Oak savanna restoration

Lars at a mechanical encroachment removal site

How do we best restore Midwestern oak savannas?

Deciding on an optimal restoration strategy can be difficult.  We generally have multiple options at our disposal, each with advantages and disadvantages – both in terms of ecological outcomes and practical and financial constraints.  Some restoration methods are simply cheaper and easier than others and, while one strategy may be ideal for a certain ecological goal (e.g., biodiversity), a different strategy may be best for a different goal (e.g., ecosystem function).

Savanna restoration study with mechanical (red and blue blocks), prescribed fire, and seed addition (brown squares) treatments

With fire suppressed oak savannas in Iowa, we are testing a wide range of restoration strategies: mechanical encroachment removal, prescribed fire, and seed additions (in all factorial combinations).  With long-term assessments of plant community assembly, soils, and ecosystem-level processes, we are assessing to what extent these many restoration strategies achieve multiple (potentially conflicting) goals.  Do the same restoration methods that promote biodiversity also promote ecosystem services, like carbon storage?

Current collaborators include Lars Brudvig (MSU), Heidi Asbjornsen (U. New Hampshire) and Cindy Cambardella (National Soil Tilth Lab).