Prairie Reconstruction in Indiana: Historical Highlights and Outcome
Keywords:Prairie reconstruction, prairie restoration, Indiana history, floristic quality assessment, restoration flora
Prairie reconstruction or restoration in Indiana dates at least to 1987 with a demonstration planting at Butler University in Indianapolis. A brief account of this and other tallgrass prairie reconstruction efforts by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Taylor University, Newport Chemical Depot, and The Nature Conservancy during the period of 1990 and early 2000 are described. These projects document the rationale behind reconstructing prairies and changes in practices relating to seed mixes. In order to provide an overview of the status and success of Indiana prairie reconstructions, 23 were sampled via a Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA) protocol during the period 2005–2012. Four native prairies were also sampled for comparison. The results indicate that, thanks to the increased availability of more affordable forb rich seed mixes, recent reconstructions may achieve a much higher floristic quality. In fact, certain FQA metrics for some recent prairie reconstructions rival those of native prairies. Species richness per quadrat, however, is always lower in reconstructed prairies. Furthermore, conservative and even some less conservative species are consistently lacking in reconstructed prairies. A resampling of three sites after a lapse of 4 to 5 years showed steady to increasing FQA metrics. The experience in Indiana suggests that restoring and sustaining a tallgrass prairie landscape is possible to a degree, though the efforts are expensive and intensive. Furthermore, planted prairies, as with native prairies, can be vulnerable to repurposing of land.