Strategically integrating small amounts of perennial vegetation (in our case, reconstructed prairie) within row-cropped watersheds offers the opportunity to enhance the health and diversity of Midwestern agricultural landscapes. This project will explore this hypothesis through an integrated watershed-scale approach that uses field experimentation, spatial models, and tradeoff assessments to quantify changes in ecological functioning and economic outputs resulting from different configurations of perennial and annual plants. Integral to the project is the effective communication of project results to catalyze further tests of this practice on the landscape.
- Quantify the influence of different proportions and landscape configurations of annual (i.e., corn and soybean) and perennial (i.e., prairie) plant communities on the storage, cycling, and output of nutrients, water, and carbon at the field and catchment scale.
- Promote greater understanding among diverse groups of people (i.e., the public, policy makers, farmers, environmentalists, etc.) that agroecosystem production and environmental stewardship may be compatible if appropriate combinations and configurations of perennial and annual plants are established.
- The placement of perennial plant communities at strategic locations and of appropriate spatial extent in a watershed will produce disproportionate improvements in ecosystem functioning (e.g., water, nutrient and carbon cycling) without compromising the social and economic viability of agroecosystems.
- Small increases in perennial plant cover in watersheds dominated by annual crops will result in disproportionately large increases in species richness and diversity of major taxa (plants, animals, insects, microbes).
The systems being studied include a range of percentage and placement of perennial vegetation. The project is being conducted on 12 small watersheds at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge ranging in size from 1.2 acres to 13 acres and dozens of commercial farms across the Midwest.