Konza LTER Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program

2021 Konza LTER Summer REUs

Participant: Maddy Siller
Institution: Kansas State University (senior in Fisheries, Wildlife, Conversation and Environmental Biology)
Advisor: Keith Gido (Kansas State University)

This summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to work in Keith Gido’s lab. During my internship, I studied the movement of stream fish in Kings Creek on Konza Prairie Biological Station and Fox Creek on Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. For this, I collected fish with the help of my mentor Keith and learned how to place PIT tags into the peritoneal cavity of the fish. Every other week I would go to each site to scan for fish, the data I collected was then analyzed to determine the apparent survival as well as the detection probability of each species. We were also able to determine which species moved up or downstream of the study site when water levels changes and which stayed.

Currently, with the help of Keith, I am writing a research paper with this data that will hopefully be published by next summer. In addition to my research, I was also able to assist Peter, a Ph. D. student in Keith’s lab, with his research on farm ponds. This allowed me to gain experience in identifying fish, gathering data in the field, and entering data into spreadsheets back at the lab. I am very grateful that I received this internship, not only did I have fun collecting data; it also allowed me to realize that I will defiantly be pursuing a career in fisheries when I graduate.

Participant: Lily Ivanov
Institution: Rice University (senior in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)
Advisor: Allison Louthan  (Kansas State University)

During this past summer, I was given the opportunity to research the tallgrass prairie ecosystem at Konza Prairie LTER. I created my own project from ground up, with the help of my mentors in the Louthan lab. During the first part of my REU I did background research on past Konza research, talked with Konza researchers from a variety of disciplines about my ideas, and familiarized myself with the prairie by conducting natural history observations and helping other researchers in the field.

Through in-depth conversations with Dr. Allison Louthan and Dr. Alex Sutton, I created a novel research project looking at the hybridization process of two different Lespedeza species native to Konza, L. capitata and L. violacea, who hybridize to produce Manns Bush Clover (Lespedeza x manniana). Both parent species are widely found across Konza but have slightly different habitat preferences, which may limit hybridization opportunities. To assess how parent species densities’ may impact hybridization potential, I found areas where both parent species were found together. I created 3x3 meter plots in areas containing varying densities of parent plants so that I could record the behaviors of pollinators in areas where L. violacea or L. capitata were more common. My research plan was to track the movement of each Lespedeza pollinator from flower to flower to monitor how much cross-pollination there was, allowing me to identify conditions most favorable for the first step of hybridization. I gained valuable insight into what creating a research question and methdology is actually like, and the lessons I learned about the challenges researchers must face have helped me with planning my Senior thesis at Rice University. I also gained many valuable field skills, which helped refine my goals for graduate school and will likely remain useful through the remainder of my career. Working with the Louthan lab taught me about the kind of lab environment I would like to pursue in the future, and I feel more prepared for a future in higher education. Most of all I am lucky that I got to explore such a fascinating and beautiful environment with the guidance of such remarkable people. Konza Prairie is truly an unforgettable place and I will never forget my time here.

Participant: Tessa Seifried
Institution: Northwestern University (junior in Environmental Science) 
Advisor: Melinda Smith (Colorado State University)

During the summer of 2021, I worked at Konza in order to learn more about how nitrogen addition affects plant characteristics, such as basal width and height. In addition, I studied how nitrogen addition affects the level of grasshopper herbivory on the species Andropogon gerardii. Some of my fieldwork included: watering plots of prairie to simulate a massive rain event, making and burying resin bags, collecting light and soil moisture data, collecting grasshoppers, identifying and estimating the damage of Andropogon gerardii, and taking measurements of Dichanthelium plants. I have yet to analyse the data collected, but I plan on doing so soon, and I'm very excited to get the results!

I am very grateful for the summer opportunity I received, and it was a great way to throw me into the world of field work and help me better understand different field methods and ecological concepts.

Participant: Chester Hubbard
Institution: Kansas State University (senior in Geography)
Advisor: Arnaud Temme (Kansas State University)

Over the summer, I was tasked with studying the cliffs that are at Konza. I looked at how the properties of the area surrounding the cliffs affected their properties. So, I did a whole lot of measuring, observing, and walking over the summer. It was a great experience to have except for those 100°F + days. Those were some short days or else I would’ve been burning up on the side of the hill. I also had some scares from the critters that live out there. I would be walking along the cliff and one of them would jump out from behind a rock, a tree, or some tall grass, make some type of noise, make me jump, and then they would run/fly/crawl away. Of course, I wasn’t out there for the whole summer.

After collecting data from over several hundred different points in Konza, I started to implement that data into ArcGIS. That was a great learning experience for me. I’m a geography major so being able to use ArcGIS for something relevant to me that isn’t homework was pretty exciting. I got to create my own geodatabase and convert my data into features and rasters for analysis. I also got some experience with RStudio for some in-depth analysis. After using RStudio, I have actually started to like statistics due to being able to see the real-world applications that it has. It was exciting to be able to use the knowledge that I’ve learned here at K State and use that in real life. I actually have never done research before, so it was really cool to have this opportunity. Because of this experience with research, I have started to think about going to Grad school to conduct.

One last thing, I would like to do a shout-out to my advisor Arnaud Temme and his grad student Nicolas McCarroll. You guys helped give me a great research experience. I truly appreciate it.

Participant: Khyla Johnson
Institution: Marshall University (senior in Biology)
Advisor: Zak Ratajczak (Kansas State University)

During the opportunity given to me to pursue research at the Konza Prairie Biological Center, I was able to expand both my fieldwork experience and knowledge in areas such as plant identification and GPS use. My project focused on differences in vegetation heterogeneity across ungrazed, bison grazed, and cattle grazed watersheds. A team of field technicians and I sampled from one annually burned per grazing treatment. Within each watershed, a total of twenty, forty-meter transects were laid in randomized locations and every two meters, we measured percent cover of functional groups and biomass via a pasture meter. Plant biomass was also measured in the first and last subplots.

The goal of this study was to analyze if grazing from cattle yields similar increases in vegetation heterogeneity within small spatial scales as bison grazing. Although bison and cattle are not the exact same in their behavior, my original prediction was that the spatial scale which the megafauna are fenced is not large enough for behavioral differences, such as mobility, to differ between the two species. We hypothesized that the heterogeneity of grasses, forbs, subshrubs, shrubs, and bare-ground in the lowlands of an annually burned watershed with cattle grazing (C1A) will not be statistically different when compared to that of one with bison grazing (N1B). We also predicted that the sampled bison and cattle watersheds will show greater overall heterogeneity than that of an annually burned ungrazed watershed (1D).

Data shows that this hypothesis is not supported. Since differences in bison and cattle behavior have strictly been studied over broader spatial scales, the assumption was made that because of the animals’ relative similarities, smaller scales like the enclosure of the Konza prairie would cause smaller differences in how the two influence vegetation. Data from this study supports, however, that there are substantial differences in how bison and cattle each influence vegetation over small spatial scales. Bison grazed watersheds showed significantly more variation in cover of functional groups and biomass, compared to both cattle-grazed and ungrazed watersheds. Cattle watersheds had higher grass cover than ungrazed watersheds and less bare ground than bison watersheds. Bison-grazed watersheds had greater forb and shrub cover.

Apart from my work experience, I was able to make connections and friendships that I would not have been able if I did not receive this opportunity. Being from West Virginia, I was also able to experience plant communities and a change in landscape in general that I otherwise would not have been able to on the east coast. One of the greatest experiences from my summer was being able to stay on site at Konza for a portion of time. This allowed me to explore parts of the prairie that I would not have seen through only my field work.