From the ground up
By Hayli Morrison
In the world of livestock grazing, big bluestem is the cream of the crop.
Higher quality, drought-tolerant grass like big bluestem is good for the cattle industry, consumers and the economy. The Konza Prairie is about 70-percent covered in this native plant, most often used for prairie conservation and restoration.
For the past five years, researchers from Fort Hays State University, Southern Illinois University and K-State’s division of biology and departments of statistics, plant pathology and agronomy have analyzed optimal growth conditions for bluestem. Together they’ve cross-planted 12 varieties across four research sites in different rainfall regimes from Colby, Kansas, to Illinois. They look at response to rainfall while creating the most natural, prairie-like conditions using native plant diversity and annual burns.
The research has resulted in nine master’s theses across the entire project, representing several academic disciplines and tremendous opportunities for undergraduate students like Matthew Galliart, of Hutchinson, Kansas.
A biology senior at K-State, Galliart has worked on the project for two years. His involvement allowed him to present at two national conferences, receive several presentation awards, co-author one paper and successfully apply for $11,000 in nationally competitive grant funding.
Student research opportunities are key to K-State’s vision to be recognized as a top 50 public research university by 2025. It is one reason this project earned a Biology Research Career Development Award, totally supported by private philanthropic gifts to K-State. It is also one of the reasons Galliart found K-State so attractive during his college search.
“It’s great to see the students accomplish so much,” said associate professor of biology Dr. Loretta Johnson, the project’s principal investigator who encouraged Galliart to get involved. “Faculty are here for formal teaching, but informal teaching and mentoring is perhaps more important because it can really impact the students’ careers.”
How you can help
To support research opportunities for faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, please contact Tresa Weaver, senior vice president for development, at 785-532-7530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.