Ecological research is the central activity of the Konza Prairie. The site was established to provide a natural laboratory for the study of ecological patterns and processes in native tallgrass prairie ecosystems, and a protected field site for basic biological research. Kansas State University researchers and visiting scientists conduct field research on a wide spectrum of taxa and at levels of organization from the individual organism to landscape and global-scale processes. Ongoing research includes physiological ecology, population and community ecology of plants, insects, birds and mammals, aquatic ecology, ecosystem and landscape ecology, and grasslands restoration ecology. Studies of ecosystem dynamics emphasize productivity, nutrient cycling, and belowground processes. As of 2009, over 1180 scientific articles and books were published based on research at Konza Prairie, and over 100 scientists have active research projects on site.
The three key natural processes that regulate and sustain the tallgrass prairie are periodic fire, ungulate grazing, and a variable continental climate. Thus, these processes are the focus of much of the long-term research. Replicated watershed-level experimental manipulations including fire and grazing are employed to study these ecological processes, with the effects of climate being investigated via measurements over long time scales and small-scale manipulations of precipitation patterns. Konza Prairie is divided into 50 watershed units (average size = 60 ha), each subjected to a specific combination of prescribed burning regime (burned at 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, or 20 year intervals, and burned in February, April, July, or November) and grazing treatment (grazed by bison, cattle, or ungrazed). The long-term prescribed burning treatments were initiated in 1972 and the bison grazing treatments were initiated in 1987. The herd of approximately 300 bison is managed to reflect a natural age structure and provides a year-long grazing regime resulting in approximately 25% removal of annual net primary productivity, a grazing intensity typical of natural sub-humid tall grasslands. The various combinations of bison, cattle, and ungrazed units allow large-scale replicated studies of the role of native grazers, comparison of effects of native and domestic ungulates, and effects of varying fire and grazing management regimes on tallgrass prairie ecosystems.
Baer, S.G. and D.J. Gibson. 2005-2009. Hierarchical consequences of intraspecific variation on community and ecosystem re-assembly. NSF Ecology Program, $445,000.
Blair, J.M., W.K. Dodds, D.C. Hartnett, A. Joern, J.B. Nippert and others. 2008-2014. LTER VI: Grassland dynamics and long-term trajectories of change. NSF LTER Program, $5,640,000
Blair, J.M., J.M. Briggs, D.C. Hartnett, L.C. Johnson, A.K. Knapp and others. 2002-2008. LTER V: Long-term research on grassland dynamics and global change. NSF LTER Program, $4,680,000 (original request) + $641,722 (supplemental funding).
Blair, J.M., A.K. Knapp, S.L. Collins, P.A. Fay and M. Smith. 2005-2009. Collaborative research: LTREB long-term ecosystem responses to more extreme precipitation patterns and warming. NSF LTREB Program, $300,000.
Blair, J.M. and A.K. Knapp. 2007-2010. Collaborative Research: Interactive effects of altered rainfall timing and elevated soil temperature on soil communities and ecosystem processes. DOE National Institute for Climate Change Research, $502,552.
Craine, J.M., Fierer, N., and McLauchlan, K. K. 2008-2011. Testing the consequences of the carbon-quality temperature hypothesis for soil organic matter decomposition. NSF Ecosystems Program, $437,157.
Dodds, W. K., K. Gido, K. With, and J. Koelliker. 2005-2008. Ecosystem thresholds and alternate states in Great Plains rivers and streams: cascading effects of anthropogenic hydrologic disturbance. US EPA Star program, $299,566.
Dodds, W.K., J.M. Blair, and J. Harrington. 2006-2009. Understanding and forecasting ecological change: Causes, trajectories and consequences of environmental change in the Central Plains. NSF EPSCoR Program, $3,263,478 (KSU portion).
Ferguson, C. J., and M. H. Mayfield. 2006-2009. Computerization of the Kansas State University Herbarium: digitizing a critical biodiversity collection for the Great Plains. NSF Biological Research Collections, $383,674.
Harrington, J., Jr., 2007-2008. Ecological forecasting. Kansas NASA Space Grant, $12,800
Hartnett, D.C. 2006-2009. Building Renovation for New Meeting Facility at Konza Prairie Biological Station. NSF Field Stations, $250,000.
