Tag Archives: wildlife

UNI student helps return cropland to native prairie Article from The Gazette

Researchers assessing benefits of converting grasses to biofuel

Tall Grass Mix

WASHBURN — University of Northern Iowa professor Mark Myers considered it a “theoretical exercise” when he assigned his wildlife ecology and management students to develop a habitat management plan for a local site.

But, said Myers, Jarrett Pfrimmer, 25, of North Liberty, “took the assignment to heart,” and a year later, prairie grass was growing on 20 acres of former cropland along a Cedar River tributary.

“I did not think he could make it happen in that short a time,” said Myers, who is working with Pfrimmer on another major project with the potential to restore natural functions of the Cedar River watershed — research to determine the feasibility of native prairie as a biofuel.

Pfrimmer, who will complete work on his master’s degree next month, said he worked with the Black Hawk County Soil and Water Conservation District to line up cost-share funding for the stream buffer project.

The Boone native said he also took advantage of expertise at UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center to plan and execute the 120-foot wide buffer strips on both sides of Dry Run Creek, which flows past the UNI campus en route to the Cedar River.

Seeded a year ago, the native vegetation will become well established next year, greatly reducing erosion from the former farm fields, improving the quality of the water flowing into the Cedar and providing habitat for songbirds, pheasants and other wildlife.

The absorbent grass also will play a small role in reducing the crest of future Cedar River floods.

“Every little bit helps” when it comes to watersheds’ ability to store and slowly release floodwaters, said State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a leader in legislative efforts to improve watershed management.

Small-scale improvements like the two Black Hawk County projects can help create a mindset and policies “that will help buy down flood peaks for those of us downstream,” Hogg said.

In addition to the Cedar Falls stream buffer project, Pfrimmer has worked with Myers and others to assess the benefits of converting cropland into a prairie biomass production site at the 593-acre Cedar River Natural Resource Area about 10 miles south of Waterloo.

On flood plain land that had formerly been leased for row crop production, the researchers established 48 test plots, each seeded with one of four types of native vegetation ranging from switch grass alone to a mix of 32 species of grasses, legumes, forbs and sedges.

Those plantings were equally distributed among three distinct soil types, enabling the researchers to control all key factors contributing to the productivity of native grass not only as a source of energy but also as habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

The research got off to a rocky start with the historic Cedar River flood of 2008 wiping out the initial seeding. The plots were reseeded in 2009, burned in 2011 and finally harvested in April, compressed into 550-pound rectangular bales, with an average yield of 4 tons per acre.

About 150 of those bales were later pelletized for an upcoming test burn by Cedar Falls Utilities. “We’re looking to find out how well it burns for energy generation,” said Daryl Smith of the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center, a partner in the research.

Researchers have suggested that cultivation of low-input, high-diversity grassland biomass could have significant energy and environmental advantages over corn-based ethanol, according to Myers.

While it remains to be seen whether the energy yield would justify conversion of marginal farmland to production of native vegetation for use as an energy source, biofuel production with diverse mixtures of native prairie vegetation “contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes,” the researchers concluded.

Grassland birds and butterflies quickly found and colonized the test plots, according to Myers.

Pfrimmer, who has led bird data collection efforts, will soon complete his master’s thesis on “Bird Use of Heterogenous Native Prairie Biofuel Production Plots.”

In each of the past two years, he has found at least 100 delicate nests hidden among the grass stems by species such as the sedge wren, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow and lark sparrow. Pheasants and turkeys also have moved into the grass, he said.

“We are starting to see different bird communities established in the plots in accordance with their preferences for the vegetation mix and even the soil types,” Pfrimmer said.

Article taken From The Gazette Newspaper

To Purchase Native Wildflower & Seeds Visit Our Website At Ion Exchange, Inc.

 

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Native Plant Communities Of Iowa Article

By: Howard Bright

The Plant Communities of Iowa are vast but we will limit them to four major communities knowing there are many subgroups of these four.  What is a plant community? In nature, certain species are found growing together and they form specific colonies of plants called  “plant communities”. Native plants always grow in association with others to create plant communities that are essentially associations of indigenous species that have evolved over thousands of years and adapted to the specific geography, hydrology and climate of a particular area. The resulting “communities” are really groups of plants that exist together because of the given environmental conditions. 

