To find the best solution, the United States Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program recently awarded a $2.2 million grant to two researchers in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM) and collaborators from the University of Indiana-Bloomington.
“There are millions of acres of highly disturbed and invaded rangelands in the world so identifying the causes of why native species are not re-establishing, and then developing methods to re-establish these plants will have huge economic and environmental impacts,” said Keith Owens, NREM department head.
While this five-year grant is for research on three different military bases in Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois, Karen Hickman and Gail Wilson, NREM professors awarded the grant, think the research will be applicable to all domestic lands.
“All of the research sites have invasive species problems,” Hickman said. “It’s a problem that is widespread throughout most of the United States.”
Research has shown there is lower plant diversity when invasive species are present; resulting in reduced bird abundance, fewer insects, fewer pollinators, fewer small mammals, etc. Reestablishing native species would result in improved ecosystem services from top to bottom.
“These invasive species often invade diverse, native grasslands, developing a monoculture of the invasive,” said Wilson. “This funding allows us to look at different ways to restore these invaded areas.”
Native plant species will not successfully establish without the presence of the correct soil microbes. Once the invasive plants are eradicated, it is very difficult to get the natives re-established. Native species will not germinate in soil previously occupied by invasive species.
“Our research suggests establishment of the natives can be improved through the addition of native soil to re-establish the native soil microbes,” Wilson said. “However, we have so little native grassland, can we afford to destroy what we have left and dig up soil from native grassland areas to use in restoration projects like this? Our research will develop new methods to re-establish natives without impacting native grasslands.”
The researchers will begin data collection in August and begin finding the most effective way to restore the soil health for native species plant life and greater ecosystem function.
“Federal funding for research is being reduced so gaining support of this magnitude speaks very well about the quality of the proposed research and the capabilities of the investigators,” said Owens. “This research grant is a large step in the invasive species program in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and furthers our leadership in this field.”
OSU receives grant to investigate redcedar, biofuels and water
STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma landowners have been hearing for years that removing the eastern redcedar trees from their property is essential for proper land management.
Aside from being an eyesore, the trees are extremely invasive, are an incredible fire danger, and large, open-grown trees can use upwards of 42 gallons of water a day during the summer. Research from Oklahoma State University has shown only a 2 percent to 5 percent water yield to streams from land encroached by cedar trees compared to about 10 percent from grass-dominated areas.
“In a year with normal or below normal rainfall, these trees use virtually every drop of water they come in contact with,” said Rod Will, silviculture professor in OSU’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management.
Since 2008, Chris Zou, ecohydrology assistant professor, Will and a team of researchers have been looking into the effects redcedar have on the amount of water entering our state‘s streams. With the infrastructure in place and preliminary information already collected, OSU was awarded a $500,000 USDA, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant to look at the effects of redcedar removal and switchgrass planting on water yield.
“We think we will have more water yield and better water quality when redcedar encroached areas are converted to switchgrass or returned to native prairie,” said Will. “This research touches on the state’s big three natural resource issues – water, biofuels and redcedar removal.”
With the grant, the team of OSU researchers plans to use the same plots of land used in its recent study to determine water usage of redcedar. By harvesting the trees from two of three plots, replanting one with switchgrass and leaving the other to regrow native prairie, the team can determine the benefits of cedar removal on water yield.
“Our long-term goal is to quantify the effects of biofuel feedstock selection and management scenarios on water yield and its associated quality,” said Zou. “Our overall objective is to parameterize a water budget and evaluate water quality for redcedar woodlands, intensively cropped switchgrass and extensively managed native grasslands.”
The study brings three potential benefits to Oklahoma. Removal of the invasive redcedars is number one. The trees are a suitable biofuel feedstock for both the production of gaseous and liquid fuel.
Number two will be the increased quality and quantity of available water for other uses. And finally, the removal of redcedar will allow restoration of native prairie or establishment of switchgrass as a dedicated feedstock for use in biomass energy production.
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