K-State researchers study impact of bison on Flint Hills grasslands


Source: K-State Research and Extension

via KTIC (NE) - September 21st, 2022


For many, the Konza Prairie located just south of Manhattan, Kan., has the best nature hiking trails in the Flint Hills, but it also serves as a biological research station and home to nearly 280 bison.


For more than 30 years, Kansas State University researchers have conducted fire and grazer experiments on the Konza Prairie to study the functions of the ecosystem; specifically, says biology assistant professor Zak Ratacjczak, they have been assessing the role bison play in encouraging biodiversity and resiliency in grassland plants.


The removal of bison herds in Kansas in the 1860s, though a record number of bison in the Manhattan area was recorded in the mid-1880s. They were reintroduced to the Konza Prairie in the 1980s almost 100 years later.


The reintroduction of bison was significant to tallgrass prairie research primarily because of grass species like big bluestem becoming dominant without the presence of large animal grazers.


What weve been finding is that bison are actually very good at consuming this specific species and other dominant grasses in large quantities, said Ratajczak, lead author of the research article on the long-term bison grazing experiment. And what that does is it leaves more room and resources for other species to become established.


Since beginning this project, the amount of plant species has doubled, which increases the diversity of tall grass prairie plants.


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