Why is it important to know about natural plant communities?  It is very important because we can use these native plant communities as a prescription from nature in designing our wildflower gardens or landscapes.  There are four broad categories of native plant communities here in the Midwest and hundreds of sub categories as we break each of them down into more specific site conditions.  It is important to recognize which one of the four categories you would like to create or reconstruct.  The four major plant communities of the Midwest are: Prairies, Savannas, Wetlands and Woodlands.

When the white man drove deeper through the hardwood forest driving westward until they eventually broke through the dark shadows of trees and the shrubs of that forest land and peered out onto the blinding light of the open prairie, it was a sight to behold waving in the wind and appearing as a sea of rolling grasses dotted with the colors of blooming flowers.  Indeed this was a strange land to these new visitors.  Steeping out onto this sea of grass, the pioneer disappeared and kept moving westward.  This land was covered with Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Bear, Cougars, Prairie Chickens, Beaver and all kinds of wildlife.

It wasn’t long before this land was discovered, occupied and changed forever. In the 1800s, Iowans reworked the face of their new state with a speed and to an extent perhaps unparalleled in human history.  At the beginning of the century, a blanket of prairie cloaked three-quarters of this “land between two rivers.”  Pothole marshes dotted the flatter north-central part of the state, while a network of streams laced the rolling hills elsewhere across Iowa.  Dense forests engulfed some valleys in the east and groves of bur oaks climbed out of the river corridors and onto the ridges to form savannas.

Thousands of Native Americans lived on the land, harvesting wild plants and animals, growing crops, and occasionally managing the vegetation with fire.  By 1900, however, Euro-American settlers had claimed nearly all of Iowa’s 36 million acres as farmland. Non-Indian settlement officially began on June 1, 1833, when pioneers first were allowed to claim new land in the 6-million-acre Black Hawk Purchase along the west side of the Mississippi River.  By 1846, when Iowa became a state, census records listed 96,088 people.  The population doubled to 192,914 by 1850 and topped one million before 1870.  In 1900, Iowa had 2.2 million people, compared to 2.9 million people today.  Most lived on the state’s 200,000 farms, working land where 95 percent of the prairie, two-thirds of the woodlands, and most of the wetlands had been converted to agriculture.  This dramatic, swift, almost complete change of diverse prairie to a monoculture of cropland profoundly altered the ecosystem.  Twenty-eight million acres of bluestem, dropseed, compass plants, coneflowers, gentians, and hundreds other species were transformed, in a relative eye-blink, into a patchwork of corn, wheat, oats, hay, and pasture.  Those plots have expanded to the huge roadside-to-roadside corn and soybean fields that we see today.

Before Iowa was settled a map depicts the vegetation that was present around 1850.  Note the majority of the landscape was tall grass prairie.  There were thousands of acres of wetlands, especially in Central and Northwest Iowa.  The Woodlands were confined to the steep areas along streams and in the Driftless area of Iowa.  Rolling and steeper hills were occupied by Savannas.

It only took 60 to 70 years to almost completely change the ecosystem of Iowa.  It is said that this was one of the quickest and largest annihilations of a natural ecosystem.  Oxen with wooden and steel plows developed by John Deere ripped up the prairie sod and crops were planted.

Glacial deposits occurred over the entire state of Iowa during a period of 2.5 million years and as recent as 10,000 years ago.  The only region not affected by glaciations is northeast Iowa where bedrock is exposed in many areas.

A multitude of events were occurring simultaneously during the last glacial period known as the Wisconsian Glacial Age.  Notably, while the older glaciers of the Nebraskan, Kansan and Illinoinian had long retreated and left their heavy loads across the state, a new glacier advanced from the north covering the north central and central pars of the state.  At the same time huge amounts of silt were blowing in from the northwest from the exposed glacial plains due northwest of Iowa’s western border. Loose materials much younger than the bedrock beneath dominate the present land surface across Iowa. These materials consist of sediment originating from ice sheets, melt water streams, and strong winds during a series of glacial events between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago (Quaternary). This familiar “dirt” consists of pebbly clay, sand, gravel, and abundant silt, which over time have weathered into Iowa’s productive loamy soils. These easily eroded “Ice Age” deposits account for the gently rolling appearance of much of the Iowa (and Midwestern) landscape.

