TNC: Prairie Restoration with Wild Seeds


Closeup of Baldwin’s Ironweed, a common tallgrass prairie plant, by Patricia D. Duncan via WikiMedia Commons. 1974.

The word “restoration” might bring to mind an artistic connotation of preservation and repair, as in a World Heritage Site, but lately where we’ve seen it the most is in an ecological sense: whether it’s wildlife in a forest, algae control in wetlands, or coral health in the oceans. Whole landscapes can be restored to an extent, as in the case of Tianjin, China, where forests and wetlands are being rebuilt while also studying the effectivity of different strategies.

That’s part of what The Nature Conservancy has been doing in the prairies of Minnesota, rebuilding the diverse grasses that used to exist in a landscape that was fragmented and degraded by huge farms during the last century. Justin Meissen and Meredith Cornett, two of the co-authors on a paper recently published in Restoration Ecology, report for the TNC blog:

Glacial Ridge is truly huge — at ~36,700 acres it’s one of the few places on Earth where you can look to all horizons and experience what early American pioneers once called the “sea of grass.”

But it wasn’t always like this. Only a few years ago Glacial Ridge was a patchwork of mostly farm land and a few prairie remnants. So what was the Nature Conservancy’s prescription for bringing this massive landscape back to life? Seeds — lots of seeds.

Restorationists use native seeds to bring back ecosystems for a variety of reasons. For one, relying on seed could make restorations more resilient in the long run, allowing local conditions to favor individuals best suited to their environment. From a practical standpoint, seeds are easy to store and transport. But most importantly, seeds are easy to plant. For instance, The Nature Conservancy was able to sow seed on nearly 200 acres a day at Glacial Ridge. But restoring an entire landscape requires vast amounts of seed. Case in point, the Glacial Ridge Project used more than 500 metric tons of seed.

Read the rest of Meissen and Cornett’s blog post here.

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