Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Vegetation Surveys at Commons Ford: Assessing the Success of Prairie Restoration

In order to quantify the success of a prairie restoration process, annual vegetation surveys must be conducted. Prior to the restoration process, Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization conducted a vegetation survey of the prairie. This information, which was gathered by volunteer biologists and enthusiast, allowed us to quantify the vegetational composition of the prairie prior to restoration.

Results of that original survey showed that the 40 acre prairie was dominated by just three invasive, exotic species – Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) and King Ranch bluestem (Andropogon ischaemum).  These species are often planted by ranchers as fodder for cattle. However, none of these species has much value for wildlife. In addition, they also tend to out compete native grass and forb species. Before the restoration, the Commons Ford Prairie was a desert of exotic grasses and offered little benefit for native birds and other wildlife.  

Our prairie restoration process was designed by wildlife ecologists in order to eliminate these target species so that native grasses could begin to regain control of the prairie. Our native seed mix included native, fast growing grass species that would quickly germinate and out-compete the invasive species. Our first post restoration vegetation survey was conducted in June of 2013. The results were incredible – a rich variety of grass and forb species had emerged. Along with the native grasses came the wildlife. 

Our first post-restoration bird survey showed a tenfold increase in bird species actively using the 40 acre prairie.However, surveyors also found a high re-emergence of the big three exotics that had been there before. The emergence of the exotics was not entirely unexpected; these aggressive grasses are hard to stop with just one treatment. Consistent monitoring of the prairie is needed in order to create effective management plants for maintaining the prairies health and vitality.

On June 22, volunteers will conduct a third vegetation survey. This survey is crucial to the restoration process. We need to find out what is emerging on the prairie this summer, especially the percentage of re-emerging exotics. This information will allow us to design a follow up treatment for the prairie, so that it will not be once again overtaken by the aggressive exotic grass species.

We could still use some volunteers for the vegetation survey on June 22, 2013. If you would like to volunteer for the survey, please email us at

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