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OSU researchers receive $2.2 million Department of Defense grant

Thursday, July 25, 2013

There are several ways to remove invasive species from native areas. The trick is finding the best way to get native species to thrive in those areas once taken over by the invasive species.

To find the best solution, the United States Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program recently awarded a $2.2 million grant to two researchers in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM) and collaborators from the University of Indiana-Bloomington.

“There are millions of acres of highly disturbed and invaded rangelands in the world so identifying the causes of why native species are not re-establishing, and then developing methods to re-establish these plants will have huge economic and environmental impacts,” said Keith Owens, NREM department head.

While this five-year grant is for research on three different military bases in Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois, Karen Hickman and Gail Wilson, NREM professors awarded the grant, think the research will be applicable to all domestic lands.

“All of the research sites have invasive species problems,” Hickman said. “It’s a problem that is widespread throughout most of the United States.”

Research has shown there is lower plant diversity when invasive species are present; resulting in reduced bird abundance, fewer insects, fewer pollinators, fewer small mammals, etc. Reestablishing native species would result in improved ecosystem services from top to bottom.

“These invasive species often invade diverse, native grasslands, developing a monoculture of the invasive,” said Wilson. “This funding allows us to look at different ways to restore these invaded areas.”

Native plant species will not successfully establish without the presence of the correct soil microbes. Once the invasive plants are eradicated, it is very difficult to get the natives re-established. Native species will not germinate in soil previously occupied by invasive species. 

“Our research suggests establishment of the natives can be improved through the addition of native soil to re-establish the native soil microbes,” Wilson said. “However, we have so little native grassland, can we afford to destroy what we have left and dig up soil from native grassland areas to use in restoration projects like this? Our research will develop new methods to re-establish natives without impacting native grasslands.”

The researchers will begin data collection in August and begin finding the most effective way to restore the soil health for native species plant life and greater ecosystem function.

“Federal funding for research is being reduced so gaining support of this magnitude speaks very well about the quality of the proposed research and the capabilities of the investigators,” said Owens. “This research grant is a large step in the invasive species program in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and furthers our leadership in this field.”

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