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KNZ

Konza Prairie LTER

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A bison herd is maintained on Konza Prairie for research into the role of grazing on the ecology of the tallgrass prairie
KNZ
The focal site for the Konza Prairie LTER program is the Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS). KPBS is a 3,487 hectare native tallgrass prairie field research station owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University. KPBS is located in the Flint Hills region of northeastern Kansas (39°05'N, 96°35'W). The Flint Hills encompasses over 50,000 km2 throughout much of eastern Kansas from near the Kansas-Nebraska border south into northeastern Oklahoma and contains the largest remaining area of unplowed tallgrass prairie in North America. The vegetation at KPBS is primarily (>90%) native tallgrass prairie, dominated by perennial C4 grasses, but numerous sub-dominant grasses, forbs and woody species contribute to its high floristic diversity.

The focal site for the Konza Prairie LTER program is the Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS). KPBS is a 3,487 hectare native tallgrass prairie preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University and operated as a field research station by the K-State Division of Biology. KPBS is located in the Flint Hills region of northeastern Kansas (39°05'N, 96°35'W). The Flint Hills are steep-sloped and overlain by shallow limestone soils unsuitable for cultivation. This region encompasses over 50,000 km2 throughout much of eastern Kansas from near the Kansas-Nebraska border south into northeastern Oklahoma and contains the largest remaining area of unplowed tallgrass prairie in North America. KPBS has a continental climate characterized by warm, wet summers and dry, cold winters. Mean annual precipitation (835 mm) is sufficient to support woodland or savanna vegetation; consequently, drought, fire and grazing are important in maintaining this grassland. The site is topographically complex (320 to 444 m asl), and soil type and depth varying with topographic position. In general, lowland soils are silty clay loams formed from thick colluvial and alluvial deposits and may extend to 2 m. Hillside and upland soils are similar, but much shallower. These soils overlay as many as 10 distinct layers of alternating limestone and shale, contributing to the complex subsurface hydrology of the region.

The vegetation at KPBS is primarily (>90%) native tallgrass prairie, dominated by perennial C4 grasses, such as Andropogon gerardii, Sorghastrun nutans, Panicum virgatum and A. scoparius. Numerous sub-dominant grasses, forbs and woody species contribute to its high floristic diversity. The KPBS biota includes >600 plant, 40 mammal, >200 bird, 34 reptile and amphibian, 20 fish, and >700 identified invertebrate species. Kings Creek, a USGS Benchmark Stream, originates on and traverses 10 km across KPBS. Gallery forests dominated by Quercus spp. and Celtis occidentalis occur along major stream courses. Several agricultural fields and restored prairies occur near headquarters. Overall, the site has most features representative of the pre-settlement tallgrass prairie, with fire and large native herbivores incorporated as a shifting mosaic. Thus, Konza Prairie serves as a benchmark for detecting and exploring the causes and consequences of environmental change taking place throughout the grasslands of the eastern Central Plains, with results relevant to mesic grasslands worldwide.

The Konza LTER program is built upon a long-term database on ecological patterns and processes derived from a fully replicated watershed-level experimental design, in place at KPBS since 1977. This design includes replicate watersheds subject to different fire and grazing treatments. In addition to these watershed-level manipulations, the Konza LTER program includes a number of long-term plot-level experiments. The effects of climate are addressed by long-term studies encompassing the natural climatic variability, and possible directional changes, characteristic of this region, as well as manipulations of water availability and stream hydrology in field experiments. Within core LTER watersheds, permanent sampling transects are replicated at various topographic positions (n=4/topo. position/watershed), where ANPP, plant species composition, plant and consumer populations, soil properties, and key above- and belowground processes are measured. Stream weirs and permanent sampling locations facilitate long-term data collection in grassland streams. The collection of diverse data from common sampling locations facilitates integration among our research groups.

Facilities available at KPBS includes the 4,650 ft2 Hulbert Center housing a library/conference room, classroom, offices, teaching laboratory, reference herbarium and animal collections, and dormitory-style housing for 15 visitors. Two new 2-bedroom cottages can house an additional 10 visiting researchers. The 2,400 ft2 Ecology Laboratory includes 2 analytical labs, a soil and root processing lab, a computer room, and researchers’ shop. Other station buildings include a fire station and shop/maintenance building, storage for research equipment, materials, and archived samples, and a residence for on-site staff. All KPBS headquarters buildings have T1 Internet connectivity. Other field equipment and instrumentation at the site includes an eddy flux tower for quantifying ecosystem-level C flux, four weirs and associated stream gauging equipment, 46 wells for monitoring groundwater levels and chemistry, numerous TDR probes and neutron access tubes for soil water measurements. On-site monitoring instrumentation includes a CIMEL Sun Photometer, a USGS stream monitoring station, Climate Reference Network (CRN) weather station, and wet (NADP) and dry-deposition (CASTNet) monitoring facilities.

