Carbon Dynamics of Prairie Ecosystems
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This study analyzes carbon cycle processes in prairie environments, with the goal of determining carbon sequestration (containment) capacity of prairies of varying quality. Results of the study will be used to aid in recommendations to land managers regarding ideal landscapes for prairie restoration and conservation, in order to mitigate atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. We incorporate scientific fieldwork, lab procedures, and data entry and analysis. Our research team analyzed soil respiration gas samples, soil samples, and above- and belowground biomass samples to quantify carbon emissions and retention. Additionally, terrain analyses are being conducted based on topographic and GPS measurements to determine optimal spatial orientation (i.e., slope, elevation, and exposure). Field research is conducted at Nachusa Grasslands, and in order to compare the carbon processes of prairies in two development stages, we chose one plot which was well-established and of high quality and one which was more recently restored and of poorer quality. We installed PVC rings in a grid-like formation across each plot, and used these to collect soil respiration gas samples for carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen analysis. Additional data collection included extraction of soil cores from the immediate vicinity of each PVC ring for belowground biomass and soil bulk density analyses; and collection of vegetation in close proximity to each ring for aboveground biomass analysis. All the data is currently being input into a GIS and analyzed in combination to determine optimal prairie conditions for carbon sequestration.