Understanding our environment

Ecological setting

Forest meets prairie

Prairie meets forest in northeastern Kansas.

The University of Kansas Field Station is located within the prairie-forest ecotone of the central U.S. This climatic transition zone between the eastern deciduous forest and the tallgrass prairie exhibits strong east-west environmental gradients, including rapid decline in precipitation. Because of its ecotonal location, Field Station lands represent a wide variety of ecosystems and is well-suited for studying effects of climate change on a variety of ecological phenomena.

Habitats

Tallgrass prairie
Large tracts of native tallgrass prairie are available for research. Fire, grazing and haying are principal management tools. These prairies support many prairie obligate species.

Oak-hickory forest
Native forests, although rare regionally, are part of the Field Station portfolio. One forest is nationally recognized as a premier oak-hickory stand at the extreme western edge of the eastern deciduous forest. A diverse community of plants and animals, many near the western margin of their ranges, is found here.

Managed land and altered habitats
Before the settlement by Euro-americans that began in the mid-19th century, the region was dominated by native prairie, with smaller amounts of native forest and savanna. Actions of these settlers — suppression of fire, cultivation (plowing) of prairie, cutting of forests, introductions of non-native species — greatly altered the landscape. As is typical of the region, the majority of Field Station lands have been altered by human activities. In combination with extant native communities, this provides an unusually rich mosaic of habitats available for study.

Successional woodlands (fields with aggregating forest following abandonment from agriculture)
Sites vary in age, land use history and community composition.

Reseeded (restored) prairie
Former agricultural fields seeded to warm season grasses and restorations at various times back to 1956, including areas seeded in early (1989) Conservation Reserve Program plantings.

Cool-season grasslands
Former agricultural fields planted to cool-season grasses (primarily Bromus inermis) and used for pasture or hay production. These fields, which have varying land use histories, provide a canvas for many manipulative studies.

Agricultural production lands
Lands under current agricultural management are available to researchers. Research may be integrated into a production system, or lands may be removed from production to accommodate research.

Aquatic habitats
Natural and constructed features provide a diverse set of aquatic systems for study.

Constructed wetlands
Systems of differing size and depth are available for study.

Headwater streams
Lotic systems are represented by a series of perennial and intermittent streams.

Frank B. Cross Reservoir
This 3-hectare, 13-meter-deep reservoir is located within 1 kilometer of the research field office.

Experimental ponds and farm ponds
More than 100 experimental ponds and farm ponds are available for study. Some have fish communities; others do not.
 


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