NSF-DEB #2016324, Collaborative Research: The Roles of Community Assembly and Consumer Impacts in Shaping Ecosystem Function


This NSF grant, awarded to Dr. Holly Jones and me, studies how trait-based plant community assembly and grazing affect ecosystem function in tallgrass prairies. In 2021, we established a unique biodiversity-ecosystem function experiment in which realistic plant community plots vary in their functional traits, based on our long-term monitoring sites in the restored and remnant prairies at Nachusa Grasslands. We also simulate bison grazing in these plots using stable isotope-derived estimates of real bison feeding patterns and measure the outcomes for ecosystem functions like productivity, nutrient cycling, and litter decomposition.

The results from these plots will then contribute to models to predict community-ecosystem patterns at Nachusa, which we can test in the field. In this way, we can contribute to basic ecological knowledge while helping prairie managers predict the ecosystem consequences of these diverse grasslands.

This project has special education and outreach components. The experiment is established as part of the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability. We both teach conservation biology classes at our universities, so research-based grassland lab activities will be linked between the classes starting in Fall 2022. The grant also connects SDSU's and other universities' chapters of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in STEM to bring students on exchange and networking trips between the universities.


June 2022: The CAPER and PRISM teams joined forces for two days of intense sampling at Nachusa, continuing our amazingly consistent multi-year record of scheduling soil sampling on the hottest days of the year. But we worked efficiently and avoided the worst of the heat. Camille will use these samples to examine relationships between plant trait diversity and soil processes under the influence of grazing. Click here to see pictures.

May 2022: Five SDSU SACNAS members, plus Nick and SACNAS co-advisor Thelma Chavez, traveled to Illinois to meet researchers and students in the Chicago area. Along with NIU students, we visited Nachusa Grasslands and the CAPER experiment, and Northwestern University's SACNAS students hosted us at their downtown medical campus. This was a great opportunity for students to talk with peers, and SDSU students hope to help NIU students relaunch NIU's SACNAS chapter, which went inactive during the pandemic. Click here for pictures of the visit.

Summer 2021: Thanks to our hard-working student and technicians, and support from NIU, we set up experiment in June. We planted 156 prairie mesocosm plots, in which each plot contains 8 to 12 species to create both richness and functional diversity gradients.  Click here to see pictures of us establishing the experiment.