Sandhills Workshop: Top five
By Katie Nieland, Center for Great Plains Studies
Organized by UNK Associate Professor Mary Harner and colleagues as part of a University of Nebraska Collaboration Initiative planning grant, the Sandhills Workshop earlier this month brought together various researchers from across the region to talk about the Nebraska Sandhills. The afternoon was full of interesting projects, new research, and enthusiasm for this unique landscape. A few interesting items:
- It’s really rare for sand dunes to be covered by vegetation. Dave Wedin, ecosystem ecologist at UNL’s School of Natural Resources said when there is vegetation it’s much more likely for dunes to have scrub and tree cover rather than grasses.
- The Sandhills is home to a rare type of body of water, alkaline lakes. These lakes, with a pH usually greater than 8.0, create a unique habitat for all sorts of life.
- Most of the sand is quartz, blown in from the Rocky Mountains. UNL Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Emeritus David Loope said the oldest deposit they’ve dated is around 18,000 years old, though the field itself may be much older.
- Of all bird types, grassland birds are declining the fastest in population, said Larkin Powell, professor in UNL’s School of Natural Resources, and the state bird of several Great Plains states, the western meadowlark, is among them.
- Redcedar trees, once planted for windbreaks in the Sandhills, are increasingly turning the prairie into woodland. To stop the spread of this invasive species, ranchers and land management specialists are working together to remove trees both mechanically and with fire.
Stay tuned for more about this project.