Further information about KPBS is available at http://kpbs.konza.ksu.edu/, and additional information about the Konza Prairie LTER Program can be accessed at www.konza.ksu.edu.

Short history: 
The Konza Prairie Biological Station was founded in 1971 under the leadership of Professor Lloyd Hulbert (KSU). Several adjoining tracts, including the 2,923 hectare historic Dewey Ranch were purchased between 1971 and 1979. The station lands were purchased for KSU by The Nature Conservancy with funds provided by Katharine Ordway. The site was originally named Konza Prairie Research Natural Area for the Konza Indians, a native American tribe that once inhabited the region, and was re-named Konza Prairie Biological Station in 2000. Konza Prairie was one of 6 original LTER sites selected by NSF in 1981 and is now in its fifth funding cycle (LTER V: 2002-2008). With each successive funding cycle, LTER research goals at Konza Prairie have been redirected and expanded, but the emphasis on fire, grazing and climate together with long-term studies in each of the 5 core areas have been, and continue to be, a baseline research effort that receives high priority.
History: 

The primary research site for the Konza Prairie LTER program is the Konza Prairie Biological Station, a 3,487-hectare native tallgrass prairie preserve jointly owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University and located in the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas. The Konza Prairie Biological Station was founded in 1971 under the leadership of Professor Lloyd C. Hulbert of Kansas State University, culminating years of dedicated efforts to establish a field station dedicated to ecological research in the tallgrass prairie region. Several adjoining tracts of land in Riley and Geary counties, including the 2,923 hectare historic Dewey Ranch, were purchased between 1971 and 1979 for Kansas State University by The Nature Conservancy with funds provided by Katharine Ordway. The site was named after the Kansa Indians, a Native American tribe that once inhabited the region. The original name was the Konza Prairie Research Natural Area, and it was re-named the Konza Prairie Biological Station in 2000, to better reflect its mission as a biological field station dedicated to research, education and conservation.

Konza Prairie was one of 6 original LTER sites selected by NSF in 1980, and our LTER research program began in 1981, although some datasets extend back further in time as a result of prior data collection. Like all LTER sites, the Konza Prairie LTER program (KNZ) began with research that included the five original LTER “core” areas: (1) patterns and controls of primary production, (2) spatial and temporal dynamics of key populations, (3) patterns and controls of organic matter accumulation in surface layers and sediments, (4) patterns of inorganic input and movements through soils, groundwater, and surface water, and (5) patterns and frequency of disturbances to the system. From its inception, the KNZ program explicitly recognized fire, grazing by large ungulates, and climatic variability as three critical and interactive drivers that determine the structure and function of tallgrass prairies and that are relevant to the LTER core areas. KNZ LTER research incorporated the unique watershed-level prescribed fire treatments that were part of the KPBS site experimental plan. With each successive funding cycle, LTER research goals at Konza Prairie have been refined, refocused and expanded, but the emphasis on fire, grazing and climate together with long-term studies in each of the five core areas have been, and continue to be, a baseline research effort that receives high priority. Below is a brief synopsis of the research themes and key personnel associated with each of the LTER funding cycles.

LTER I (1980-1985). A group of KSU faculty led by G. Richard Marzolf in collaboration with Dean Bark, Lloyd C. Hulbert, Mike Johnson, Robert Robel and John L. Zimmerman was responsible for securing funding for LTER I, and focusing the initial research program on comparative investigations of biotic responses to fire and climatic variability. Long-term research sites and sampling protocols were established during this period with an emphasis on studies of the extremes of annually burned vs. unburned watersheds and upland vs. lowland sites. Many of these research sites and datasets, established at the onset of the KNZ LTER program, have continued as “core” components of our LTER program.

LTER II (1986-1990). During LTER II, Marzolf left KSU and Donald Kaufman and Timothy Seastedt expanded our LTER research efforts to include a wider range of fire frequencies (specifically 4-yr fire cycles) and increased exploration of ecosystem responses. An increased emphasis was placed on soil processes, and new plot-level experiments (e.g., the Belowground Plot Experiment) were initiated. Moreover, as a result of the collaborative NASA funded FIFE (First ISLSCP Field Experiment) program from 1987-1989, LTER researchers began to address more complex questions of scale and make use of remotely-sensed satellite data to explore landscape-level issues.