During the Ice Age, glaciers advanced down into the mid-continent of North America, grinding underlying rock into a fine powder like sediment called “glacial flour.” As temperatures warmed, the glaciers melted and enormous amounts of water and sediment rushed down the Missouri River valley. The sediment was eventually deposited on flood plains downstream, creating huge mud flats. During the winters the melt waters would recede, leaving the mud flats exposed. As they dried, fine-grained mud material called silt was picked up and carried by strong winds. These large dust clouds were moved eastward by prevailing westerly winds and were redeposited over broad areas. Heavier, coarser silt, deposited closest to its Missouri River flood plain source, formed sharp, high bluffs on the western margin of the Loess Hills. Finer, lighter silt, deposited farther east, created gently sloping hills on the eastern margin. This process repeated for thousands of years, building layer upon layer until the loess reached thicknesses of 60 feet or more and became the dominant feature of the terrain.

Even though the prairie is gone, it has left us with a black treasure, our soil.  Over the eons of time the plants that grew on the prairie formed the richest soil on this planet.  Millions of acres are blanketed with black earth known as prairie soils.

What makes soils the way they are?  How did Iowa end up being the most fertile land in the world?   A unique combination and interaction of all of these factors formed our soils.  How are the soils of Iowa different?  By changing just one factor, we affect a major change in the soil.

Factors that interacted to form our soils can be simplified to: Parent Material, Climate, Topography, Vegetation, Time and Human Beings.

Soils are conceived, as we are, from our Parent Material.  Parent materials are composed of the raw earth that lays exposed to the elements. Major parent materials in Iowa consist of bedrock, glacial deposits called glacial till, water deposited material or alluvial deposits, and wind blown silt known as “loess”.  In other parts of the world, soils may be formed in volcanic ash or rock.

Climate has a profound effect on our soils as they are influenced by rainfall, temperature, freezing and thawing, sunlight and day length.

The way the land lays called Topography greatly influences our soils.  From the steep hills along river corridors to the level bottomlands, slope of the land can change the characteristics of our soils.

Vegetation and Organisms dramatically affect our soils.  Within a very localized area, we can note the effect of our past vegetation and what influence it has had on soils.  From the deep rich organic prairie soils developed under the influence of the tall grass prairie to the soils developed under a woodland condition depth of topsoil and fertility vary greatly.

We probably forget about a factor that is ever present and that factor is Time.  It is obvious when we think about the sediment deposited by a river or stream, which is in geologic times, is extremely young.  What a contrast when we sit atop a rock out crop that has been exposed for eons of time.  The stream deposited material stays forever young while the bedrock of a long ago sedimentized ocean bottom gets older and older.  Soils can’t hide their age either.

On the recent geologic scene came Humans and they have now joined the forces of soil forming factors.  By plowing, the natural vegetation and protection of the soil has been removed increasing erosion to an alarming rate.  Topsoil is destroyed, texture of the soil, which allows infiltration of water, is altered, soil forming organisms are eliminated, fertility is diminished as organic matter is washed away and soil tilth is destroyed.  Man has and is having his influence on our soils.  Fallow land and row crops now occupy land that was once a lush sponge to absorb water and cleanse it.

Once we understand the importance of our geologic past, recent history and soil forming factors, we can start to put together nature’s puzzle.  This intricate puzzle laid down over the eons is now at our fingertips for those who pay attention.

What other questions do we need to ask to get this right combination of plants that will fit our site?

  • What direction is your site facing, called Aspect?  A north and northeasterly direction may receive much less sunlight on a steeper slope than those facing south or west on the same steepness of slope due to the angle of the sun.
  • Is your site level, rolling or steep?  Slope as a steep south slope may be hot and dry while a steep north slope may be cool and moist.
  • How much Sunlight does your site get?  If it is dense shade versus full sunlight, you will need entirely different plants to suit your situation.
  • What is the condition of the soil in regards to Soil Moisture?  Drainage of the soil can range from saturated to excessively drained.
  • What are the sizes of the particles that make up your soil, called Texture.   It could range from sand to clay which an important characteristic to note as some plants will not tolerate these conditions.  For detailed description of your soils contact your local NRCS office and get a soil survey report of your county.

Absorbing and understanding the characteristics of our landscapes and soils allows us to then classify our sites.  In site classification we will assign a general category to our site based on all the previously mentioned information.  There are basically five sites to consider:

  • Dry
  • Dry Mesic
  • Mesic
  • Wet Mesic
  • Wet

Next we need to decide which plant community we are dealing with.  It may be a pre-existing condition or one that we want to create.  It is usually best to take what nature has given us if we have that opportunity.  However, if you live in an urban area, your site may have been severely altered and you will have to decide what you want to create there.  As mentioned before, we have four categories of plant communities:

  • Prairie
  • Savanna
  • Wetland
  • Woodland

Once the plant community is determined, select the most appropriate species for your plant community.  Now you are using nature’s prescription for success in creating your native wildflower planting.

