Ecological research is the primary mission of the Konza Prairie Biological Station. The site was established to provide a natural laboratory for the study of ecological patterns and processes in native tallgrass prairie ecosystems, and to serve as a protected field site for basic and applied scientific research in ecology, biology, hydrology, geology, range science, and other related disciplines. Kansas State University researchers and visiting scientists from other institutions and agencies conduct field research on a wide spectrum of taxa and at levels of organization from the individual organism to landscape and global-scale processes.
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 approximately 50 watershed units (average size = 66 ha), each subjected to a specific combination of prescribed burning regime (burned at 1, 2, 3, 4, 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 250 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.
Below are a few facts about research programs, activities, and products at KPBS. and research
- Research at KPBS has been supported by over $100M in cumulative grant funding since 1980.
- As of April, 2023, research at KPBS has led to over 2,000 scientific publications, including more than 300 student thesis and dissertations. A list of publications with links is available here.
- In an average year, there are about 120 active research projects on KPBS, involving researchers from 5 Colleges and 14 Departments at KSU, ~20 other universities, and several government agencies.
- KPBS regularly hosts scientists and students from other countries, providing educational opportunities and fostering collaborative research with international partners.
Long-Term Ecological Research and other major research programs:
- The Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program funded by The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a core research program. Konza was one of six original LTER sites funded by NSF in 1980 and has been continuously funded since.
- The current Konza LTER grant provides base funding of $7,100,000 over six years (2020-2026). Total LTER funding to date exceeds $36 million.
- KPBS is a core site for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). NEON is an NSF-funded continental-scale observatory that provides a unique research platform (funded for 30 years by The National Science Foundation) for identifying and understanding responses to environmental change and forecasting future states of ecological systems.
- KPBS is a partner in numerous other national research networks including the NOAA Climate Reference Network, the USGS Hydrologic Benchmark Network, EPA Clean Air Standards and Trends Network, National Atmospheric Deposition Program, Fluxnet, and others.