Prairie Roots

When studying plant community ecology, belowground plant interactions are often overlooked when compared to aboveground plant interactions due to the difficulty of observing and measuring biomass beneath the earth’s surface. However, we know that belowground interactions are equally important to community stability. Complementarity is an important plant community process in which productivity can be increased due to the more complete use of above- and belowground resources, such as water, light, and nutrients. Studies support that complementarity is an important process in tallgrass prairies and where there is greater diversity, there is greater average aboveground biomass in prairies. 


Prairie diversity can be broken down into two categories: species diversity and functional group diversity. Functional groups provide ways to classify plants based on similar ecological functions. In tallgrass prairies there are four broadly defined functional groups, the basis of which were created based largely on aboveground phenology and architecture. The purpose of this experiment is to develop a methodology to measure and test whether there is root complementarity when prairie functional groups are grown alone or in the presence of other functional groups.

© Photos and content by Meghann Jarchow and Alexa Kruse. 

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