LTER III (1991-1996). Prior to leaving KSU in 1991, Seastedt provided leadership in defining the research objectives for LTER III. Leadership and administration during LTER III were provided by Alan Knapp and John Briggs, with co-PIs David Hartnett and Don Kaufman serving in advisory roles. LTER III represented a significant expansion of the Konza Prairie LTER program in terms of both research emphasis and scientific investigators. New faculty scientists added during LTER III included Walter Dodds (1991, Aquatic Ecology), John Blair (1992, Soil and Ecosystem Ecology), and Loretta Johnson (1995, Plant and Ecosystem Ecology). The primary goals of LTER III were to understand how grazing influences biotic and ecosystem processes and patterns imposed by fire frequency over the landscape mosaic, all of which are subjected to a variable (and possibly directional) climatic regime. The additional research associated with large ungulate grazing and an expanded landscape perspective led to the establishment of several challenging studies, many of which are ongoing. These new initiatives were designed to complement programs at other LTER sites as well as enhance efforts within the LTER core areas.

LTER IV (1996-2002). Leadership during LTER IV was provided by Alan Knapp, John Blair and John Briggs, with co-PIs Hartnett, Kaufman, Dodds and Johnson. Briggs left KSU in 1998, but remained an active researcher and Co-PI in the LTER Program. Blair assumed administrative responsibilities in 1999 (mid-funding cycle). During LTER IV, we built on existing long-term studies of fire, grazing and climatic variability with a broadly-based research program encompassing studies from the organismic through population, community, and ecosystem levels. LTER research expanded to include studies of climate change, net carbon exchange, restoration ecology and land use/land cover change. These studies were linked via an overarching theme that addresses the major abiotic and biotic factors influencing this ecosystem and explicitly includes a non-equilibrium perspective on ecological patterns and processes in this grassland (Knapp et al. 1998). New KSU faculty scientists added during LTER IV included Ari Jumpponen (1999, Fungal Ecology), Karen Garrett (1999, Plant Disease Ecology), Kimberly With (2000, Landscape Ecology), Brett Sandercock (2000, Avian Ecology), Carolyn Ferguson (2001, Plant Systematics), and Keith Gido (2001, Aquatic Ecology).

LTER V (2002-2008). LTER V was led by Blair, with Knapp, Briggs, Hartnett and Johnson, Dodds and Kaufman as Co-PIs. Knapp left KSU in 2003, but remained an active participant. The goals of the Konza LTER V program were three-fold:: 1) to continue and expand the strong core LTER experiments on fire, grazing and climatic variability begun over 20 years ago, with the goal of improving our understanding of the major abiotic and biotic factors determining grassland structure and function; 2) to further develop a mechanistic and predictive understanding of grassland dynamics and responses to multiple global change phenomena, using ongoing and new long-term experiments and datasets, coupled with shorter-term supporting studies; 3) to expand our synthesis activities based on LTER results, and use these syntheses to develop and test current ecological theory. Our LTER experiments explicitly addressed the major drivers of ecological dynamics in these grasslands, and their interactions with global change phenomena at local and regional scales. A major new emphasis of the Konza LTER program was global change and the responses of grassland ecosystems. We define global change broadly as human-induced alterations in climate, land-use, hydrologic and biogeochemical cycles, and species introductions. We focused our LTER studies on aspects of global change most relevant to grasslands: changes in land use (especially fire and grazing regimes) and land cover (increases in woody cover); climate change; altered nutrient cycles (enhanced N deposition); and biological invasions. New KSU faculty scientists added during LTER V included Tony Joern (Insect Ecology, 2003) and Samantha Wisely (2003, Wildlife Ecology), along with an increased number of investigators from other institutions.

LTER VI (2008-2014). LTER VI is being led by John Blair, with co-PIs Dodds, Hartnett, Joern and Nippert. The Konza LTER program continues to address fundamental ecological questions, but with increased emphasis on the consequences of global change for ecological dynamics in grasslands, a theme relevant to understanding, managing and conserving grasslands worldwide. We focus on long-term responses to facets of global change most relevant to grasslands and grassland streams – changes in land-use (fire and grazing regimes, grassland restoration) and land-cover (particularly increases in woody plant cover); climate change and altered hydrology; and altered nutrient cycles (enhanced N deposition) – and we couple long-term observations with manipulative studies to provide mechanistic explanations for these responses. Our research also addresses a suite of biotic interactions (competition, mutualism, predation, herbivory) in grasslands, and will continue to provide insight into a broad range of general ecological phenomena. Many of the long-term experiments and datasets initiated in previous LTER grants are being continued in LTER VI, while several new experiments and datasets are initiated. We continue to use LTER data to promote formal integration and synthesis to advance ecological understanding of this and other ecosystems. During LTER VI, we continued and expanded support for research by scientists in other departments at KSU (John Harrington, Geography; Stacey Hutchinson, Civil Engineering; Kendra McLauchlin, Geography; Kevin Price, Agronomy) and from other institutions (Sara Baer and Matt Whiles, University of Southern Illinois; Alan Knapp and Melinda Smith, Colorado State University; Nate Brunsell and Gwen Macpherson; University of Kansas; Gail Wilson, Oklahoma State University).

