New paper: drone-based biomass in the experimental prairie

The NSF-funded Ware Field experimental prairie was featured in a paper published this week in Applications in Plant Sciences. The study, “Application of remote sensing technology to estimate productivity and assess phylogenetic heritability,” illustrates the use of drone technology to investigate plant productivity in a diverse (127-species) grassland, and ties the evolution of plant traits to differences among experimental plots in biomass and drone-measured productivity measures. It demonstrates that (1) the traits that shape productivity in our prairie experiment are largely convergent across the tree of life, making the phylogenetic effect of species assemblages on restoration outcomes a complex outcome of descent and modification (Darwin might have predicted that…); and (2) drone-based measures are pretty efficient at capturing biomass: nearly 50% of the among-plot variation in biomass was predicted from drone measures.

The paper was moreover a great Arboretum team effort, led by former RA Lane Scher (now at Duke University) and the PI for the project, Andrew Hipp. Drone based remote-sensing data were collected and analyzed by Scher, with support from Chuck Cannon, the CTS director. Biomass for the project was collected by undergraduate research intern Ashley Tuffin during a 9-month international research internship in the Herbarium and Systematics Laboratory, with support from RA Mary-Claire Glasenhardt. Data analyses were conducted by Scher, Hipp and Tuffin, then data were reanalyzed by Herbarium / Systeamtics postdoc Nisa Karimi, who helped in framing the manuscript. Former Soil Ecologist Bryant Scharenbroch analyzed the soils data and worked with Hipp and Glasenhardt in designing the prairie experiment. It nicely illustrates CTS’s broad range of strengths in both research and mentorship.