Patterns of Woody Encroachment Establishment in a Restored Praire

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Colton, Andrea
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology seeks to teach the studies of ecology (organisms and their environment), evolutionary theory (the origin and interrelationships of organisms), and organismal biology (the structure, function, and biodiversity of organisms). In doing this, it offers several majors which are codirected with other departments, including biology, genetics, and environmental sciences.

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology was founded in 2003 as a merger of the Department of Botany, the Department of Microbiology, and the Department of Zoology and Genetics.

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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.


Prairie areas free of established trees create an ideal habitat for seedlings of nearby adult trees, making it easy for woody species to invade Iowa’s natural prairies and slowly convert them to forested areas. This study aims to determine possible patterns of establishment of woody species in a restored prairie area within Ames, Iowa, focusing on the effects of herbivory and surrounding herbaceous biodiversity. Oakridge Prairie is sectioned into eight plots (four allowing herbivory, four preventing herbivory) and each block has areas of low and high grass/forb diversity. Heights, species, and locations within diversity and herbivory treatments were recorded for all seedlings above 0.5 m within this prairie. There is a significant relationship between herbivory treatments on seedling abundance and height, but not for herbaceous plant diversity treatments. Herbivores strongly limit woody encroachment. Dispersal mode affects dispersal distance, with animal dispersed seeds traveling farther from their nearest conspecific. Animals, likely birds, are dispersing seeds into prairies. Prairie managers should consider the effectiveness of herbivory on reducing woody encroachment into natural prairie areas.