The Konza Prairie LTER program is based on a conceptual framework that recognizes fire, grazing, and climatic variability as essential and interactive factors shaping the structure and dynamics of grasslands across landscape mosaics. Our LTER goals are to test specific hypotheses regarding the independent and interactive ecological effects of these factors in mesic grasslands, and to evaluate the potential consequences of multiple global change phenomena. Our research program is also designed to elucidate the role of biotic interactions (competition, mutualism, predation, herbivory) in grassland communities and ecosystems, and provide insight into more general ecological phenomenon with applicability to multiple ecological systems. Links under the research tab above provide further information about our "core" LTER research activities, and a variety of other related studies underway at the Konza Prairie LTER site. More detailed information is also available in the most recent of our LTER proposal.
During LTER VII, our research will address the following questions: (1) How do natural (fire, bison grazing, climate) and anthropogenic (altered disturbance regimes, climate change, altered biogeochemistry, cattle grazing) drivers affect grassland states and dynamics at multiple levels of ecological organization? (2) What are the long-term rates and trajectories (e.g., directional, non-linear, threshold) of grassland response to altered drivers, and what mechanisms underlie, or constrain, observed responses? We focus explicitly on drivers that KNZ research has identified as having the greatest impact on ecological processes and thus the greatest likelihood of altering ecological states. (3) Do rates and patterns of change in this grassland, and the underlying mechanisms, conform to conceptual and theoretical models? The wide array of different structural and functional states resulting from KNZ long-term experimental treatments provides a unique opportunity to test complementary models. (4) What determines grassland resilience, and what legacies and/or feedbacks constrain recovery of system state and function following disturbance or when drivers change? Can recovery be facilitated based on ecological principles? The long-term experiments and datasets at KNZ provide a foundation for addressing these questions, by eliminating or altering chronic drivers in ongoing experiments and using data from natural experiments (e.g. recovery from drought) to test for feedbacks and legacies that affect resilience and recovery. (5) What abiotic and biotic factors (filters) regulate community assembly and state changes in restored prairie? A variety of KNZ restoration experiments, including a sequential restoration experiment previously initiated in LTER VI provide a novel framework for testing theory (e.g., community assembly) and our understanding of constraints on recovery and state change in restored prairie.