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NutNet Doane - A Global Research Partnership

Project Background
  • Nebraska has lost more than 98% of its tallgrass prairie
  • Less than 150,000 hectares remaining of the original 6.1 million hectares 
  • Increases in atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition rates have been linked to loss of biodiversity in these threatened systems
  • In eastern Nebraska alone there has been a 40% increase in anthropogenic N deposition rates in the last 30 years
  • Nebraska has some of the highest N deposition rates in the country
  • No large-scale coordinated experiments to quantify the general impacts of changes in N cycling on grassland ecosystems 
  • Public remains largely unaware
  • Students harvesting biomass in Doane NutNet plotsThis project increases public awareness of this environmental issue and imparts critical knowledge regarding how they can address this challenge.  In the same way that increased public awareness of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations has led to changes in industry and policy, this project hopes to shine a light on the problem of anthropogenic changes to the N cycle and the consequences for rapidly declining tallgrass prairie.
  • The Nutrient Network (NutNet; http://www.nutnet.umn.edu/) is a global research effort to address questions within a coordinated research network comprised of more than 60 grassland sites worldwide. 
Benefits of project and contributions to the college’s sustainability efforts
  • NutNet site at Spring Creek Prairie provides a unique opportunity to compare the response of a section of remnant tallgrass prairie and restored tallgrass prairie to changes nutrient availability. 
  • Allows Doane College to play a key role in understanding how to restore diverse native tallgrass prairie to Nebraska while also bringing more public awareness to the issue of nutrient deposition. 
  • Allows Doane students to examine questions relating to carbon sequestration
  • NutNet site at Spring Creek Prairie places Doane College in a global network of researchers, and provides a long-term pedagogical tool to the entire Doane community
  • Used during Fall 2012 in BIO342 (Ecology).  Participation in the NutNet program will allow Doane College students to conduct cutting-edge research on this critical environmental issue by having access to data from not only the Spring Creek site, but from the entire global network. 
  • Provides potential opportunities for Doane students to visit other NutNet sites and conduct their own cross-site studies
  • NutNet sites strengthen ties with the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center
Hailie Smith NutNet Doane Harvest Fall 2012 Student reactions to the NutNet experiment 1) Was there anything interesting or surprising that you learned about prairies through sampling in NutNet? "There is a lot of diversity in  a little strip of prairie" (common sentiment) "I was surprised that there was diversity in such a small area.  Line one sampled area could be really diverse with many different types of things like grass, woody, forbs, etc. and the site right next to it could only have grass in the sample." "I was surprised at how much litter was in the prairie.  I never really have thought about it being part of an ecosystem.  I was also surprised about how much plant diversity was in a 'strip'" 2) What do you think about being part of a global experiment? "I believe that this sort of collaboration is lacking in many other of our studies and that more experiments and cooperation like this could be beneficial for all." "I think it is very exciting to be a part of something like this.  I enjoy “bragging” that I get to participate in this to people that don’t have these opportunities." "Being a part of a global experiment is inspirational.  I feel like I am doing something that will impact the world for the better." "I think its great that Doane has this opportunity to contribute to a worldwide study and that students get to participate."