Short research topics: 
The Konza Prairie LTER Program is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary research program designed to provide an understanding of ecological processes in mesic grasslands, particularly tallgrass prairie, and contribute to conceptual and theoretical advances in the field of ecology. Some current areas of interest include : grassland ecology; effects of fire, grazing and climatic variability as essential and interactive factors affecting the structure and function of mesic grassland ecosystems; patterns and controls of productivity; plant-herbivore interactions; soil ecology; spatial and temporal dynamics of plant and animal populations and communities; landscape ecology; grassland responses to climatic variability and climate change.

The Konza Prairie LTER Program is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary research program designed to provide an understanding of ecological processes in mesic grasslands, particularly tallgrass prairie, and contribute to conceptual and theoretical advances in the field of ecology. The Konza Prairie LTER program also offers educational and training opportunities for students at all levels, contributes knowledge to address land-use and management issues in grasslands, and provides infrastructure and data in support of scientific pursuits across a broad range of disciplines. Konza was one of 6 original LTER sites, and pre-LTER research extends selected datasets back >28 years. The focal site for our core LTER research is the Konza Prairie Biological Station, a 3487-ha area of native tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas. The KPBS was established in 1971, with land acquired by the Nature Conservancy and deeded to Kansas State University, and the site became a part of the LTER Network in 1981. The Konza LTER program encompasses studies at, and across, multiple ecological levels and a variety of spatial and temporal scales. The unifying conceptual framework guiding this research has been that fire, grazing and climatic variability are essential and interactive factors shaping the structure and function of mesic grassland ecosystems. The interplay of these natural disturbances across a heterogeneous landscape leads to the high species diversity and complex, non-linear behavior characteristic of these grassland ecosystems. Because grazing and fire regimes are managed in grasslands worldwide, Konza LTER data are relevant not only for understanding this and other grasslands, but also for addressing broader ecological issues such as productivity-diversity relationships, disturbance and community stability, top down vs. bottom up controls of ecological processes, and the interplay of mutualistic and antagonistic biotic interactions. In addition, because human activities are directly (management of grazing and fire) and indirectly (changes in atmospheric chemistry and climate) altering the key drivers of ecological processes in these grasslands we are poised to use Konza LTER studies and data to address critical issues related to global change, including the ecology of invasions, land-use and land-cover change, human activities and water quality, and ecosystem responses to climate change. Thus, this long-term research program initiated >20 years ago to understand the effects of natural disturbances in this grassland, now has additional and immediate relevance for understanding and predicting the consequences of global change taking place in the grasslands of North America, and around the world.

The Konza LTER program continues to build upon a long-term database on ecological patterns and processes derived from a fully replicated watershed-level experimental design, in place since 1977. This unique experimental design includes replicate watersheds subject to different fire and grazing treatments, as well as a number of long-term plot-level experiments which allow us to address the mechanisms underlying responses to various fire and grazing regimes. The effects of climate are being addressed by long-term studies encompassing the natural climatic variability, and possible directional changes, characteristic of this region, as well as manipulations of water availability and temperature in ongoing field experiments (i.e., the Irrigation Transect Study and the Rainfall Manipulation Plots (RaMPs Experiment). Within core LTER watersheds, permanent sampling transects are replicated at various topographic positions (n=4/topo. position/watershed), where ANPP, plant species composition, plant and consumer populations, soil properties, and key above- and belowground processes are measured. The collection of diverse data from common sampling locations facilitates integration among our research groups. In total, the Konza LTER Program incorporates explicit study of the major factors influencing mesic grasslands in a long-term experimental setting. It is a rigorous ecological research program designed to elucidate patterns and processes inherently important in grasslands, and address the potential impacts of global change in these ecosystems. Towards this end, we currently maintain >70 long-term datasets in association with long-term experiments ongoing as part of this program, and many more research activities of planned shorter duration.

116 Ackert Hall
Konza LTER Program, Division of Biology
Kansas State University
Manhattan
KS
66506-0112
USA
785-532-7065
785-532-6653
Tallgrass Prairie
elevation comment: 
Data Source: Collins/Waide. class data. 2008. not published yet.
latitude comment: 
Data Source: LTER Site Characteristics Database. http://www.lternet.edu/sites/knz
Longitude_comment: 
Data Source: LTER Site Characteristics Database. http://www.lternet.edu/sites/knz
ecosystem comment: 
Data Source: GreenLand, D., G. G. Goodin., R. C., Smith. 2003. An Introduction to Climate Variability and Ecosystem Response. p8. In Climate Variability and Ecosystem Response at Long-Term Ecological Research Sites. Oxford University Press

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