- Ph.D., University of Washington
- MSc., Botany, Miami University, Ohio
- Assistant Professor, Biology
- Black Hills State University
Sporadically across South Dakota, sparsely vegetated prairie barrens occur on exposed marine sediments -- remnants of the Sundance Sea that covered the region in the Miocene. Soils in these sites have unusual physical properties as well as accumulations of trace elements. Based on their use n livestock grazing, prairie barrens are likely entry points of arsenic, cadmium, nickel, selenium, thalium and other elements into the human population. This research project integrates analytical chemistry methods with rigorous field environmental measurements to test associations between plant community structure and edaphic features; in the future, "hotspots" in the landscape may thus be identified based on more cursory site surveying. Since 2018, we have assessed 50 lowland sites on multiple geological formations, including barrens and nearby "control" prairies. We find a wide range of physical traits in study sites, with prairie barrens tending to have finely-textured soils, basic pH values ((≥8.0), and high electroconductivity (>1,000 μS); concentrations of arsenic, selenium and other elements greatly exceed typical values reported in the USA. Common barren species include poisonvetches, prince's plume, Xylorhiza, and sandreed. Multivariate ordination methods are being used to evaluate correlations between quantitative field data (percent species cover) and soil traits measured in the lab.