Students at the University of Cincinnati, in partnership with Great Parks of Hamilton County, conducted a prairie survey of three prairies surrounding the UCCFS. They compared prairies of different ages, and surveyed prairie history, prescribed burns, and analyzed species diversity. This is part of an ongoing interest in prairie restoration at the UCCFS, which has been working to convert old farmland back into prairies for over 15 years.
What is a prairie?
A prairie is an ecosystem found in North America. It is characterised by its flat and temperate grasslands which feature many species of grass and wildflowers. They are a result of geological changes that occurred in North America a long time ago. This, coupled with stressors such as climate, grazing from mammals like the American Buffalo, and fire created the ecosystem we see today. These grasslands can be divided into three categories: the tallgrass, midgrass and shortgrass prairie.
What are prescribed burns/fires?
Prescribed fires are a tool to manage the prairie ecosystem. Although it may sound confusing at first, fires are a vital part of keeping this ecosystem healthy. Trained professionals set controlled fires to certain parts of the prairie in order to prevent invasive species from being where they don’t belong. Most plants, however, benefit from these fires. Many species need the fire in order to bloom, sprout, or seed. By adapting to these conditions, prairies enjoy a diversity of plants which keep its soil healthy.
Why are prairies so important?
Prairies are a vital ecosystem. Though it is easy to mistake the endless grasslands for empty space, the prairie is a diverse ecosystem, home to numerous species of plants, birds, insects, mammals, and even reptiles. As a matter of fact, you may have a slice of prairie in your own garden. Species like black-eyed Susan and the purple coneflower are prairie natives that are commonly found in urban landscapes. Prairies are complex, and one of the many cool features of this habitat is their ability to sequester a lot of carbon, with some prairies being able to store more carbon than forests. In addition, some prairie plants have roots that can reach over 12 feet into the ground. The complex system of roots provide structure and nourishment for the soil, prevent erosion, and store large amounts of organic matter.