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Tricks of the Trade: Techniques and Opinions from 38 Experts in Tallgrass Prairie Restoration


H. I. Rowe, email


Tallgrass prairie has been severely compromised by conversion to agriculture, making it among the most endangered ecosystems in North America. Expanding remnant tracts with restoration is key to conserving self-sustaining prairie. Although restoration managers rarely have the opportunity to perform large-scale replicated studies, experienced practitioners gain important insights into the effectiveness of management practices over time. By synthesizing expert knowledge, we can identify techniques with a proven record of on-the-ground success. Using two surveys, 38 tallgrass prairie managers responsible for a total of 12,659 ha in 11 states were asked to describe the effectiveness of site preparation, seeding techniques, and management (fire, grazing, mowing) and to list top threats and impediments to seeded restoration techniques. The most effective technique identified for restoring previously tilled land is to initiate soybean–corn rotations so that weeds can be controlled prior to native planting. Managers prefer to end on a soybean crop, and plant native species without tilling. In cases with native remnant vegetation, remnant restoration techniques are employed, but results indicate improvements are needed. Most managers prefer high diversity, forb-rich, local ecotype seed mixtures. Managers use fire, mowing, and grazing primarily to increase native plant diversity. Invasive plants are a major threat to restorations and a majority of managers (68%) devote at least 25% of their total restoration effort on this issue. Economic (land acquisition and labor) and seed availability limitations constrain restoration management most. Increased efficiency of seeding and invasive plant control could help alleviate barriers to restoration.