Biology department breaks ground on prairie project

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Missouri Western is in the process of re-establishing a prairie for business and pleasure.

Partnering with the Missouri Department of Conservation, Western is set to start demolishing the plant life on about 19 acres of land across from campus right by the American Family Insurance building, south side of Mitchell. An herbicide was applied last fall and a pre-emergent herbicide will be planted this spring in order to kill all invasive species of plants.

Ecologist Thomas Bragg from the University of Nebraska Omaha consulted the department on where to place the prairie and gave some advice on prairie maintenance and getting started.

Missourian prairies are a stretch of land that has many small plants coexisting together, like wildflowers, forbes flowers, compass plants and tall grass. What makes prairies unique compared to other ecosystems is their maintenance, which consists of fire and damaging the plants.

Planting will take place in either in the fall or winter of 2018 and will take anywhere from three to five years before it starts resembling a prairie. This is due to prairie plants storing energy in their root systems before focusing on the above ground plants.

Mark Mills, associate professor of biology, said having the prairie on campus will be great for experiments and for students, faculty and the community.

“It will be a place where faculty and students can do experiments, student-faculty research and community outreach. When this is finally done we envision things like high school biology classes coming to this prairie. We envision gardening classes and groups, cub scouts, girl scouts, local audubon society,”

Having the prairie on campus would allow for outdoor experiments that could not be done in a patch of current day Missouri land. Prairie land would allow for studying of competition amongst different types of plants, the effect of different treatment of the prairie and have the opportunity to examine specific species within the prairie to see if a certain management favors any certain species. Insects. Pollinators. Small mammals.

The MDC will be supplying the seeds for the prairie, alleviating the cost of re-establishing the prairie. Student, faculty and the MDC will be volunteering their time towards the project.

Mills said having student volunteers will be beneficial for the department but also for the students future careers.

“Prairie restoration is a big deal right now in terms of those kinds of jobs. So when they get these jobs they will be doing this kind of work that they could get experience from right on campus. If you have that on your resume, that would be a definite plus,” Mills said.