Konza Prairie, Long-Term Ecological Research Network Office
Data Center Description
Konza Prairie was one of the 6 original LTER sites selected by NSF in 1981 and is now in its fourth funding cycle (1996-2002). As is to be expected in a relatively new site, LTER research goals at Konza Prairie have been redirected and expanded several times, but long-term studies in each of the 5 core areas have been and continue to be, a baseline research effort that receives highest priority.
LTER I (1981-1986). A group of KSU faculty led by G. Richard Marzolf in collaboration with Dean Bark, Lloyd C. Hulbert, Mike Johnson, Robert Robel and John L. Zimmerman was responsible for securing funding for LTER I, and focussing the initial research program on comparative investigations of biotic responses to fire and climatic variability. Long-term research sites and sampling protocols were established during this period with an emphasis on studies of the extremes of annually burned vs. unburned watersheds and upland vs. lowland sites.
LTER II (1986-1990). During LTER II, Marzolf left KSU and Donald W. Kaufman and Timothy R. Seastedt expanded LTER research efforts to include a wider range of fire frequencies (specifically 4-yr fire cycles) and increased exploration of ecosystem responses. Moreover, as a result of the collaborative NASA funded FIFE (First ISLSCP Field Experiment) (FIFE Home Page)) program from 1987-1989, LTER researchers began to address more complex questions of scale and make use of remotely-sensed satellite data to explore landscape-level issues.
LTER III (1991-1996). Prior to leaving KSU in 1991, Seastedt provided the leadership that defined the research objectives for LTER III. Leadership and administration during LTER III were provided by Alan K. Knapp and John M. Briggs, with co-PIs David C. Hartnett and Donald W. Kaufman serving in advisory roles. LTER III represented a significant expansion of the Konza Prairie LTER program in terms of both research emphasis and scientific investigators. New faculty scientists added during LTER III included Walter K. Dodds (1991, Aquatic Ecology), John M. Blair (1992, Soil and Ecosystem Ecology), and Loretta C. Johnson (1995, Plant and Ecosystem Ecology). The primary goals of LTER III were to understand how grazing influences biotic and ecosystem processes and patterns imposed by fire frequency over the landscape mosaic, all of which are subjected to a variable (and possibly directional) climatic regime. The additional research associated with large ungulate grazing and an expanded landscape perspective led to the establishment of several challenging studies, many of which are ongoing. These new initiatives were designed to complement programs at other LTER sites as well as enhance efforts within the LTER core areas.
LTER IV (1996-2002). With LTER IV, we continue to build on existing long-term studies of fire, grazing and climatic variability with a broadly-based research program encompassing studies from the organismic through population, community, ecosystem and landscape levels. Our research also has expanded to include studies of climate change, net carbon exchange, restoration ecology and land use/land cover change. These studies are thematically linked via an overarching theme that explicitly includes a non-equilibrium perspective on ecological patterns and processes in this grassland (Knapp et al. 1998), and which addresses the major abiotic and biotic factors influencing this ecosystem. Our central hypothesis is that fire, grazing and climatic variability are essential and interactive factors responsible for the structure and dynamics of tallgrass prairie. In contrast to many other grasslands where ecological processes are constrained by chronic limitations of a single resource (e.g., water), organismic to ecosystem processes and dynamics in tallgrass prairie are products of spatial and temporal variability in multiple limiting resources (water, light, N). Variability in, and switching among, these primary limiting resource(s) are caused by both extant and historical fire, grazing and climatic regimes. Moreover, responses to these factors are strongly dependent on topographic and landscape position. As a result of this complexity, and because grazing and fire regimes are managed in grassland systems worldwide, data from the Konza Prairie LTER program have relevance not only for understanding this grassland, but for broader ecological issues such as stability-diversity questions and interactions among land-use, biodiversity and climate change.