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Pollinator Week Is June 18 – 24 2012 Ion Exchange, Inc. Purchase Your Pollinator Seed Mix Now

Pollinator Week is June 18th to 24th!
Plant a garden that butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees will love as much as you!

http://ionxchange.com/products/POLLINATOR-MIX.html

Product Description

POLLINATOR SEED MIX

 

SPECIES PLS/LB

Big Bluestem 6.53
Golden Alexanders 0.25
Blue Vervain 0.15
Alumroot 0.02
Black-eyed Susan 0.44
Common Mt. Mint 0.01
Common Spiderwort 0.17
Foxglove Beardtongue 0.02
Ironweed 0.12
Maryland Senna 0.80
Fragrant Coneflower 0.10
Great Bue Lobelia 0.01
Purple Prairie Clover 0.15
Hoary Vervain 0.10
Swamp Milkweed 0.29
9.16

Pollination by Native Bees

According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, there are over 4000 species of native bees in the U.S. alone. Bees are the most predominant pollinators of flowering plants in nature, thus contributing a vital service to the ecosystem. Bees are referred to as “keystone organisms” because of this important role.

Some native bees have names that reflect how they build nests—leafcutter bees, mason bees, miner bees, carpenter bees, digger bees, etc.  Others are named for their behavior, which include bumble bees, sweat bees, and cuckoo bees. In addition, some bees are named for the types of plants they pollinate such as squash, sunflower and blueberry bees.

When honey bees are in short supply, the pollination needs of many crops can be filled by native bees. Research reflects that native bees can be major pollinators of agricultural crops and sometimes do the job more efficiently. For instance, the blue orchard bee is a primary pollinator of cultivated apples. Another important crop pollinator is the western bumble bee, which has been used to pollinate cranberries, avocadoes, and blueberries. Native squash bees are major pollinators of cultivated squashes. Some native bees are even commercially managed like honey bees to provide pollination services.   Great news for Iowa native plants and pollinators!

 

CRP Wildlife Food Plots

CRP wildlife food plot options now allow a food plot consisting of all native grasses and forbs.  Unlike traditional grain food plots, now additional pollen and nectar will be available.  Futhermore, a native food plot will not be disked and replanted every year or every other year like the alternative grain food plots. Thus, bees utilizing ground burrows will benefit!

http://ionxchange.com

 

Using Native Planting to Encourage Wildlife

By Geoff Wakeling Platinum Quality Author

If you are planning on creating a wildlife garden, one of the best planting options is to include native species. At the very least you should attempt to include a range of ornamental strains developed from native specimens. Plants which are naturally growing in a region will often thrive in gardens as they are already adapted to the environment in which they are growing. This therefore means that they require less work to maintain, in addition to providing insects, birds, mammals and other creatures with a natural transition from wild habitat to carefully managed garden.

There a number of ways for including native planting in your garden depending on the space that you aspire to have. If you don’t mind having a slightly wild area, let nature take its course and as plants self seed themselves allow them to grow. This could be a small area of meadow which is allowed to thrive, a patch of nettles in a corner, or the sporadic growing of plants throughout a border. Plants such as borridge and forget-me-nots can look very pretty before going over, and can fit into a border quite well. Weeds are all in a gardeners perception, and are simply plants which have grown, in your mind, in the wrong place. Allowing the odd ‘weed’ to grow can be beneficial for wildlife, especially insects that will naturally be drawn to native plants that they visit every day. Leaving a wild patch of native planting is ideally the best way to encourage wildlife into your garden, and if you have room it is the best option.

If you prefer to garden through a more maintained method and do not want to incorporate a wild patch of naturally growing vegetation in your garden, the best option is to try and include ornamental varieties of wild plants. In some cases this can actually be more beneficial to wildlife, with some propagated specimens having larger flowers and more nectar for creatures to feast upon. All plants have fundamentally been bred from naturally occurring specimens, so finding species native to your area should not be hard. Foxgloves, ornamental nettles, roses, and thornless blackberries are all examples of plants which have been developed into ornamental plants and are commonly used in gardens around the world even though some may look far removed from their native counterparts. However, their use in wildlife gardens will provide the ideal transition as creatures move from a natural habitat to a managed one. Meanwhile, by utilising plants which are native to your area, you can help ensure that gardens will thrive in their environment, taking less time to maintain, and providing wildlife with a welcome home from home.

