University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
College of Biological Sciences


Experiment 321 - Assessing the use of bison for savanna restoration at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

Oak savanna is the most threatened ecosystem in Minnesota and fire, alone, is not restoring and preserving it. Our savanna restoration research started more than a half century ago in what had once been native savanna at Cedar Creek. It has shown that burning about 4 to 7 times per decade eliminates shrubs and non-savanna tree species and restores prairie grassland species. However, our 50 years of research is also showing that these frequent and intense fires are preventing oaks from regenerating. Bison are now known to be a keystone species for restoring and preserving grasslands, but their roles in savanna ecosystems remain unknown. In grasslands, bison preferentially graze the dominant warm season grasses that would otherwise outcompete wildflowers, thereby promoting plant coexistence and enhancing plant diversity. Here we propose to test whether bison grazing might promote the growth and survivorship of oak seedlings in burned savannas by reducing grass fuel for fires and by knocking back dominant grass competitors.

We will maintain the existing fire frequencies and the design of the long-term burning experiment, while adding bison grazing as an additional factor in part of several burn units on the southeast side of the property. Bison will graze during the summer and early fall seasons. Grazing exclosures will be established, and oak seedlings will be planted, to test effects of bison grazing on early oak growth and survivorship. The outcomes we plan to achieve are to: (1) discover better restoration and preservation practices for savanna ecosystems; (2) determine how these practices impact savanna biodiversity; and (3) educate Minnesotans about the ecological heritage of their state, including the roles that bison, fire and biodiversity play in the functioning of savannas and other Minnesota ecosystems. We will achieve these goals and outcomes by: (1) restoring bison grazing to 200 acres of oak savanna; (2) experimentally testing whether bison grazing promotes savanna biodiversity; and (3) disseminating results to K-12 students and visitors.

Methods for e321


Dataset IDTitleRange of Years (# years with data)
ahue321Aboveground Biomass2018-2018 (1 year)
ahxe321Consumption2018-2020 (2 years)
ahze321Oak sapling growth2018-2019 (2 years)
ahye321Soil Carbon and Nitrogen2018-2019 (2 years)
ahwe321Species Percent Cover2018-2020 (3 years)