Healthy Prairies Project

Healthy Prairies Project: Prairie Sustainability through Seed Storage, Beneficial Microbes, and Adaptation

Photo by John Benning

Minnesota’s prairies once covered approximately 18 million acres; now, less than 1% remains. As prairie plant populations have decreased and become fragmented, genetic diversity has declined. This may impact the capacity of prairie plant species to adapt to rapid environmental change. Increasingly, society recognizes that prairies provide valuable ecosystem services; consequently, there is growing demand for prairie restoration. However, restorations require large amounts of seed, as well as research on the local adaptation and genetic variation in prairie plant species.

The Healthy Prairies project involves large-scale seed collection from native prairies in Minnesota, as efforts to collect and preserve the genetic diversity of native plants are essential both to avert their loss altogether and to support prairie restoration. In addition, the Project experimentally addresses the following questions:

  • Which microbes are present in native prairie plants and do those microbes help plants to become locally adapted?
  • What is the geographic scale of local adaptation in prairie plant species and do “home” populations perform better than “away” populations when grown in a common environment?
  • What is the extent of genetic variation in target prairie plant species? This variation determines adaptive capacity and must be determined experimentally.

The current project workplan is available here (the 2014-2017 workplan is available here). The Healthy Prairies Project is actively recruiting undergraduate researchers, through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and the University Honors Program.

Funded by: Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative‐Citizen Commissionon Minnesota Resources (LCCMR)

Principal investigators: Ruth Shaw, Georgiana May, and Margaret Kuchenreuther