Great Plains Research publishes new studies on water, plants and trade

Released on 05/01/2006, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., May 1st, 2006 —

During the recent drought, Nebraska and the surrounding Great Plains states have seen decreases in rainfall and groundwater levels.

In the spring issue of Great Plains Research, a publication of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, UNL geologists Mark E. Burbach and R. Matthew Joeckel call this situation, "a delicate balance." Their research shows the drought has had a greater impact on groundwater levels in areas with extensive irrigation development than in areas with little irrigation. Burbach and Joeckel wrote, "As a result, recovery from the drought and long-term intensive land use will be particularly challenging in densely irrigated areas of Nebraska."

Other researchers in the UNL School of Natural Resources continue the groundwater theme with an article on the hydrological effects and groundwater fluctuations in the Nebraska Sandhills. David C. Gosselin, Venkataramana Sridhar, F. Edwin Harvey, and James W. Goeke spent nine years monitoring the influence of topographic relief and environmental conditions on groundwater in the Sandhills.

"Nitrogen is increasing in terrestrial ecosystems as a result of agricultural practices and the burning of fossil fuels. This increase is expected to be accompanied by changes in water availability due to global warming," wrote UNL researchers Amy Kochsiek, Veronica Ciganda, Neal Bryan, Lena Hite and Tala Awada. Their research focused on the effects of nitrogen and water manipulations on little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), one of the dominant grasses in the Great Plains.

Gary D. Willson, UNL School of Natural Resources, Manda J. Page, University of Queensland-Gatton in Australia, and F. Adnan Aky├╝z, National Weather Service, conducted a study of rain and fire effects on a small population of the threatened western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara). From 1995 to 2004, they monitored the flowering orchids at Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota, resulting in recommendations and cautions about managing the habitat through prescribed burning.

Susan J. Tunnell, James Stubbendieck and Sal Palazzolo, UNL researchers in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, and Robert A. Masters, a biologist with Dow AgroSciences, studied the use of prescribed fire and herbicides to reduce smooth sumac (Rhus glabra L.) dominance in native tallgrass prairie. The authors wrote, "We expected burning to make the plant more susceptible to herbicides, but burning increased stem density. In this tallgrass prairie remnant, we determined that herbicides were the most effective management tool in reducing smooth sumac stem density."

Military land managers face increasing pressure to maintain viable ecosystems for land that has many uses including vehicle training, grazing by domestic livestock and wildlife, crop production, forestry, recreation and habitat protection for threatened and endangered species. U.S. Army Engineers researchers John A. Guretzky and Alan B. Anderson, along with Jeffrey S. Fehmi from the University of Arizona, studied the effects of vehicle training and grazing on the condition and recovery of grassland soils and vegetation at Fort Hood, Texas.

Declining retail trade in rural America is a concern for rural residents, their leaders and rural development professionals. Rex Nelson, executive director for the McCook Economic Development Corporation, Bruce B. Johnson, UNL professor of agricultural economics, and David L. Darling, agricultural economist from Manhattan, Kan., studied several factors that play a role in that decline including population demographics.

Nelson, Johnson, and Darling said, "Retailing, which was once a core function of rural communities, now is often being lost to larger cities. If left unchecked, it can mean the loss of any opportunity a community has for recovery or reinventing itself for a new age and a new economy."

In other articles, San Diego State University geographer David Lulka examined the incorporation of bison products into the federal government's Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and North Dakota State University agricultural economists Cheryl J. Wachenheim, Patrick Novak, Eric A. DeVuyst and David K. Lambert studied the traditional methods for estimating demand for agricultural processing coproducts and proposed an alternative technique.

"This issue inaugurates a new look for the journal," said Great Plains Research editor Robert F. Diffendal Jr. "After 15 years we have changed our format in the hope of giving our authors greater flexibility in producing manuscripts that report the results of their research projects."

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