Research Information for Teachers

Rieth Village and Merry Lea are home to a variety of ongoing research projects, some of which undergraduate students assist with during their time at Rieth Village.

Measuring Efficiency of Constructed Wetland

research2Lisa Zinn was a professor of natural history and research methods in Merry Lea’s graduate program from 2002 to 2015. She conducted research that examined Rieth Village’s wastewater treatment facility’s effectiveness at removing certain chemicals from the wastewater.

Specifically, Lisa measured the levels of certain chemicals found in anti-bacterial soap in wetland input and output to determine the wetland’s effectiveness at removing these chemicals.

In this photo, students collect water samples from Rieth Village’s constructed wetland wastewater treatment facility for testing.

Prairie Restoration and Grazing

research3We define ecological restoration as a human endeavor that requires our continual engagement with natural processes (it is often careful “tinkering”). Therefore, restoration projects are reliant on effectively blendingecological systems within social/economic systems.

Specifically, the restoration of tallgrass prairies requires consistent management using processes foundational to grassland systems: fire and grazing. To date, most prairie restoration projects have not included grazers, and if included, they have been limited to cattle or bison. This may be an oversight as ten to twelve thousand years ago, a Serengeti-like multitude of Pleistocene grazers lived in North American grasslands, which included grazers of diverse body sizes such as equids, camelids, peccaries, elk, goats, and deer to name a few.

Grassland research in East Africa suggests that the coexistence of grazers of varying body size relates to forage quality preferences unique to each species. In turn, these grazing preferences have large effects on plant diversity, nutrient cycling, and primary productivity. We, however, lack an understanding of whether similar processes were important in structuring tallgrass prairie systems.

The long-term goal of the Tallgrass Prairie Multi-species Grazing Project is to engage the local agricultural sector in addressing the following kinds of questions. Can our current agricultural grazers serve as useful surrogates to test the role of multi-species grazing in prairies? Can a prairie economy be blended with the current agricultural economy by “restoring” a suite of grazers such as horses, sheep, cattle/bison, deer, and even chickens to systems dominated by native grasses? Can the integration of livestock grazing and prairie restoration facilitate the restoration of more acreage of native grasses?

As a first step in a larger Tallgrass Grazing Project, we have begun a grazing “exclusion” experiment at Merry Lea to test the effect of white tail deer browsing on prairie forbs. In the summer of 2008, we erected two 20 m X 20 m exclosures that prevent deer browsing in order to quantify which plant species deer preferentially select. In the spring of 2009 we will burn the prairie and collect a set of plant data. This is a pilot project to set the stage for the development of a large-scale multi-species grazing experiment.

For information about research as part of the Agroecology program, visit the Agroecologyhomepage.