Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Nebraska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Nebraska Project

Southeast prairies biologically unique landscape and sandstone prairies biologically unique landscape research

January 2008 - December 2012


Participating Agencies

  • Nebraska Game and Parks

The Southeast Nebraska Flagship Initiative is a partnership formed through the Nebraska Natural Legacy Program and includes The Nature Conservancy, Northern Prairies Land Trust, Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The implementation of Flagship Initiatives—including that in the Southeast Prairies Biologically Unique Landscape (BUL)—follows from the Nebraska Legacy Plan to implement a proactive approach to conserving non-game wildlife and biological diversity in an adaptive management framework. The overall goal is to most effectively and efficiently manage prairies, while maintaining critical plant-insect relationships indicative of system fluctuation. Our aspect of the project has two major objectives aimed at conservation of at-risk species and biological diversity. (1) Evaluate on-going, private-lands habitat work to improve the location, conservation goals, and methods of those projects. (2) Evaluate the current and potential viability of ecological systems within priority landscapes. The second objective will inform the first. Understanding population viability for various taxa and how that status differs between more and less fragmented areas, as well as other variables, will help to more wisely select locations and strategies for management and conservation projects. We are focused on three key insect groups that provide important ecosystem services: pollinators, ants and ground beetles. Pollinators are important in that 65% of flowering plants depend upon them for reproduction, including many prairie plant species. Ants make up a huge portion of the insect biomass in prairies, and are important for soil aeration and drainage, seed dispersal and nitrogen cycling. Ants and most ground beetles are important predators, keeping many herbivorous insect populations in check. This research intends to determine the factors having the greatest impact on the abundance and species richness of these key insect groups in tallgrass prairie fragments. Factors may include vegetation structure, floral composition, litter depth, fragment size, fragment shape, fragment isolation or the composition of the surrounding landscape. Understanding the impact of these factors may improve use of conservation resources through targeted decision–making about what fragments to preserve, or where grasslands should be planted to best supplement prairie fragments, and will also be useful when approaching landowners about techniques benefiting both agriculture and prairie conservation.