University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
College of Biological Sciences
Cedar CreekMonarch explorations with 3rd gradersLong term experiment e001 in Field A

About Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve is a large ecological research site in central Minnesota with natural habitats that represent the entire state. There is no place of comparable biological diversity so close to the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Cedar Creek is owned and operated by the University of Minnesota in cooperation with the Minnesota Academy of Science.

The people of Cedar Creek are dedicated to understanding our planet’s ecosystems and how they are changing under human pressures. Through research, conservation, and education, Cedar Creek will continue to bridge the gaps between science, community, and government. Although Cedar Creek is not open to the public, we encourage all members of the community to join us in learning about the work that goes on here.

Photos of various Cedar Creek habitats are available on habitat pages listed here.


From the earliest work at Cedar Creek to the most modern experiments today, research has focused on ecology and the services ecosystems provide to the planet and to human society.

World-renowned scientists have made Cedar Creek their workplace from the beginning. The modern science of ecosystem ecology was conceived here in the 1940s. Radio collars for animal tracking were invented by University of Minnesota scientists working at Cedar Creek. Long-term research on prescribed burning for savannas began here in the 1960s. Cedar Creek’s insect community has become one of the most intensely studied ecological communities anywhere. Experiments begun in the 1980s helped to establish modern ecological theory. Currently two of the most influential ecologists in the world*, David Tilman and Peter Reich, conduct their primary research at Cedar Creek.


 "... the site is rapidly becoming one of ecology's classic localities."

Nee and Lawton, Nature 380: 672-673 (1996)


Ongoing projects include studies of biodiversity—the number of different species living in an area, from the tiniest bacteria to the largest animals and most massive trees. Also, large-scale experiments at Cedar Creek examine how environmental changes are affecting the globe.

Future scientific opportunities include understanding how urbanization will change native plant and animal communities, how bacteria and other microbes in the soil interact with plants we see above ground, how grazers, including bison, maintain prairies and savannas, and how habitat restoration improves conditions for wildlife.

* Based on citation history as determined by the Institute for Scientific Information, Science Watch, November 2002.


Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve is within the meeting point of the three largest ecosystems of North America. Here the western prairies, the northern evergreen forests, and the leafy forests of the east all converge in a remarkable combination of plants and animals over a nine-square-mile area. The Minnesota County Biological Survey ranks Cedar Creek a site of Outstanding Biodiversity Significance, its highest rating, and the Nature Conservancy has named Cedar Creek an Ecologically Significant Area. Protecting this area means protecting now-rare native habitats that once graced much of the Midwest, and protecting the wildlife that lives there. Conservation becomes critical as surrounding surburban areas develop. In coordination with the Department of Natural Resources, the Anoka County Parks Department, the Anoka Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, and others, the area can contribute central habitats and connecting corridors for wildlife and native plants in a future suburban setting. These partners are working with landowners and local governments to help protect the most critical habitats adjacent to Cedar Creek to help ensure the survival of these ecosystems into the future.

Education & Outreach

Education at Cedar Creek involves learners of all ages; from elementary students through adult, public school through university, backyard gardeners through international scientists. With ecology now one of the essential applied sciences of our time, we are capitalizing on Cedar Creek’s scientific standing and embracing new roles at state and local levels. Through our K-12 programs, thousands of students come to Cedar Creek annual to learn ecology through hands-on field investigations, and teachers and educators benefit from on-site professional development workshops. The public can take advantage of tours of the many unique natural areas in Cedar Creek and the internationally-renowned research sites focusing on plant biodiversity and the effect of global change on plant communities, as well as participate directly in research through our citizen science projects. Click the Education and Public Programs tabs to explore the full range of learning opportunites!