History and use of Konza Prairie Research Natural Area

TitleHistory and use of Konza Prairie Research Natural Area
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1985
AuthorsHulbert, LC
JournalThe Prairie Scout
Pagination63 -95
Accession NumberKNZ0083
Keywordstallgrass prairie

Konza Prairie, a few miles south of Manhattan, Riley County, Kansas, lies in the western part of the tallgrass or true prairie. The dense roots and the very tough rhizomes (underground stems) of the tallgrass prairie of North American and of the Danube Basin of Europe made the sod so tough that neither area could be plowed ("broken" the pioneers called it) until the nineteenth century after the special sod breaking plow was developed. Nine faculty in five departments at KSU began meeting in 1956 to discuss the need for a prairie area for ecological research to complement the prairie areas being used to study livestock production. In searching for an appropriate name, it was decided to choose one of the various spellings of the Kansa tribe; the oldest tribe that lived in the area for which a name is known. The Deweys acquired the land that became the Dewey Ranch parcel-by-parcel from 1872 to 1926. Konza Prairie Research Natural Area is the premier research site for tallgrass prairie, a fact certainly not anticipated by the cowboys and other who helped raise cattle on the area from the middle of the 1800s until the area was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in the 1970s. Because fire and native herbivores (bison, elk, and pronghorn) are part of this natural system, the experimental design includes them. Cattle are also included to compare domestic with native grazers. Research focuses on the vegetation, soils, insects, earthworms, nematodes (soil roundworms), birds, mammels, streams, and other components. Plans are to continue these studies for decades in order to assess the effects of weather variation, so pronounced in this continental area