Measuring Prairie Fragment Connectivity: Pollen and Seed Dispersal (LCCMR Project #162-F)
Prior to intense human settlement, grasslands in Minnesota covered nearly 18 million acres of the state. In these large, continuous grasslands, plant species could move across the landscape unhindered, thus increasing both genetic and species diversity naturally through dispersal processes. However, Minnesota grasslands have become severely fragmented, and it is unknown how connected these current prairie fragments are to each other as they have decreased in both size and shape, as well as distance to each other.
Dispersal is one process that promotes diversity in these fragmented systems, however the movement abilities of grassland plant species are relatively unknown. The purpose of this research is to determine how far prairie plant species are moving by pollen and seed.
In this research, we will use DNA parentage analysis of GPS-located individuals in order to measure how far offspring are moving from parents. Using this dispersal information we will determine the connectivity of the current grassland fragments (both restored and remnant) in Northwest Minnesota. Fragment connectivity can provide managers an idea of how well species can move between fragments, and indicate where new restored grasslands should be created in order to maintain connectivity. This information will be made available to the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan to increase knowledge of plant movement between fragments and with corridors. Additionally, we will create open-access tools that will be available to managers and citizens throughout Minnesota in order for users to be able to determine the connectivity of their prairie habitat in other areas of the state.
- Lauren Sullivan (Project Manager) is a postdoctoral researcher in the EEB department at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN-TC) and will be leading the project.
- David Moeller (collaborator) is an Assistant Professor in the Plant Biology department at UMN-TC and will be collaborating on the parentage analyses.
- Allison Shaw (collaborator) is an Assistant Professor in the EEB department at UMN-TC and will be collaborating on the connectivity analyses.
- Dylan Jorgenson (summer intern) is a senior undergraduate in the Evolutionary Biology and Ecology program at Minnesota State Moorehead and will be helping with field work this summer.
This work is funded by the Minnesota Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).