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Center for Grassland Studies Leader in Prairie Ecology
Nebraska Ag Connection - 06/21/2019

The University of Nebraska--Lincoln has many centers, but the Center for Grassland Studies is unique because it embraces all three land-grant missions: teaching, research and extension.

Its goal is to facilitate interdisciplinary research, education and outreach programs that emphasize the role of grasslands as a natural resource.

The Center for Grassland Studies is part of the university's longtime leadership in grassland and rangeland research within the state and across the country. Martin Massengale, president emeritus of the University of Nebraska system and a Foundation Professor in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, was the founding director. Steve Waller became the center's interim director in 2017 after stepping down as dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

grasslandsThe Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources established the center 25 years ago to bring together nationally recognized university faculty in many disciplines whose primary research related to some aspect of grasslands, including forage, range and turf grasses. This research is valuable because Nebraska's grasslands comprise more than 60% of the state's land mass. Grasslands are the basis for the cattle industry, wildlife habitat and recreation, and help maintain surface and groundwater quality.

"Since the center's beginning, there has been a lot of growth in the complexity of what the center does," Waller said. Nevertheless, the core mission has remained the same, coordinating faculty and staff research, teaching and outreach in grasses and grasslands (native and introduced), including research in

- The improvement and management of forage, range and turf grasses

- Ruminant livestock systems

- Production economics

- Grassland, riparian and wetlands ecology

- Wildlife management and conservation biology

- Watershed management

- Grassland insects and diseases

- Grassland resilience.

"The overall emphasis is a holistic systems approach to maintaining and improving our grassland resources," Waller said.

Educational programs include a multidisciplinary seminar during the fall semester attended by students, faculty and the public, and the annual Nebraska Grazing Conference. The center also administers three interdisciplinary undergraduate degree programs -- Bachelor of Science degrees in Grazing Livestock Systems, PGA Golf Management and Grassland Ecology and Management.

"Unfortunately, our grasslands have never been more vulnerable to conversion or collapse as they are today. Future generations deserve the very best grassland stewardship that we can provide to ensure that they can enjoy our shared prairie heritage," Waller said. "The role and importance of the center in crafting the future cannot be overstated, nor can the role that resilience science will play in the future of our grassland resources.

"A comprehensive research and education program serving grassland stewardship will ensure that grasslands will be part of our landscapes for generations to come," Waller said. "Grasslands define Nebraska's heritage."

Several early Nebraska researchers helped form the foundation for grassland science.

The pioneers in grassland ecology, such as Charles Bessey, Fredric Clements and John E. Weaver, taught and conducted research at the University of Nebraska. Weaver went on to be recognized as the "father of grassland ecology," said Steve Waller, Center for Grassland Studies interim director.

"These scholars and their students established the university's role as a leader in prairie ecology," he said. "Today's generation of faculty honor their legacy as they explore the evolution of ecological theory to include ecosystem resilience."

More information is at grassland.unl.edu.

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