Hartnett, D.C. and G.W.T. Wilson. 2007-2010. Bud bank demography: A new approach to assessing rangeland health and responses to environmental change. USDA Rangeland Research Program, $399,384.
Herman, M.H., K.L. Jones, T.C. Todd and J.M. Blair. 2007-2010. En-Gen: Ecological genomics of soil nematode community responses: Model and non-model approaches. NSF Environmental Genomics Program, $622,598.
Joern, A. and D.C. Hartnett. 2008-2011. Enhancing excellence in grassland ecology: a center for basic grassland research at KSU. KSU Provost’s Targeted Excellence Program, $515,000.
Joern, A., J. M. Briggs, D. Goodin, A. Skibbe, E.G. Towne. 2010-2013. Impacts of Spatially Heterogeneous Nitrogen to Grazer Distribution and Activity: Effects on Ecosystem Function in Tallgrass Prairie. NSF, $750,000.00
Johnson, L.C., S.G. Baer, K. Garrett, T. Morgan, and P. St. Amand. 2008-2011. Ecotypic variation and functional response of an ecologically dominant species across a precipitation gradient and in response to altered precipitation: Test for local adaptation and ecosystem function. USDA Plant Biology and Abiotic Stress Program, $394,439.
Jumpponen, A. 2004-2008. Collaborative Research: Functional significance of "dark septate" endophytes in grassland and meadow ecosystems in western north America. NSF-DEB, $268,838.
Kelly, E.F. and A.K. Knapp. 2008-2010. Ecological controls on biogenic silica in grasslands - the role of long-term fire and grazing history on two continents. NSF Ecosystems Ecology Program, $250,000.
Knapp, A.K., J.M. Blair, S.L. Collins and M.D. Smith. 2005-2008. Collaborative Research: Convergence and contingencies in savanna grasslands. NSF Ecology & Ecosystem Studies Programs, $830,000.
Knapp, A.K., J.M. Blair and M.D. Smith. 2007-2010. Grassland structure and function in response to warming and more extreme precipitation patterns. USDA NRI Managed Ecosystems, $399,720.
Koerner, S. and S.L. Collins. 2009-2011. Dissertation Research: Effects of global climate change, loss of mega-herbivore biodiversity, and altered fire regimes on savanna grassland ecosystems. NSF - $14,860
McLauchlan, K.K. and S. Sugita. 2008-2010. Improving reconstructions of open vegetation in North America: pollen productivity estimates for grassland plants. NSF Geography and Regional Science Program, $90,005
Nafziger, E.W., E.F. Kisangani and D.C. Hartnett. 2006-2008. Africa in the global context: The political economy of agriculture, the environment, and human health. KSU Provost’s Targeted Excellence Program, $253,726.
Sandercock, B.K., and S.M. Wisely. 2006-2010. Impacts of wind power development on the demography and population genetics of the Greater Prairie-chicken. National Wind Coordinating Committee (Sponsors include: Department of Energy - National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, State Chapters of The Nature Conservancy and 4 industry partners), $730,100.
Smith, M.D., J. Bai, J.M. Blair, P.A Fay, K.A. Garrett, S.H. Hulbert, A.K. Knapp, J.E. Leach and S.E. Travers. 2004-2008. Bridging the divide: Linking genomics to ecosystem responses to climate change. DOE-PER Program, $1,484,939.
Smith, M.D., A.K. Knapp, S.L. Collins and J. M. Blair. 2009-2012. Collaborative Research : Convergence and contingencies in savanna grasslands (renewal). National Science Foundation. $807,000.00
Tank, J., E. Rosi-Marshall, T. V. Royer, and M. R. Whiles. 2004-2008. Cycling of novel allochthonous carbon in Midwestern agricultural streams. NSF Ecosystems Ecology Program, $530,000.
Wilson, G.W.T., and B.K. Sandercock. 2006-2009. NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Grasslands. NSF REU Site Program, $200,000.
Zolnerowich, G., C. J. Ferguson, D. Allen and M. Haddock. 2007-2010. The K-State prairie plant and insect collection: elevating biodiversity and bioinformatics to the next level. KSU Provost’s Targeted Excellence Program, $800,000.