Nick Fetty | September 25, 2014
Students at Iowa State University are learning about ecology and other sciences hands on through the Oakridge Research and Educational Prairie right on campus.
The prairie was established in March 2012 as a way to “test how mammalian herbivores affect and are affected by plant diversity.” The researchers planted roughly an acre and a half of prairie on land that was previously used for rotating crops. Sections of the prairie varied from roughly 14 prairie species to as many as 51 species. Early in the project the prairie was inundated with agricultural weeds but after the first couple of years the prairie plants were expected to establish themselves. However, “[n]ext year, the prairie will be burned and dead plant material will be cleared out, killing the invasive species that affect it.”
A 2012 study of small mammals living in the prairie concluded that the prairie vole was the most-common species with 122 of these rodents captured then released. This was followed by the western harvest mouse (97) then the deer mouse (79). However future studies will need to conducted “to determine the effects of plant diversity on small mammal populations.”
In addition to studying plant and animal life, the prairie also teaches students “how to retain and improve productive soil.”