I am wrapping up my field work this month and next, and things are looking a lot different than they have any time in the last four years. The drought is epic. I’m not old, but I’ve never seen things drier. At my research site in Nebraska, which has been relatively wet until this year, things are especially bad.

I captured these images while I was in the field up in Nebraska a couple of days ago.

This is one of the quadrats I sampled from on my restoration plots just northest of Hastings, NE. The dry vegetation is mostly indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), wild rye (Elymus canadansis), and rigid goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum). If you look close, you can find a little bit of green indiangrass, and there are a couple of stems of the exotic grass, Bromus japonicus.

Zooming out a bit, you can see that the grass is almost completely fried. Most of the green plants are rigid goldenrod, but about half of these are brown along with half of the rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium). The tall stems are last year’s growth of Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis).

In some ways this drought my be fortuitous (beyond having many fewer green stems to count in August sampling). While it is not something I am manipulating, this drought and heat are the sort of events we expect to increase in frequency in the coming decades, so it will be interesting to see how the prairie responds. In this experiment, where I’ve sown identical communities into the plots, but manipulated the states they are sourced from, will there be consequences of source  for drought response? For example, I do know drought affects flowering phenology, and some species from some sources got flowering in ahead of the drought while others did not. I am also relieved I didn’t bother with passive rainout shelters to create fake drought this year, because there has been almost no rain to intercept.


About prairiebotanist

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