University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
College of Biological Sciences

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

BioCON Experiment

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve is a University of Minnesota biological field station with many ecosystems and species found throughout the forests and grasslands of North America. Faculty, staff and students who work at Cedar Creek are dedicated to understanding how human activities, such as agriculture and fossil fuel combustion, are changing ecosystems. 
Many of the experiments at Cedar Creek consider the long-term consequences of human-driven environmental changes. These include ecosystem responses to:
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Elevated carbon dioxide
  • Warming and changes in precipitation
  • Exotic species invasions

Cedar Creek is part of the College of Biological Sciences and a member of the Long Term Ecological Network.




Research Highlight - Successional Dynamics on a Resampled Chronosequence

 Experiment 14 follows grassland succession in 23 fields across Cedar Creek. These fields were abandoned from agricultural use between 1927 and 2015, and help show how grassland plant communities recolonize sites over time. Each of the 23 fields includes 100 permanent plots which are measured for relative species abundance and soil carbon and nitrogen every five years. Four additional plots are measured annually for species biomass. Starting in 2006, half of the plots in each field received an additional burning treatment. This helps identify the role of fire in prairie recovery.

Though fields vary greatly in the rate at which species recolonize them, there are some general trends that are similar across all fields. Fields lose up to about 80% of their soil carbon when tilled for agricultural use, but after they are abandoned, soils appear to slowly recover their original carbon concentrations. Similarly, while most fields are dominated by fast-growing, weedy species such as quackgrass (Elymus repens) and ticklegrass (Agrostis scabra), over 20-30 years these species are usually replaced by slower-growing bunch grasses such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

Though some fields are slowly becoming forested with white pine (Pinus strobus), the majority of sites remain free of trees, even without burning. This suggests that succession at Cedar Creek might be very different from processes that take place in other locations, such as the Hutcheson Memorial Forest in New Jersey, where most fields have become forested over the past few decades.