Twenty years of tallgrass prairie reconstruction and restoration at Pawnee Prairie natural area, Missouri.
In 1996 the Missouri Department of Conservation purchased Pawnee Prairie, a 190-ha mix of remnant tallgrass prairie and formerly row-cropped prairie with varying degrees of Festuca arundinacea invasion and past cattle grazing intensities on rolling terrain in the central dissected till plains ecological section. Management actions implemented over the following 20 y included prescribed fire, herbicide treatments of invasive nonnative species, and seeding of local ecotype prairie seed. Concurrently, four vegetation monitoring transects were sampled for plant species composition and cover five times between 1996 and 2017. Each of the transects increased significantly over time in the following per-quadrat means: % native plant species cover, plant species conservatism, and cover-weighted plant species conservatism. At the site level, native grasses increased by 22%, nonnative grasses declined by 76%, native forbs increased by 91%, nonnative forbs declined by 94%, and native sedges declined by 37%. In 1996 the top species in importance value across all transects included weedy native species (e.g., Dicanthelium lanuginosum) and nonnative species (e.g., Daucus carota). By 2017 the top species had transitioned to characteristic prairie species (e.g., Schizachyrium scoparium). Ordination results documented compositional trends across all transects toward greater native species richness, cover, and species conservatism values. At Pawnee Prairie, 20 y of sustained prairie reconstruction and restoration practices applied across an area of differing land use histories resulted in significant gains in the natural quality of the site's vegetation, including a greater abundance of prairie flora matrix species and some conservative species.