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Ecosystem Restoration & Management

Ecosystem restoration is a catch-all phrase for recreating and maintaining several different

types of ecosystems. The ecosystems are those of the Upper Midwest, especially in

Iowa: tallgrass and mid-grass prairies, savanna, wetlands (about seven kinds in Iowa),

and woodlands (Iowa has about nine different types). Methods vary widely, depending on

the goals and size of the project.

An effective project begins with general goals, planning steps that identify

resources, equipment, and personnel needs, and outcome-based criteria to ascertain

success. Here a few types of projects are outlined for your benefit. Questions can  be

directed through the Contact Leeward page for a quick reply.

Restoration projects identification of native animal and plant resources (1) on the site that

can be enhanced, and (2) resources in the area that can be accessed for the gene pool that

likely existed at the site. Projects may involve minor to extensive modification of a

site to remove exotics (nonnative species), change hydrological conditions, filter nutrients

and pollutants, alter surface water flows, create habitat for aquatic and land wildlife, and

achieve other goals.

If you are a potential client, here are some consulting and implementation services that

Leeward Solutions offers.

Stream Morphological Evaluation

The characteristics of the channel, banks, valley, water flow, and more are necessary for stream modification and

restoration work. Leeward Solutions, LLC, offers field data collection of quantitative measures for reference streams and

stream restorationprojects. A successful project imitates the natural stream processes based on channel size, stream order,

floodplain, discharge at different flow levels, and vegetation.

Typically, morphological evaluation determines:

  • stream velocity at different flow levels.
  • discharge rate.
  • the present bankfull level, the level of highest efficiency of sediment transport.
  • flood-prone area (the area between a return interval of about 1.5 and 50 years.
  • shear stresses and other forces that may cause unusual rates of erosion or sedimentation.

Without an understanding of these in existing streams and as

measurable goals for a restoration, the risk of a costly failure

is much higher.

The photo shows a very narrow (2-3 inches) stream through

beach sand that formed after a rain. Even at this small scale, the

channel displays nearly all the features of a much larger stream.

Gardening with Native Plants

Many people who see a profile of the root depths of native prairie plants come away with an enduring image of the

soil-holding and topsoil-developing potential of these plants. That image appears below. (Notice that Kentucky bluegrass,

a common choice for lawns, appears at the far left for comparison.)

There are several advantages to using native plants as garden plants. Many species offer the season-by-season color and

variation in height that nonnative plants do. Because they are native, they are far less likely to escape and become

problematic weeds. Think of what has happened with garlic mustard, dandelions, brome grass, and many others.

Depth of Prairie Plant Roots
Our native Midwestern prairie, wetland, and woodland plants often can be grown from seed or seedling plugs with little

difficulty. Many are tolerant of both high- and low-precipitation seasons, because that is a primary feature of our climate.

Many are perennial, so they lend themselves to beds of self-reproducing color and texture. If you have a large backyard or

larger area to convert to a prairie-like habitat, a few years of work often results in an area of constant change and

discovery that requires very little mowing. Suburban and urban lawns often lack much topsoil depth; a prairie area begins

at once to send down roots and create the organic layer, thus rebuilding the topsoil.

The main disadvantage of a prairie restoration is that it can be very labor intensive for a few years. If the careful use of

fire is not possible, occasional mowing helps maintain plant diversity and controls many of the nonnative weeds. Some

use of herbicides may be needed for the more pernicious and pervasive weeds. However, the selective use of native

plants in flower beds is far less likely to impose these disadvantages on you, as it is much more like everyday gardening.

The main differences happen below the surface, once the plants are growing.

Leeward Solutions offers consulting in the planning, implementation, and follow-up steps,

including layout, plant selection, seeding and seed sources, management of plantings, and

follow-up on your developing garden or restoration.

The Portable Document File (PDF) below opens with Adobe Reader. Before opening the file you will need to download

the Reader (at no cost) by clicking here for Windows operating systems or here for Macintosh systems. Once the Reader download

has saved on your local drive, you will need to install it, so make a note about the folder(s) in which the download file is

Native Plant Gardening Handout 6per.pdf Native Plant Gardening Handout 6per.pdf
Size : 10585.128 Kb
Type : pdf

Plant Inventories

Botanical or floristic inventories have a wide variety of uses and about as many methods of data collection and management. The choice of method depends on the goal of the inventory.

A simple inventory list may be preferred, and the person conducting the inventory will need familiarity with nearly all the species that could appear across a number of ecosystems and plant communities. Often the quality of a particular ecosystem, such as tallgrass prairie, is best demonstrated by "conservative" species, the plants that are most likely to suffer from disturbances. These are also the species that are less familiar because they are not dominant members of that plant community and/or because they are easily overlooked. A good field botanist needs to recognize these or, at the very least, be able to place an unidentified species in a larger taxonomic group and use botanical keys and laboratory equipment to complete the identification.

Inventories should include at least three visits during different seasons. In the Midwest, many plants bloom according to a cool-season or warm-season "schedule." Cool-season plants appear in early to mid-spring and flower from late March to June. Seed production begins anytime from April to mid-summer. Some of these plants have almost no trace on the surface by June, because they die back to dormancy. In contrast, warm-season plants, including many well-known prairie species, may exist as green growth through early to mid-summer, with flowering occurring in late summer to autumn and seed production thereafter. For example, an April inventory may completely miss many warm-season forbs and grasses that have barely sprouted or grown shoots. It is necessary to recognize seedlings and young plants from their overall growth pattern ("aspect") and botanical features.

Beyond listing, mapping of ecosystem remnants or restoration efforts may be a goal. Mapping enhances a project in which preservation and expansion of an existing area of native plants are desireable. Good field notes (with or without technology such as a lightweight laptop and premade plant list files) and proper equipment, such as GPS (Global Positioning Systems), are very useful. Boundaries between communities and areas in which different communities intergrade are of interest, and their correspondence to other physical features, such as historical records, soils, and topography may be of interest. Further, if seed collection for restoration of other areas is one goal, fairly good mapping can help the collectors with relocating a patch of a given species during peak seed production.

Statistical methods for assessing the quality of a plant community carry the analysis even further. These start with detailed inventories and, in the best of worlds, mapping, followed by the assignment of a Coefficient of Conservatism to each species. The Coefficient comes from a list that has been drawn up and agreed upon by botanists, and it usually covers an entire state or ecological region. The coefficients are then added and the Floristic Quality Index (FQI) is determined through a mathematical equation. The FQI is a quantitative, shorthand means of stating the quality of a given location from the proportion of conservative (uncommon and/or specialized), generalist (and usually common and hardy), and exotic (nonnative) species.

For preservation and restoration work, a high quality result is optimal. However, such remnant areas are rare in Iowa and the Upper Midwest Corn Belt. More likely a remnant area has degraded over time so that only the most tolerant species are left, or natives are well mixed with nonnative species. Interseeding and prescribed burning or mowing may work well, in order to avoid disturbance of the existing native plants. However, if very few or no native species exist at the site, the process must start from scratch. It's best to use local ecotype seed that has been gathered from remnants within 50 to 100 miles and is already adapted to conditions at the restoration site.

Otherwise, seed from a regional supplier is a last resort, in hopes that several years of management will result in a genetic base similar to the native local species.

Except for an area that already is a high-quality remnant, the change in the FQI or other numerical expression of quality over time is more important than a quality measure at one point in time. Restoration, whether through enhancement of an existing plant community or beginning from nothing, is a multi-year process.


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