Free State Prairie

Free State Prairie Plot
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Published September 23, 2016
Location Kansas
Category Land Cover
Authors Helen Alexander, Julie Schwarting
License Attribution Non-Commercial - Creative Commons License


Free State Prairie is a 1.4 acre prairie restoration and community ecology experiment located at Free State High School, Lawrence, Kansas.  The project began in Fall 2013 when herbicide was used to kill exotic grasses on an abandoned football field on the far west side of the school campus.  In spring 2014, the entire site was drilled with prairie grass seeds.  The site was then divided into 18 experimental plots.  In spring 2014, three vegetation treatments were established with six replicates of each treatment.  In six of the plots, no forb (i.e. prairie wildflower) seed were sown.  In another six plots, a mixture of forb seed was sown at a rate typically used in prairie restorations.  The final six plots had forb seed sown at twice the seeding density.   Treatment locations were randomized at the field site.  These three treatments will likely lead to the development of different plant communities; these plots can thus be used to address a variety of hypotheses in plant, animal, and microbial ecology, as well as soil science. 

All work done at the site was done with the help from more than 30 people from Free State High School, KU, and the Lawrence community. Prairie plants have been successfully establishing at the site, although it will take many years for it to resemble a native prairie (weedy plants currently dominate the vegetation, as expected for this stage of the project).  An important goal of our work is for this project to build collaborations between scientists and high school students.  Along these lines, it is noteworthy that scientists have done soil coring at the site with the help of Free State students, extensive vegetation analysis, and have established smaller studies on plant-microbe interactions within the larger experiment.  Several Free State classes have visited the site to collect data or to work on projects.

In addition to the main site, a second "prairie demonstration site" was created in Spring 2014.   The goal was to create an "instant" prairie that can be used for education and outreach.  Free State High School students collected prairie seeds for this project in Fall 2013, germinated and grew them in their greenhouse in Spring 2014, and transplanted 3,000 seedlings to the 2500 sq. ft. demonstration site in late spring.  Again, more than 30 volunteers from KU and the Lawrence community and over 160 Free State students helped with this project. Prairie plants are now well established at the site and KU students and Free State students has begun collaborating on a field guide for the site.

Major funding was provided by the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund.

Contact information:

Helen Alexander

Julie Schwarting

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