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Benefits of a Large-Scale Prairie Experiment (In Progress)

Project History

Description

Near campus exists an under-utilized living laboratory that could contribute significantly to student education and improve campus sustainability initiatives like iCAP. This 13-acre prairie experiment was established in 2018 with funding from a USDA grant. Across 96 plots, the project was designed to examine interactions between soil, microbes, prairie plants, agrochemicals, and bees with the goal of identifying best prairie restoration practices for habitat adjacent to crops. As an extension of this we are proposing to have students lead efforts to track ecosystems services within the plots including carbon sequestration in plants and soils. Over the last 3 years, 5 students conducted guided and independent research in this habitat and with funding from SSC we will significantly expand student involvement (5-10 per year) and research opportunities. In particular, we will make access to summer research more equitable by ensuring fair pay for students engaged. The outlined budget is largely allocated to student funding both during the summer and the semester (~$17.5K per year). This should allow a more diverse group of students participate. With supervised guidance by the research technicians that oversee the project, students will lead insect, soil, and plant sampling initiatives (costing ~$2K per year to dry large quantities of plant biomass) that will expose them to ecological and plant research techniques. Advanced students will also conduct independent research projects within the system and funds have been requested to support their independent projects (~$3K per year). At the end of the project we will have valuable data on carbon sequestered across treatments, other ecosystems services within the plots, and recommendations for future campus prairie plantings. 

Background

The Pollinator Habitat Restoration Experiment (PHRE) at the University of Illinois' Phillips Tract Research Area was established in 2018. The PHRE has partial support from a USDA-funded project awarded to Drs. Alexandra Harmon-Threatt and Anthony Yannarell to study the impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on native pollinators and soil ecology in restored habitats that are embedded in an agricultural landscape. In the fall of 2020, Dr. Harmon-Threatt proposed that restoration of 13 acres of formerly farmed land to native prairie represented carbon sequestration potential that could figure into the Illinois Climate Action Plan. With funding support from the Student Sustainability Committee, Drs. Harmon-Threatt and Yannarell began a research project in the summer of 2021 to investigate carbon stocks in the soil at the PHRE site with the help of a team of talented undergraduate researchers who are also conducting their own independent investigations related to pollinator health.

Project Team

  • Primary Contact:

    Alexandra Harmon-Threatt, Entomology

    Project Leader:

    Alexandra Harmon-Threatt, Entomology

    Team Members:

    • Anthony Yannarell, NRES
    • James Ellis, Prairie Research Institute
    • Vicente Aldunate, Integrated Biology
    • Jamilyn Martin, Integrated Biology / NRES
    • Kristine Schoenecker, NRES

Dates

  • Proposed November 13, 2020
    Proposed by Alexandra Harmon-Threatt and Anthony Yannarell
    Approved December 9, 2020
    Approved by Student Sustainability Committee, Land Water Air Group
    Started June 29, 2021
    Started by Alexandra Harmon-Threatt and Anthony Yannarell

Themes

Project Location(s)

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