Great Plains Research publishes new studies on the environment

Released on 04/25/2005, at 9:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., April 25th, 2005 —

Mammals and their relationship to the environment and evidence of previous droughts in the Plains are discussed in the 2005 spring issue of Great Plains Research, a publication of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Oklahoma State University researchers Claudia Rosas, David Engle, and James Shaw examined the ecological effects of bison herd composition by looking at the differences in diet selection between adult males and females. They found females prefer one kind of grass compared to males, and since females in modern bison herds greatly outnumber males, their grazing patterns may have different impacts on the grass species found in the prairies today, compared to those of presettlement times.

Smaller mammals can also have an impact on prairie ecosystems through their selective feeding and burrowing activities. Kansas State University biologists Glennis Kaufman, Scott Kocher, and Donald Kaufman studied how pocket gophers and prairie dogs change the nitrogen composition of soil by moving nitrogen-poor subsurface soil to the surface, thereby affecting which plant species colonize these areas.

In South Dakota, the northern river otter is listed as a threatened species. South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks researcher Alyssa Kiesow and her South Dakota State University colleague Charles Dieter looked at whether adequate habitat was available for reintroducing river otters. In the 19th century, river otters inhabited riparian areas and permanent bodies of water throughout South Dakota, but in the last 25 years, there have been only 34 verified sightings of river otters in the state.

Barbara Nicholson of Central Connecticut State University and James Swinehart of UNL conducted a paleo-ecological investigation of the last 10,000 years in a Nebraska Sandhills wetland in Jumbo Valley. Sedimentary and fossil records indicate several long periods of increased dune activity that was most likely caused by drought and fire. The most recent of these was more than 1,000 years ago and appears to have been more severe than the droughts experienced in the 20th century.

Great Plains Research, a journal of natural and social history, is edited by Robert F. Diffendal Jr., professor emeritus in the Conservation and Survey Division at UNL. The journal is available for purchase from the center at (402) 472-3082 or in the Great Plains Art Museum gift shop, 1155 Q St., Lincoln.

CONTACT: Robert F. Diffendal Jr., Editor, Great Plains Research (402) 472-6970