Humans: a high impact species learning how to low impact walk

Native long grass prairie is the most endangered ecosystem in North America. Humans are the obvious cause of the dramatic reduction of this system. The human impacts on prairie can be seen in nearly every remnant prairie that the team visits and the Nessman plot is no exception. The Nessman plot is a roadside prairie remnant, with corn on one side, soybeans on the other, and a small patch of remnant prairie in the middle, bisected by a gravel road. A little ways down the road there is a dairy farm once owned by the Nessman family. The prairie that remains consists mostly of invasive alfalfa and European cool-season grasses. These four things: agriculture, pastureland, invasives, and transportation, are the culmination of the main effects that humans can have on the tallgrass prairie.


On Monday June 18th, we went to this prairie remnant and got a glimpse of the impact that humans have had. Upon arrival, we quickly saw the prolific flowing of non-native alfalfa, and the buzz of pollinators all around. The agriculture crept in from both sides, squeezing the heavily invaded remnant prairie closer to the road. Even still, two massive Echinacea plants bud in this highly disturbed prairie site. It made us realize that, even in the most affected sites, native plants still survive and even thrive.


This raises an important concern for every person who interacts with the prairie: how can we have as little impact as possible? Every step we take in the prairie can have deleterious effects on important and rare plants. Here are a few ways that we reduce our impact when we enter the prairie remnants.


Steps and tips for low impact walking in prairie research:

-First you need to determine where you are trying to go

-Then you plan out a path that involves taking the least number of steps and disturbing the fewest plants.

-You need to take large steps and lift your feet up

-Once you get to where you are trying to go you should keep your feet planted, don’t shuffle or shimmy

– After observing or gathering the intended information, make your way back attempting to follow your original path. Remember to take large steps and lift your feet up.

– Finally, once you’ve successfully made it back, receive some well deserved congratulations from your fellow team members! Because as we here say at the Echinacea Project- “It’s not just about the Echinacea!”


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