Cup plant biases community nitrogen composition in response to increasing prairie community diversity

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Hill, Jacob
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Natural Resource Ecology and Management
The Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management is dedicated to the understanding, effective management, and sustainable use of our renewable natural resources through the land-grant missions of teaching, research, and extension.
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Honors Projects and Posters
University Honors Program

The Honors project is potentially the most valuable component of an Honors education. Typically Honors students choose to do their projects in their area of study, but some will pick a topic of interest unrelated to their major.

The Honors Program requires that the project be presented at a poster presentation event. Poster presentations are held each semester. Most students present during their senior year, but may do so earlier if their honors project has been completed.

This site presents project descriptions and selected posters for Honors projects completed since the Fall 2015 semester.


High diversity grassland ecosystems such as Midwestern tallgrass prairies often exhibit increased biomass production and nutrient uptake relative to less diverse ecosystems due to complementarity between species and disproportionate influences of highly productive individual species. This positive empirical relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function is often applied by land managers concerned with reducing nutrient runoff from agricultural landscapes. By comparing responses of the highly productive forb cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) and less productive neighboring species to increasing diversity in reconstructed prairie plots, this study sought to understand the mechanisms responsible for such positive relationships between species diversity and ecosystem function in an agricultural context. Nitrogen content of aboveground tissue was measured in leaves of cup plant and neighboring species during and after the growing season. Results suggest that cup plant, when planted at high densities, may override the expected positive influence of species diversity on nitrogen removal by restored prairie communities. These findings indicate that complementarity in resource use and biased effects of the focal species operate simultaneously in prairies restored in agricultural environments. The differential response of co-occurring productive and less productive species are potentially important considerations for restoration projects in agricultural contexts.