Prairie Remnants, Restorations & Reconstructions

February 26, 2020 | Blog, Education

By Carol Davit, Executive Director, Missouri Prairie Foundation
Photo: Bruce Schuette

MPF’s mission is to protect and restore original, unplowed prairie and other native grassland communities, like glades and savannas. Our properties contain remnants of original, unplowed prairie—some of which we have restored—and also acreage that has been altered, such as converted to row crops, that we reconstruct to prairie plantings.

These terms can sometimes be confusing. Below are definitions of these words that MPF uses to describe our work to protect as much original prairie as possible, and to establish reconstructions via prairie plantings.

Remnant: an original, unplowed habitat, often much reduced from a larger, intact original landscape

Restoration: enhancing a site that has been degraded by disturbances (e.g., overseeded to tall fescue and/or overgrazed, or invaded by trees), but has never been plowed 

Reconstruction: establishing a coarse replica of a natural community, like a prairie, from scratch on a previously row-cropped and plowed site, with a seeded planting. (Current condition of a site before reconstruction could be tall fescue, row crops, or previously disturbed land containing native or non-native weedy vegetation.)

In November 2019, an article published online in Restoration Ecology: “Are we close enough? Comparing prairie reconstruction chronosequences to remnants following two site preparation methods in Missouri, U.S.A.” underscores this point.

Written by Chris Newbold, Natural History Biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, and co-authors Benjamin Knapp and Lauren Pile, the article documents results of a study whereby diverse prairie plantings were established through reconstruction, but they did not reach the diversity and comparable species composition of nearby reference, remnant prairies. The article also stresses the importance of site preparation and improved seed collection and establishment techniques for more diverse reconstructions.

Protecting remnants is vital conservation work—because many elements of original prairie are irreplaceable. Establishing reconstructions is critical as well, to expand habitat for many species of grassland wildlife, improve health of watersheds, and store more carbon in the soil. In 2019, MPF seeded 155 acres at several sites with a diverse mix of seeds collected from remnants, and will continue these reconstruction projects in 2020, along with ongoing stewardship of our prairie remnants.

MPF supporters make our prairie protection and reconstruction work possible. Thank you.

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