If you want to learn more about becoming a green fingered horticulturist and enjoying your own garden and allotment head over to http://www.theguidetogaygardening.com for more information.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Geoff_Wakeling

Wildlife Gardening

by: http://www.wildflower.org
You can make your garden more attractive to birds, insects and small mammals in a variety of ways. Minor changes such as mowing less frequently can increase the number of non-human visitors to your yard, no matter its size.

A wildlife garden should provide for basic animal needs such as food, shelter and water. Diversity is the key to creating an optimum habitat. A diverse habitat attracts a wider variety of species, offers more choices for forage and shelter and ensures a constant food supply. Ideally, a garden should offer a mixture of meadow, woods and wet areas, but you can create hiding places and feeding areas without drastically changing your yard’s character.

FOOD SOURCES
Your yard will attract different types of animals as the seasons change. Migratory species have different foraging needs than residential, non-migratory species. Larval stages of insects (such as caterpillars) often feed on completely different plants, or parts of plants, from what the adults prefer.
Watch birds and butterflies in the wild or on untended land to discover their food preferences. Select plants that maximize flowering and fruiting. Nectar-rich wildflowers are more nutritious for wildlife than showy cultivars, which often are sterile. Color attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Hummingbirds prefer bright red and orange flowers, while butterflies seem to select yellow, purple, blue, pink, and occasionally red flowers. Members of the composite family, such as goldenrods, sunflowers and thistles are good nectar sources for butterflies, and later form seedheads that attract goldfinches and other songbirds.
Be sure to include trees and shrubs with berries to provide winter forage for birds and small mammals. Vines and grasses provide food and nesting materials. Other provisions you can offer residential or transient wildlife include pollen, fungi and sap from native plants or compost.

SHELTER SOURCES
Try to create a layered effect when planning shelter for wildlife. Wooded areas should include overlapping canopies of trees, shrubs and forbs. The edges of woods are usually rich with wildlife because the cover protects them from predators and the elements.
When designing shelter areas, shrubs may be more important than trees because they grow faster and provide nesting sites for many different species. To provide maximum cover, curb your pruning impulses! Though dense shrubbery, tangled vines and dead-standing trees may contradict your image of an orderly yard, they create ideal nesting and forage sites.
Even in a small yard, a single tree or a few vines can provide shelter for nesting wrens or blackbirds, as well as cover for snails and butterflies. Don’t overlook what’s underfoot – brush piles, hollow logs, and compost piles offer a host of micro-habitats for many organisms.

WATER SOURCES
A significant portion of wildlife activity centers around water. A water source such as a small pond provides a home for amphibians and aquatic insects, a bathtub for birds and drinking water for all kinds of creatures. Many insects have aquatic larval stages, so they need to be near water. Migrating wildlife need convenient water sources along their seasonal routes. On the smallest scale, even a birdbath is a valuable addition to your garden or yard.

Once you allow wildlife into your garden, you must allow nature a bit of freedom in ruling it. As Chris Baines, an innovative British landscaper, notes, the secret of a successful wildlife garden depends on understanding the way in which your various gardening activities will distort the balance. Try to minimize disturbance. Refrain from using herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides, which adversely affect the delicately balanced interactions between organisms and their environment. Allowing your garden more autonomy will leave you plenty of time to observe, enjoy and learn from your creation.

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Howard Bright will speak at Master Gardeners Event at Muscatine IA

Howard will be speaking this month on some of the popular gardening topics for this upcoming season. To learn more visit this site.
Howard Bright owner of Ion Exchange has been invited to speak at the Masters Gardeners Annual Event

Create Your Own Wildlife Habitat Using Native Plants

Here is an awesome video on building your own wildlife habitat using native plants by the National Wildlife Federation.
http://www.gogreentube.com/watch.php?v=NjQzMzY5
Native wildflowers and grasses are so much easier to care for than other plants, they flourish with little or no effort and they are beautiful. There root systems go much deeper than most other plants so they are virtually drought resistant. There are many varieties to choose from. Visit Ion Exchange to look at hundreds of species of native plants.