Colorado mountains
From Long-Term Data to Understanding: Toward a Predictive Ecology
2015 LTER ASM Estes Park, CO - August 30 - September 2, 2015

The Konza Prairie LTER Program: Assessing Mechanisms of Sensitivity and Resilience to Global Change

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Poster Number: 
Presenter/Primary Author: 
John Blair
Sara Baer
Walter Dodds
Tony Joern
Jesse Nippert

The Konza Prairie LTER program (KNZ) is a comprehensive ecological research, education and outreach program, centered on one of the most productive grasslands in North America – the tallgrass prairie. KNZ research explicitly addresses fire, grazing and climatic variability as three critical and interactive drivers that affect ecological dynamics in grasslands worldwide. Our research is facilitated by a site-based, watershed-level fire and grazing experiment, and a network of permanent sampling sites and intensively monitored streams, complemented with long- and short-term plot-level and stream-reach experiments. KNZ studies span multiple levels of biological organization and a broad range of spatial and temporal scales. Long-term datasets (many that span >30 yrs) address key ecological processes such as nutrient cycling, primary productivity, and population and community dynamics of plants and consumers. In total, these studies address the major abiotic drivers (climate and fire) and biotic interactions (herbivory, competition, mutualism, and predation) that shape grassland communities and ecosystems. Current KNZ research builds upon a legacy of these long-term studies to address the influence of multiple global change drivers and the effectiveness of grassland restoration on the sustainability and dynamics of grasslands, and to contribute to the advancement of ecology through synthesis and integration of data from short- and long-term studies. The research is organized around four major themes (land-use change, climatic variability, altered biogeochemical cycles, and restoration ecology) and builds on a 30-yr foundation of long-term experiments and measurements in terrestrial and aquatic grassland ecosystems. Watershed- and plot-level experiments at Konza Prairie have altered fire, grazing, climate, nutrient availability in ways that have created a range of different ecological states and legacies. New research will couple ongoing long-term observations and experiments with new studies to (1) test and refine conceptual and theoretical models of community and ecosystem change, and (2) provide new insights into the mechanisms underlying ecological responses to critical environmental and land-use changes.