Great Plains Research examines grassland changes, more, in fall issue

Released on 11/06/2007, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., November 6th, 2007 —

Since the late 19th century, human activities have transformed the Great Plains from a primarily temperate grassland to a mix of rangelands, croplands and population centers. While population growth may cause cropland expansion in many regions of the world, it also causes a decline in farmland near expanding urban boundaries.

In the fall issue of Great Plains Research, a publication of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Center for Great Plains Studies (, U.S. Geological Survey geologist Mark A. Drummond examined contemporary land cover between 1973 and 2000 in the northwestern Great Plains and the western high plains. Drummond wrote, "Due to the dynamic nature and consequences of land use, it is critical to understand the rates, types, and causes of land change."

Guest editors James W. Merchant, UNL professor in the School of Natural Resources, and Rex Honey, professor of geography at the University of Iowa, chose four peer-reviewed papers from the 2006 Joint Meeting of the Association of American Geographers' Great Plains-Rocky Mountain and West Lakes Divisions for publication in this issue of Great Plains Research. In their introduction to this special section of the journal, Merchant and Honey wrote, "The emphasis that geographers place upon illuminating the spatial components of environmental, societal, economic and cultural issues has often afforded them a unique perspective on important questions confronting the region."

Kansas State University geographer Gina K. Thornburg explored the impacts of "shop locally" initiatives on small town economics in Kansas. Laura Smith, Macalester College geographer, analyzed the relationships between American Indian and non-Indian peoples as they addressed Native land acquisition in the Minnesota River valley. University of Minnesota geographer Roxanne Ornelas discussed connections between sacred landscapes and spiritual beliefs among indigenous peoples, with special focus on the impacts of Garrison Dam in North Dakota.

In addition to the special geography section, four natural science articles highlight recent research in Nebraska and Canada. Stephen A. Wolfe of the Geological Survey of Canada and Canadian colleagues studied the archeological evidence showing a link between Plains aboriginal occupation and dune activity in the Elbow Sand Hills of southern Saskatchewan.

UNL researchers Tala Awada of the School of Natural Resources and Scott Josiah of the Nebraska Forest Service studied the responses of hazelnut hybrids to water availability. They were able to identify relatively drought-resistant hybrids suitable for successful planting on the Great Plains.

Oklahoma State University researchers Jill Sporrong Utrup and Craig A. Davis said that a decline of grassland bird populations in the Great Plains spurred them to study birds in restored grasslands of the Rainwater Basin Region in Nebraska. They found 14 bird species in 12 grassland restorations, of which the most abundant were dickcissels and bobolinks. They said restoring marginal croplands back to sizable grasslands will influence an increase in additional bird species such as grasshopper sparrows, meadowlarks, and red-winged blackbirds.

Patrick E. Reece, UNL professor at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, and his colleagues studied the effects of grazing and drought stress on prairie sandreed, a warm-season tall grass, in subsequent-year production. They found it may be necessary periodically to defer a full growing season in order to maintain species dominance in grassland communities such as pastures where overgrazing and drought stress may occur at the same time in June or July.

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