From Blazing to Grazing

May 21, 2018


Researchers at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve have worked for decades to find a way to preserve and maintain the threatened Minnesota oak savanna ecosystem. Finding some success in prescribed burns, researchers also see the savanna at the field station slowly morphing into a grassland as younger oaks struggle to regenerate from the four to seven burns per decade. To tackle this challenge, Cedar Creek investigators will look to Minnesota’s past to find answers for the future.

“We are bringing a herd of 30 to 40 bison to Cedar Creek this summer to see what impact they have on restoring this critical Minnesota landscape,” says the station’s Associate Director Forest Isbell. “Bison are known from other research to be important for restoring grasslands, but little is known about their role in savanna ecosystems."

In grasslands, bison graze on plants that may otherwise dominate the ecosystem, offering the chance for increased biodiversity. The team at Cedar Creek sees the potential for bison, once a prevalent species in landscapes across the state, to graze on the plant species they often try to control through prescribed burns, thereby moderating the fire effects and offering a potential chance for younger oaks to flourish.

“Our research has the potential to uncover an effective new strategy for restoring and maintaining a unique and vanishing Midwest ecosystem,” says Isbell.