient pollution and provide a population of natural crop pest predators.”

Download a photo: USD graduate student Eva Soluk mows a section of tallgrass prairie near Vermillion, S.D., that's part of a research project.

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